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Part I Globalization and Africa: The challenge of urban growth

2 Global forces, urban change, and urban management in Africa
3 Urbanization, globalization, and economic crisis in Africa

2 Global forces, urban change, and urban management in Africa

Carole Rakodi


Il est possible de distinguer en Afrique diverses phases d'urbanisation partiellement liées à l'évolution des conditions suivant lesquelles le continent s'est intégré dans l'économie mondiale. S'il existe de grandes disparités en termes de ressources naturelles et de passé historique, il est néanmoins possible d'établir une distinction d'ensemble entre les périodes pré-coloniale, coloniale et celle suivant immédiatement l'indépendance et les vingt dernières années. Pour chacune de ces phases, les tendances et modèles d'urbanisation peuvent être mis en relation avec la nature des relations politiques extérieures en même temps que la situation physique, sociale, politique, économique et culturelle intérieure. Ce sont aussi bien des forces extérieures que la situation interne qui ont influencé les choix de méthodes de gestion et d'aménagement urbain. Après avoir brièvement passé en revue les périodes pré-coloniale et coloniale, l'on étudie de façon plus approfondie la période allant des années 50 au milieu des années 70, puis les 20 années suivantes. L'examen porte d'abord sur l'impact des influences politiques et économiques extérieures sur les pays d'Afrique, puis sur les tendances de l'urbanisation et enfin sur les politiques et gestions urbaines. Malgré l'ouverture économique de l'Afrique, le continent ne présente qu'une importance marginale pour l'économie mondiale; tout en étant vulnérable à des forces économiques extérieures, il est exclu des récentes tendances à la mondialisation qui ont enrichi un nouveau groupe de pays aux revenus jusqu'alors inférieurs. C'est ce qui le fait dépendre de l'aide extérieure et lui impose d'accepter des conditions en matière de politique économique et aussi de politique urbaine. L'on démontre ici à quel point les résultats des réformes de politique économique et d'urbanisation préconisées par les donneurs d'aide, en particulier les institutions multilatérales, sont loin des objectifs visés par les donateurs comme par les bénéficiaires. Il ressort notamment de cet examen qu'une mauvaise compréhension des problèmes suscités par les réformes et l'incapacité de les surmonter que ce soit aux niveaux international, national ou local, l'insuffisance des données de référence, la faiblesse des remèdes aux erreurs politiques et les contradictions entre les ensembles de politiques recommandées par les institutions de financement risquent de se combiner pour continuer de freiner une croissance économique plus équitable, la stabilité socio-politique et une meilleure gestion des villes.


The aim of this chapter is to assess the ways in which global forces have impacted upon the development of Africa and upon the process of rapid urbanization that is occurring in that continent. Africa has been integrated into the world trade system on unfavourable terms and has become dependent on international assistance. Phases of urbanization can be distinguished which are related in part to the shifting terms on which Africa has been integrated into the world economy. The pre-colonial phase will be dealt with briefly, before examining the colonial phase, the results of which, in terms of economic development, settlement patterns, and urban form, are relatively well known. Ending in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s, a transitional period ensued in which the achievement of autonomous economic and political status was attempted by means of state-centred, interventionist strategies paralleled by a regulatory approach to urban development. By the 1970s it became clear that the endeavours of the central and local state were far from achieving economic or urban development goals. The debate over the relative roles of the terms of Africa's integration into the world economy, state weakness, and domestic policy mistakes in explaining Africa's continued underdevelopment is ongoing. What is clear is that the continent's economic difficulties have made it reliant on and thus vulnerable to the policy dictates of the international agencies, especially the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Rapid urbanization in a situation of continued poverty has outpaced the financial and administrative capacity of governments to ensure that cities provide efficient locations for economic activity and satisfy the basic needs of all their citizens. Much of the chapter will be devoted to an examination of trends in the past 20 years. The role of global forces in Africa's development, including trade, foreign investment, flows of international finance capital, and flows of Official Development Assistance (ODA), will be explored. The latter have been accompanied by policy conditionalities that have affected economic development paths, urban development processes, and urban management strategies. The appropriateness of current national and international urban policies and management approaches will be assessed.

As has been noted in chapter 1, Africa is a continent of enormous contrasts. North Africa, with its political, economic, and cultural ties to Europe and the Middle East, is frequently dealt with separately from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Distinctions can be drawn between countries based on their colonial histories (colonial power, system of rule, date and means of achieving independence), their natural resource base, their geographical location (especially coastal/landlocked), their cultural composition (ethnicity, religion), and their political history (form of the state, significance in global politics, nature of the political system). These have affected the way in which countries have been integrated into the world economy; the domestic policies they have adopted; the interests represented in the state, and the ability of these interests to advance their own causes and of the state to pursue policy goals consistently; and the urbanization process. Generalizations are, therefore, dangerous, but common trends, problems, and pressures can be identified. These will be emphasized in this chapter, although, to avoid overgeneralization, and within the usual constraints on space, attention will be drawn to contrasting features as well.

Pre-colonial Africa

Urban settlements have been widespread in Africa for centuries. In North Africa, Greek colonialism dating from the fourth century BC interacted with local kingdoms: cross-Mediterranean trade encouraged the emergence of flourishing ports, such as Carthage and Alexandria (Bonine, 1983). Many of these remain significant settlements today. In most of SSA, towns were the seats of kings, political rulers with religious overtones. They accommodated courts and gave rise to the production of arts and crafts, but remained small because of their dependence on locally produced food. Royal power involved some control over exchange, although trade also seems to have occurred independently of urban settlements. The prevalence in many areas of shifting agriculture and the close association of urban settlements with kingship meant that the sites of many towns shifted. Some cities and kingdoms were ephemeral, linked to the reign of a particular ruler; others, such as the Yoruba towns of south-west Nigeria, prospered through many regimes and continue to be important today (Mabogunje, 1968). Some kingdoms, especially in West Africa, expanded into empires, in which cities emerged as seats of government and trading centres - for example, Mali between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, Songhay in the Sudan in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and Benin between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries (Gugler and Flanagan, 1978; Mehretu, 1983; Winters, 1983; Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1991; Chandler, 1994).

Islam was spread across North Africa in the seventh century and Arab neighbourhoods were generally established outside existing ancient cities (Bonine, 1983). Tunis, for example, was founded 15 km from the site of the ancient city of Carthage (Findlay and Paddison, 1986). By the Middle Ages, Cairo was the capital of an alien dynasty, the Mamelukes, who were interested only in collecting taxes (see also Chandler, 1994). It was only by the eleventh or twelfth centuries that most of the inhabitants of North African cities had converted to Islam. Integration of relatively self-contained kingdoms elsewhere in Africa into wider economic systems seems to date from the extension of medieval Muslim trade into the Sudan, southwards along the Nile Valley and Africa's eastern coast, and across the Sahara. Trans-Saharan trade initially focused on gold and salt (Amin, 1972). The empire of Ghana, whose power peaked in the ninth century, was based on control of the gold trade (Gugler and Flanagan, 1978). Trade was followed by religion. At break-of-bulk points, on the northern and southern fringes of the Sahara, where savannah met forest (for example, Timbuktu), where water and land routes crossed (in the Niger and Nile valleys), or at ports, trade stimulated urban growth. The Hausa towns of northern Nigeria, such as Kano, Katsina, and Maiduguri, were state capitals and trading centres. These settlements focused on the mosque and the market and were controlled by a merchant elite. The East African coastal settlements, such as Zanzibar, Lamu, and Mombasa, were closest in character to the Muslim cities of the Middle East, while in the Sudan and the Sahel Muslim influences on earlier African settlements were partial and varied (Winters, 1983). The fall of the Songhay empire to Morocco at the end of the sixteenth century marked the close of an era, although trans-Saharan trade continued and Arab mercantilism (and trade in slaves) continued in East Africa until the second half of the nineteenth century (Amin, 1972; see also Chandler, 1994). The pre-colonial cities of North Africa sometimes reached considerable sizes: Cairo is estimated to have had a population of 300,000 in the eleventh century and 500,000 at the beginning of the fourteenth century, although, as Yousry and Aboul Atta show in chapter 4, it subsequently declined; Marrakesh and Fès probably each had 100,000 inhabitants in the eleventh century and grew to 150,000 and over 200,000, respectively, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (Chandler, 1994). Urban settlements in SSA, although significant in administrative and trade terms, were generally small, few exceeding 100,000.

Portuguese mercantilism expanded into Africa from the mid-fifteenth century; it was followed by British and French traders in the next century. The West African coastal trade was initially in gold and was carried on by leave of local rulers, although the Europeans played one kingdom off against another to prevent the emergence of powerful states (Gugler and Flanagan, 1978). Benin, for example, had been engaged in regional trade until the late fifteenth century, when trade with the Portuguese in slaves, pepper, etc. developed. Although control over trade was a royal monopoly on both sides, it was carried on by merchants, those from Benin acting as intermediaries between the Europeans and hinterland cities (Ono-kerhoraye, 1975). The slave trade became increasingly important from the sixteenth century, drawing more and more African leaders into it and having a devastating effect on the economies and political structures of the coastal and forest kingdoms (Amin, 1972; Gugler and Flanagan, 1978). An estimated 12 million slaves were taken from Africa in Christian- and 7 million in Muslim-owned ships (Chandler, 1994). Evidence on the impact of the slave trade on urbanization patterns is scarce and contradictory. Algiers was, according to Chandler and Tarver (1993), the largest slave port, following the appointment of a Turkish governor in 1520.

Inland, earlier patterns of urban development evolved slowly (Chandler, 1994). In the interior of Ghana, small city-states developed that were later absorbed by the Ashanti empire, centred on Kumasi. The power of this empire lasted until 1873-74, when it was finally defeated in a clash with the British over its attempts to assert control over smaller coastal states (Gugler and Flanagan, 1978). Although urbanization continued in Ghana in the seventeenth century, the earlier urban culture was weakened as the slave trade peaked in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Yoruba urbanization also continued, in response to the insecurity caused by internal conflicts over control of channels for slave trading (Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1991).

Successive waves of European traders gradually shifted the focus of economic activities from the northern savannah areas of West Africa towards the forest belt and the coast, leading to stagnation for earlier trading centres (Salau, 1990). From the first Portuguese contact at the mouth of the Senegal River in 1445, they extended trading networks down the west coast and eventually round to East Africa. During the sixteenth century they founded Bissau in Guinea; Luanda, Benguela, and São Salvador in Angola; and Lourenço Marques, Sena, and Mozambique in Mozambique; as well as temporarily wresting control of Zanzibar and Mombasa from Arab traders. The Dutch founded Cape Town in 1652 and the French and British a number of West African ports, including Conakry, Accra, Sekondi, Cape Coast, and Calabar (Mehretu, 1983). Napoleon invaded Egypt, the brief French occupation (1798-1802) being a precursor of greater European influence (Bonine, 1983). In 1830 the French invaded Algeria, and then Tunis and Morocco. However, the European presence was generally confined to defence and trade in coastal settlements and there was little penetration inland. Meanwhile, Egyptian incursions into Sudanese sultanates aimed at extracting slaves and other wealth and establishing political control (Amin, 1972).

Colonial Africa

The economic role of colonialism

The mercantilist period evolved into colonialism proper in the second half of the nineteenth century. The development of capitalism in Europe gave rise to a search for cheap raw materials and agricultural produce and for markets for manufactured exports. In West Africa, the destructive effects of the slave trade on pre-existing social formations made it possible to shape a system of large-scale production of goods such as cocoa, palm oil, timber, and rubber by organizing a trade monopoly, taxing peasants, providing support to local rulers, and forced labour. In southern and parts of central and eastern Africa, colonial capital wished to exploit minerals and engage in agriculture. To obtain a cheap labour force, for mining, settler agriculture, and later manufacturing, land was expropriated, taxes imposed, and African agriculture discriminated against. In contrast with Africa of the colonial-trade economy and Africa of the labour reserves, large parts of central Africa were opened up to plunder by concessionary companies. The colonial system thus organized African societies so that they produced exports that provided only minimal returns to local labour (Amin, 1972). It restructured peasant agriculture, introduced new administrative systems, and changed the pattern of urbanization.

While economic competition was responsible for the penetration of African economies, it was paralleled by political competition. Belgian and German annexation of territory upset the balance of power, and the scramble for partition and political control that followed coincided with and was related to economic and social transformation. Colonial rule was established by a combination of persuasion and coercion, often arbitrary boundaries were drawn, and interaction between the colonial administration and indigenous rulers had an important influence on the type of administrative system established. Generally, British paternalist philosophy found expression in decentralized administrative practice, which was adapted to existing local institutional and political structures, while the doctrine of assimilation underlay direct centralized control in French, Portuguese, and Belgian territories. In practice, the distinction was less clear cut than this and perhaps greater contrasts can be seen between the colonial and settler societies. Settlers demanded not only opportunities for colonial accumulation, but also political and other rights, giving rise to more extensive influence and tighter control over indigenous economies, cultures, and socio-political systems, seen above all in South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, and Algeria, and to a lesser extent in the Portuguese colonies and Kenya (Bell, 1986).

Colonial urbanization

Colonial cities developed not as industrial centres, but to facilitate the extraction of commodities and the politico-administrative system on which this depended. Many coastal settlements that were already engaged in international trade expanded. Lagos is an important example in west Africa and Tunis in north Africa (see chap. 6; Findlay and Paddison, 1986). In order to fulfil their functions as administrative and commercial centres, transport infrastructure, especially railways, was developed to connect the ports to their hinterlands (Gugler and Flanagan, 1978; Mehretu, 1983; Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1991). In some parts of Africa, earlier urban systems had decayed and "new" colonial settlements were established, sometimes from scratch and sometimes on the sites of earlier settlements (O'Connor, 1983). Elsewhere, colonial settlements were superimposed on and attached to existing towns and cities, while the choice of transport routes gave a boost to or bypassed existing settlements. Port cities thrived at the expense of inland settlements (Bonine, 1983; Findlay, 1994).

Although traditional manufacturing survived in some parts of the continent, especially in the north, rarely was industrialized manufacturing introduced, except in the settler societies, where import-substituting industry designed to meet the needs of the substantial European populations was developed with government help, and reinforced the new pattern of urban settlements that had been established. Even in the parts of Africa that were never directly colonized, links between their economies and the outside world grew and European influences on urban form can be detected, for example in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia (O'Connor, 1983). Within an increasingly global economy, King (1990) suggests, a capitalist-industrialist urban culture grew, overlaying or replacing the more culture-specific pre-industrial and pre-capitalist urban forms of the mercantile era. Metropolitan cities were increasingly linked to colonial cities through their relative roles in the international division of labour.

In the early period, the trading fort model was the best tool for coercion, surveillance, and exploitation, but colonial officials' conceptions of "civilisation and power clashed with the sordid realities they created" (Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1991). Health concerns and the need to provide colonial administrators and early settlers with an acceptable living environment gave rise to environmental sanitation measures and the establishment of rudimentary local government (King, 1990). Until the 1930s, rural-urban migration was typically temporary and seasonal. This suited both employers, enabling them to pay wages insufficient to meet the full costs of reproducing the labour force (Gregory and Piché, 1982), and peasant farmers, whose needs for cash were still limited. However, especially in the labour reserve economies, shortages of labour led to the strengthening of mechanisms designed to ensure an adequate labour supply. The collapse in commodity prices in the 1930s' depression had knock-on effects in the African colonies. Urban property markets slumped, unemployment rose, and African residents returned to their villages (Skinner, 1986). From the 1920s on in the Belgian Congo and the 1940s onwards in South Africa and Southern and Northern Rhodesia, the desire of mining and manufacturing capital for a more stable labour force led to changes in government policies (Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1991; Rakodi, 1986a, 1995a). Although older patterns of migration persisted, it became acceptable for a man and his family to live in urban areas for the duration of his working life. Acceptance of a more stable labour force and growing urban population had a variety of impacts on urban policy and management, in particular:

(a) A desire to ensure land for urban development and the provision of services, especially to the European population, led to the strengthening of local government, under the control of appointed administrator-mayors in the French colonies (Skinner, 1986) and the European population in the British colonies, with sufficient revenue-raising capacity not to be a drain on central or metropolitan government funds and based on an imported legislative framework.

(b) The need to stimulate provision for and maintain control over the labour force led to public sector provision of rental housing, often subsidized. Such housing was often physically separate from areas of indigenous urban development, where the newly enacted legislation did not apply and forms of government and/or access to land and housing were based on existing local structures and mechanisms (Chandler and Tarver, 1993). Elsewhere, existing tenure systems were swept away or the colonial state became the main landowner (King, 1990).

(c) A desire to restrict the urban African population to that necessary to provide a labour force for colonial enterprises led in some of the colonies to (mostly unsuccessful) attempts to control and eradicate other types of economic enterprise (the informal sector) and housing development (squatter areas or other unauthorized settlement).

(d) For political, social, and cultural reasons, the residential areas and social lives of urban residents (Europeans, Syrian-Lebanese traders, an imported Asian commercial class in eastern and southern Africa, mixed race people, and Africans) were segregated, despite the essential but differently valued contribution of each to the urban economy (Simon, 1992; see also Christopher and Tarver, 1994).

By 1950, at the beginning of the main decolonization period, Cairo (population 2.41 million) and Johannesburg (915,000) were the largest cities, followed by Casablanca, Cape Town, Durban, the East Rand, Tunis, Algiers, and Ibadan, each with over 400,000. Overall, only 15 per cent of the continent's population lived in urban areas and in most countries the urban population was heavily concentrated in one or two cities, normally including the colonial capital.

The independence decade

In a sense, it is misleading to speak of the independence decade as the 1960s and early 1970s. Liberia's independence was recognized in 1847, South Africa became independent but minority ruled in 1910, Egypt has been independent since 1922, Libya gained its independence in 1951, followed by Morocco, Tunisia, and the Sudan in 1956, Ghana in 1957, and Guinea in 1958. The Portuguese colonies, Namibia, and Eritrea have gained their independence, and Zimbabwe and South Africa majority rule, since the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, of over 50 African countries, the great majority gained their independence in the 1960s. For this reason, and because this was a decade of relative economic prosperity before major changes occurred in the world economy in the mid-1970s, as a transitional period it is significant for both national political economies and the process of urbanization. Although for Egypt, because of its longstanding self-rule, this period is not of such dramatic importance, the economic pressures were similar. The settler societies of Zimbabwe and South Africa commenced the period with more developed commercial agricultural and industrial sectors than other African countries did, but faced increasing internal resistance and external ostracism.

Political independence: Reality or myth?

Independence implies autonomy to make political decisions and the capacity to carry them out. By the 1950s, it was in the interests of both France, following the Algerian war, and Britain to hand over political rule. In juridical terms the new states were strong, but politically and socially they were weak:

in the great majority of states there was no shared culture... and the typical state was characterised by ethnic pluralism, linguistic diversity, the strength of communal ties and loyalties, and an educational system which hitherto had benefited only a minority of the population. (Tordoff, 1984, p. 77)

Nationalist movements had incorporated divergent interests, and the initial problem for the inexperienced politicians who took power, on the basis of political systems modelled on those of the metropolitan powers, was to establish their legitimacy and balance conflicting ethnic and economic interests. The inherited bureaucracies were generally fairly well developed (except in the ax-Portuguese and ex-Belgian colonies), but they were costly to run and hard to manage without expatriate expertise. However, heavy demands were placed on the political and bureaucratic structures, while the uncertain relationship between them gave rise to misunderstanding and conflict (Tordoff, 1984; Chazan et al., 1988). The apparent need for state economic development planning and, in the absence of foreign control of major economic sectors, for it to take on productive roles led to the establishment of planning machinery and large parastatals, which further strained the capacity of the state to manage its affairs (Tordoff, 1984). An additional problem has been the role of the military - only 18 countries had escaped successful military coups by the end of the 1980s. Once constitutional rules have been discarded, the conditions in which factionalism, mutual distrust, fear, and counter-coup flourish are reinforced (Wunsch and Olowu, 1990). Many countries have been subject to military repression, civil war, and ethnic pogroms.

For a variety of reasons, including economic management and resource allocation to fulfil developmental goals, the need to foster a sense of national unity, fear of strong or opposition-controlled local government, and scarcity of skilled and experienced public servants, strong government has been equated with centralization. However, this has facilitated the abuse of power, increased the propensity to error, slowed down and bureaucratized responses to changing circumstances, and made access to the central state the prime source of opportunities for personal accumulation. Except in "strong man" governments, there have been attempts at decentralization, but these have typically been flawed and unsuccessful (Wunsch and Olowu, 1990). The relative weakness of state structures in the first decades of independence is thus attributed by Chazan et al. (1988, p. 62) to "scarcity of resources, politicized patterns of social differentiation, overexpanded state structures, insufficient state legitimacy, inadequate state power and the lack of adaptation of alien institutions to local conditions." Politics has been characterized by personal rule and political domination and political life has pivoted around individual leaders, while domination by particular social groups has been resisted. In some countries, a degree of continuity, stability, and accountability has been achieved, but more commonly political processes have been marked by repression, instability, inequality, dishonesty, ineffectiveness, and disorder (Chazan et al., 1988).

In addition to state weakness, political autonomy has been eroded by superpower interest, continued identification with the ax-colonial powers, and the relationship between political and economic dependence. The United States and the USSR sought to channel post-colonial change in their own interests, the former to contain Soviet influence and the latter to establish a presence in the continent. The USSR tried to extend its influence by supporting regimes that asked for assistance, not all of them sporting socialist ideologies, and a reliance on arms supply as the main lever, especially in its areas of strategic interest in the Horn and North Africa. US policy has been anti-communist, leading to support of reactionary and repressive governments, especially in Zaire and the Horn, and assistance to friendly capitalist regimes, especially Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa (Chazan et al., 1988). Other external interference with national sovereignty has originated within the continent itself, most notably the destabilizing activities of South Africa in the front-line states, but also the activities of Algeria in supporting anti-colonial activity and of Libya in the trans-Saharan region. Ties to ax-colonial powers, for example by membership of the Commonwealth, have remained strong. France in particular has deliberately maintained its influence in its ax-colonies by political, technical, and military support, especially for conservative and moderate regimes (Chazan et al., 1988). It has been able to do so because of the economic dependency of most of the states, their small size and political fragility, and the longstanding policy of cultural assimilation. In return, "most of the Francophone states show solidarity with France in voting at the UN General Assembly" (Tordoff, 1984, p. 275). Tordoff argues that, despite these dependencies, African regimes have exercised political autonomy and that their ruling classes cannot be portrayed merely as puppets on strings pulled by external forces. However, a distinction can be drawn between political influence based on continuing economic dependency and political interference during crises, during which African élites have been ready and willing to exploit superpower rivalry in their own interests (Chazan et al., 1988).


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