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1 Introduction

Carole Rakodi

By now it is almost a truism that the planet's future is an urban one and that the largest and fastest-growing cities are primarily in developing countries. Even in Africa, long thought of as one of the least urbanized continents, it is expected that over half the population will be urban by 2020 (UN, 1993). The largest cities "serve simultaneously as national and regional engines of economic growth, centres of technological and cultural creativity, homes of the poor and deprived, and the sites and sources of environmental pollution" (Fuchs, 1994, p. 2). As yet, our understanding of the dynamics of these cities and the urban systems of which they form part, and our capacity to manage them effectively, are limited. To help redress the deficiencies in our systematic knowledge and experience, the United Nations University is carrying out a research project on Mega-cities and Urban Development. The objective of the project is to examine the growth of large metropolitan agglomerations, especially in the developing world, with regard to the patterns and projections of their growth, the demographic and economic causes, and the social, economic, and environmental consequences. It was launched in 1990 with a conference at which a range of issues related to the global mega-city phenomenon were explored: the demographic and economic causes of mega-city growth, the economic and social consequences of this growth, and alternative management issues and approaches (Fuchs et al., 1994).

Subsequently, projects to examine large city growth in Asia and Latin America have been undertaken (Lo and Yeung, 1996; Gilbert, 1996). It was early recognized that the initial concern with mega-cities according to one UN definition (a population of 8 million or more) was neither conceptually adequate nor likely to result in an improved understanding of relationships between the largest cities and economic systems, or between these cities and international and national urban systems. In 1990 it was agreed that it was necessary to conceptualize and define the mega-city along a greater range of dimensions than size alone (Fuchs, 1994). The Asian project focused on the changing functional relationships between the largest cities and the economy, both national and international, in particular the emergence of interlinked systems of cities within and across urban boundaries.

Aims of the research project

In Africa, it was clear that to adopt a definition of mega-cities based on size alone would be inappropriate, as at the time of writing only two African cities (Greater Cairo and the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging region centred on Johannesburg) had populations of over 8 million (fig. 1.1). A more nuanced approach to the selection of cities and design of a project that would address priority issues in the African context led to the adoption of a set of research objectives specifically designed for the purpose.

The aims of the project are:

(i) to analyse the dynamics of urbanization in Africa, with special emphasis on the largest cities;

(ii) to assess the performance of urban management systems in coping with rapid urban growth in a deteriorating situation;

(iii) to explore the implications of the trends observed for the future.

The first of these aims is addressed by considering, firstly, the influence on cities of changing patterns of integration into the global economy; secondly, how cities function, in economic, political, and administrative terms; and, thirdly, how people function in cities, in terms of obtaining access to economic, political, and social resources and providing each other with mutual support. In order to achieve these aims, a balance between case-studies of particular urban settlements and thematic analyses was considered desirable, especially in view of the availability of a recent volume that analyses urbanization in Africa in terms of historical periods and country studies (Tarver, 1994). Urbanization, of course, includes all settlements classified as "urban." Here the focus is on significant and representative cities and metropolitan areas, and the role of secondary cities and small urban centres has not been considered (but see Hardoy and Satterthwaite, 1986; Baker, 1990; Pedersen, 1991). The aims of the research will be further elaborated below, and the structure of the remainder of the book related to these aims. In the final part of this introduction, some of the particular difficulties faced by researchers working in Africa will be described.

Fig. 1.1 The cities of Africa (Source: 1995 estimates - UN, World Urbanization Prospects, 1994,United Nations Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis, New York, 1995; exceptions based on relevant chapters from UNCHS, Global Report on Human Settlements, draft, UNCHS, Nairobi, table 4)

Cities are essentially locations for economic activity. They are, therefore, inextricably linked both to the economies of their hinterland regions (especially national economies) and to the wider global economy, via trade and investment. Changing forms of organization of production and consumption have significant spatial effects, particularly on urban settlement systems. As capital is reconstituted in response to falling profit margins and other crises, the composition of economic activity, the technology used, the organization of production processes, and patterns of labour use also change. The new phase of globalization is generally held to have begun in the decades after World War II and to be characterized by progressive but uneven integration of different parts of the world into a global economic and financial system distinguished by increasingly transnational organization of production, greater openness of national economies, changes in production systems impelled by technological innovation, and greater integration of financial markets. Changing transport and telecommunications technologies have facilitated greater mobility of capital, goods, and people (Dicken, 1992). The global economy is more integrated than ever before and the volume of trade larger. However, the extent and pattern of integration, and the results for countries, regions, cities, and their inhabitants, are highly uneven over time and space. Increased mobility of capital and production has been one of the main driving forces behind the evolution of many national economies, especially those in the North and some of the more buoyant Asian and Latin American countries. For these countries, globalization is generally regarded as a positive stimulus to economic growth, although this does not mean that the results for all regions and social groups or for the environment are positive. Just as the phenomenon of "world cities" is a product of this new phase of globalization at the global level (Sassen, 1994), so evolving regional systems of cities in Asia are a product of flows of investment largely emanating from Japan (Lo and Yeung, 1996). One of the results of the increasing transnationalization of production is the globalization of patterns of consumption, supposedly leading to greater homogeneity of patterns of work, living, taste, and culture. However, global forces interact with local circumstances to produce unique socio-economic, political, and spatial results at national, regional, and city levels. This interaction takes a variety of forms, including resistance and adaptation as well as accommodation. In addition, countries and localities have differential abilities to compete with each other for mobile investment, resulting in heterogeneity rather than homogeneity.

Integration into the world economy is, of course, nothing new for Africa. However, the characteristics of global changes in production and consumption in the past 25 years are considered to differ from those of earlier rounds of globalization, and their effects to be different. We will argue that the manifestation and impact of global forces in Africa are more contradictory than in many other parts of the world and are often negative. The aims of chapters 2 and 3 are to assess the ways in which globalization has impacted upon the development of Africa and upon the process of rapid urbanization that is occurring in that continent. To distinguish the current forms of globalization from earlier phases, these phases will be outlined and the urbanization processes associated with them described in chapter 2. More attention is then given to global forces in the past two decades: deteriorating terms of trade, indebtedness, exclusion from emerging profitable forms of production, and dependence on international assistance. Although unimportant to the global economy as a whole, these relationships with the global economy are significant and often damaging to African countries. The final section of the chapter examines what, in the context of the continent's external dependence and vulnerability, marginalization, and aid dependence, has happened to cities. Have "world cities" emerged in Africa? In the context of economic deterioriation, has urbanization continued? What form has it taken? What have the implications of aid dependence been for approaches to urban management?

The theme of Africa's exclusion from those forms and sectors of production that are most profitable at present and are likely to be so in future is taken up again by Rogerson in chapter 10, where its implications for the vitality of urban economies are further explored. In chapter 3, David Simon elaborates on the extent and nature of globalization, the relationship of this to economic development trends, and the relationship of the latter to trends in urbanization. He examines the connections between African cities and the global economy, in terms of multinational investment, trade, debt, and international organizations, concluding that, although these connections are limited and tenuous, they often have important implications for the cities concerned. The marginality of African cities to international systems of manufacturing production, finance, and politics is contrasted with the spread of global patterns of consumption. Although these have made an impact throughout Africa, Simon stresses the limits of this impact, firstly because of the strength and diversity of local cultures and, secondly, owing to the impoverishment both of the continent as a whole and of those excluded from the benefits of such economic growth as has occurred.

In part II of the book, a number of case-studies of some of the largest and most significant cities in the continent are presented, in order of population size (fig. 1.2). The largest cities (Cairo, Lagos, and Johannesburg) are included. What has led to their growth, what is continuing to drive their expansion today, and what are the prospects for the future? Cities that at present or potentially have more than a national or regional role are included: Nairobi, Johannesburg, and Cairo. Are any of these, or could they potentially be, "world cities"? Cities from the main cultural regions are represented: Cairo from Arabic, Muslim north Africa; Lagos and Nairobi from anglophone west and east Africa; Johannesburg from anglophone settler southern Africa; Abidjan and Kinshasa from francophone Africa. What differences have these varied colonial and cultural heritages made to patterns of urban development, modes of urban governance, and the lives of urban people, and can processes of divergence or convergence be detected today? Finally, cities with different experiences of urban management are included, along a continuum from Johannesburg, with its significant financial and human management resources, at one end, to Kinshasa, where recognizable public sector management has completely broken down, at the other. What accounts for the relative success of some cities and the failure of others to generate the resources needed to manage and service their growth? How can a city the size of Kinshasa sustain itself and its residents without any formal administration?

In each of the case-studies, written in 1994, authors review recent and likely future trends in the growth of the city, with particular reference to its global links and the emergence of a city region; analyse urban characteristics; and assess the extent to which its development is being adequately managed. They consider economic and demo graphic trends, the structure of the urban economy, sources of capital and labour, the components of population growth, and the extent and nature of urban poverty. They examine the forms that political and social organization has taken in recent years and the implications of these for residents and urban administration. They describe processes of land development, the production of the built environment, and the changing spatial structure of the city and its region that results. Arrangements for planning and management are reviewed, urban policies and their outcomes examined, and finally issues and promising approaches for the future identified. The chapters do not cover all the above areas in equal detail or in the same order: contributors have concentrated on the features of a particular city that are most crucial to understanding it, and have presented material in an order appropriate for the case in hand. Together, however, they offer a rich source of insights and a fertile basis for comparison.

In the third part of the book, a series of themes are explored in chapters that draw on the case-studies and on a much broader range of examples. The themes have been selected to provide between them the basis for a fuller understanding of both the dynamics of city growth and functioning and the experience of urban planning and management. They are concerned with how cities function and how people function in cities - the first three chapters emphasize the former and the fourth the latter, but these two aspects of urban life are, of course, interrelated. In chapter 10, Christian Rogerson examines how cities function in economic terms: he analyses the changing structure of urban economies, the different scales and sources of investment, and the resulting economic opportunities for residents. The aim of chapter 11 is to review what is known about the process of urban development, with particular reference firstly to transactions in land and residential/commercial property, and secondly to the outcomes of attempts to intervene in this process through the instruments of land policy. Tade Aina, in chapter 12, explores the interrelated areas of political and social organization and analyses their implications for urban management. Changes in governance, administration, social organizations, and informal networks are analysed, and their influence on the political economy of the city and on the lives of its citizens described. Themes from each of these chapters are picked up by Deborah Potts in chapter 13, which focuses on the nature of people's lives, as they live in cities, move between cities and rural areas, and deal with the shocks resulting from policy changes associated with structural adjustment. Potts considers whether "urban" is an artificial construct in the context of the movement patterns of many urban residents, and examines the ways in which people are trying to cope with increased economic hardship.

Fig. 1.2 The case-study cities compared

Inevitably, the selection of themes results in the neglect of some areas - there are no chapters on housing, infrastructure, transport, or the environment, although related issues have been picked up in some of the thematic chapters and in many of the city case-studies. Some of these areas have been more adequately dealt with elsewhere than others. Compared with other aspects of urban life, work on housing is well developed (see, for example, Amis and Lloyd, 1990). An important comparative research project at the end of the 1980s examined infrastructure and services, including transport, in a number of African cities (Stren and White, 1989). Cities make continuing demands on natural resources for inputs of energy, water, food, building materials, etc., and disposal of waste. Natural resource availability may influence both the rate and direction of growth, and cities have impacts on areas far outside their boundaries, while the urban environment influences the quality of life for all residents. Some of these issues are raised in the city case-studies. However, the dearth of published work militated against the production of a significant thematic chapter as part of a study based on the compilation of existing knowledge rather than new empirical research.

Fig. 1.2 (cont.)

In the final part of the book, issues and approaches for the future are identified. In chapter 14, Salah El-Shakhs draws on evidence presented in parts I-III about the current problems faced by large cities and the effectiveness of recent policies and administrative arrangements in order to suggest ways forward. He examines likely future trends, identifies promising innovations, and suggests desirable approaches. His emphasis is on planning, administration, spatial patterns, and physical improvements. In chapter 15, Kadmiel Wekwete reviews recent experience with managing urban growth, in order to reveal how and why approaches have changed in recent years and to assess their effectiveness. The themes of the book are drawn together in the concluding chapter, which briefly considers the future of Africa in general terms and then in terms specifically of urbanization. Finally, some of the themes of the recent debates over how to manage Africa's cities are reviewed and future research priorities identified.


One of the most significant problems in addressing urbanization issues and in assessing the performance of urban management systems in Africa is the dearth of information. The reasons for this lack of data and the unreliability of information that does exist are well known: economic deterioration has reduced the resources for research and data collection (Stren, 1994); economic difficulties combined with political turmoil have reduced the capacity of governments to lead development and ensure that administrative procedures are adhered to; war and civil unrest have prevented or invalidated data collection; and a combination of overcentralization and an emphasis on rural development has led to a weakening of city-based administration.

In effect, in Africa, we have to study urbanization in the absence of reliable and up-to-date demographic information and in the face of enormous gaps in the research that has been carried out. How, it might be asked, is it possible to understand the dynamics of urbanization when it is not known what proportion of the population is living in urban areas, what the population of many cities is, and what has happened to rates of natural increase and patterns of migration during the 1980s and early 1990s? Although there was a round of censuses in many countries around 1990, few have managed to process and make available the results in a suitably disaggregated fashion. To fill the gap, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements is attempting to collect city-level information. However, this information was not available in time for use by the researchers reporting here. Nevertheless, the urgent need to improve our understanding of the dynamics of urbanization and of the outcomes of attempts to manage urban growth means that we must proceed, by assembling what data are available, drawing on personal experience, and reaching conclusions with care.

An additional hindrance to the ability of authors in this volume to reach definitive conclusions and to generalize with confidence is the heterogeneity in the geographical area covered. The desire of the United Nations University to define Africa in continental terms has had the effect of increasing a level of heterogeneity that is already hard to deal with across north Africa or within sub-Saharan Africa. Reflecting and encompassing both diverse and common characteristics have posed real problems for the contributors of thematic chapters. One way of dealing with a vast continent is to identify the characteristics of regions, defined in terms of geographical contiguity. However, in Africa this gives rise to anomalies where the colonial history of adjacent countries was different. Mozambique has more in common with Angola than with its neighbours, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. Francophone central African countries have characteristics in common with anglophone central African countries, as well as with francophone west African countries. The Muslim countries of north Africa have more in common with the Middle East than with most sub-Saharan African countries, a problem illustrated by the internal tensions of countries such as the Sudan and Nigeria.

Most scholars working in Africa confine their area of expertise to a particular part of the continent, partly because of its size, and partly for language reasons. Exchange of material between scholars working in French, English, Portuguese, and indigenous languages, including Arabic, is difficult and limited. In addition, statistics are often produced for sub-Saharan Africa whereas North Africa is included in the Middle East. Inevitably, the authors of the thematic chapters in this volume draw primarily on their own knowledge and the work of other researchers in the parts of the continent with which they are familiar. Despite their best efforts to review material in other languages and ensure coverage of all parts of the continent, the obvious difficulties caused by linguistic and cultural differences, as well as limitations on space, have inhibited this. This book is being published in English, a language that is foreign to many Africans interested in urban issues. In a wholly inadequate attempt to make the material more accessible, French abstracts have been included for each of the chapters.

Despite the difficulties, it is hoped that the assembly of knowledge and expertise facilitated by the United Nations University and represented in this volume will increase understanding of urbanization in general, and large city growth in particular, in the continent of Africa. Given the patchy nature of the data and recent research, an exercise such as this has inevitably thrown up as many questions as it has answered. It is to be hoped that the agenda for research outlined in the final chapter of this volume (alongside that identified in Stren, 1994) will provoke researchers and funders to undertake the substantive studies of urban processes and evaluations of past policies necessary to underpin future attempts to meet the challenge of urban growth in Africa more effectively.


Amis, P. and P. Lloyd, eds. 1990. Housing Africa's Urban Poor. Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Baker, J., ed. 1990. Small Town Africa: Studies in Rural Urban Interaction. Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala.

Dicken, P. 1992. The Internationalization of Economic Activity. Paul Chapman, London.

Fuchs, R. J. 1994. Introduction. In: R. J. Fuchs, E. Brennan, J. Chamie, F.-C. Lo, and J. I. Uitto, eds., Mega-city Growth and the Future. United Nations University Press, Tokyo, pp. 1-13.

Fuchs, R. J., E. Brennan, J. Chamie, F.-C. Lo, and J. I. Uitto, eds. 1994. Mega-city Growth and the Future. United Nations University Press, Tokyo.

Gilbert, A., ed. 1996. The Mega-city in Latin America. United Nations University Press, Tokyo.

Hardoy, J. and D. Satterthwaite, eds. 1986. Small and Intermediate Urban Centres: Their Role in National and Regional Development in the Third World. Hodder & Stoughton, London.

Lo, F.-C. and Y.-M. Yeung, eds. 1996. Emerging World Cities in Pacific Asia. United Nations University Press, Tokyo.

Pedersen, P. O., ed. 1991. The role of small and intermediate urban centres in planning in Africa. African Urban Quarterly 6(3/4): 171-303.

Sassen, S. 1994. Cities in a World Economy. Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Stren, R. F. and R. R. White, eds. 1989. African Cities in Crisis: Managing Rapid Urban Growth. Westview, Boulder, Colo.

Stren, R., ed. 1994. Urban Research in the Developing World, Vol. 2 Africa. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Tarver, J. D., ed. 1994. Urbanization in Africa: A Handbook. Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn.

UN. 1993. World Urbanization Prospects: The 1992 Revision. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis, New York.

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