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13 Urban lives: Adopting new strategies and adapting rural links

Deborah Potts


Ce chapitre porte sur la façon dont la vie des citadins a été affectée par les graves difficultés caractéristiques des économies de la plupart des pays d'Afrique depuis la fin des années 70. Le tableau détaillé de la chute drastique des salaires réels révèle la crise de consommation qui en a résulté dans de nombreux ménages, dont les revenue ne suffisent même plus à leur assurer le minimum vital, et encore moins aux autres dépenses essentielles que vent le logement ou le transport. Les politiques d'ajustement structurel, sapant délibérément les conditions économiques des populations urbaines, ont terriblement exacerbé les difficultés des citadins les plus pauvres. II semble que ce choix de viser les citadins, partant de la conviction qu'ils étaient nettement privilégiés par rapport aux habitants des zones rurales, ait été bien souvent mal fondé, notamment parce que la différence entre les revenue des populations urbaines et rurales s'était déjà amoindrie vers la fin des années 70. La détérioration des services a aussi érodé les prétendus avantages de la vie citadine. L'éthique de récupération des coûts prônée par les institutions financières internationales n'a probablement pas grand chose à offrir aux citadins pauvres en termes d'amélioration des services. Confrontés à cette situation, les citadins ont adopté toutes sortes de stratégies, adaptant la nature des liaisons villes-campagnes qui ont toujours constitué un élément significatif de la nature du processus d'urbanisation en Afrique. Il y a eu notamment un changement dans la nature des migrations, le rythme de la croissance urbaine de certains pays révélant de nettes diminutions en raison d'un déclin net de l'exode rural. D'autres stratégies ont consisté à de nouveaux transferts des zones rurales aux zone urbaines, des modifications dans la composition des ménages, une pléthore de solutions informelles pour répondre aux besoins de services, une augmentation spectaculaire des activités du secteur informer et/ou des occupations secondaires, et de l'agriculture urbaine et un changement dans l'alimentation des ménages. Nombre de ces stratégies ont eu des conséquences fâcheuses pour les citadins mais elles se vent avérées indispensables pour leur permettre de survivre à la crise.


Until fairly recently it was often assumed that people resident in urban areas in African countries were generally fairly well off compared with their rural counterparts. Their incomes were reckoned to exceed those generated in rural economic activities, and the rural: urban income gap was regarded (correctly) as the main cause of rapid urbanization, which was largely fuelled by rural-urban migration. Income, however, was not the only advantage that the urban populace was deemed to have: access to superior services, such as piped water, schools, and clinics, was an important element of their higher living standards. Another significant factor was that African governments tended to subsidize urban food prices. This is not to say that urban poverty was not recognized or studied, or that urban life was considered to be easy; access to housing and formal employment was evidently a problem by the 1970s, for example. Nevertheless, belief in the existence of a privileged urban population, created and sustained by unwarranted and inefficient urban bias in African government policies, has made the urban sector one of the major targets of the structural adjustment policies that have affected most African countries since 1980 (for example, Rakodi, chap. 2 in this volume). The economic analysis and thinking that have influenced such policies (e.g. World Bank, 1981; Bates, 1981) put a good deal of the blame for Africa's economic woes on "urban bias," which is argued to have led to major inefficiencies in resource allocation.

As noted by Rogerson in chapter 10 of this volume and in several of the city case-studies in this volume, the reductions in government expenditure on salaries and services have hit urban areas very hard, since they are inevitably centres for service and administrative provision. Specific efforts to reduce the advantages of the so-called urban "labour aristocracy" (which was perceived to have been created by massive subsidies from resources transferred from rural production) have also dramatically reduced living standards: these include the ending of food subsidies and the ending of urban wage protection (e.g. the abolition of minimum wages, or the freezing of wages during periods of rampant inflation).

The main aim of this chapter is to examine the nature of contemporary urban life in African cities, with an emphasis on the poverty that characterizes the experience for the majority. As part of this analysis it will be shown that the savagery of the anti-urban policies that Structural Adjustment Programmes have insisted on has largely been misplaced, since by the time of their implementation the presumed privileges of urban residents had already largely disappeared. The policies of the 1980s and 1990s have therefore drastically, and sometimes tragically, increased the hardships of urban residents, most of whom were already poor and vulnerable.

This chapter will also discuss the strategies that urban residents have adopted and adapted to cope with impoverishment and the increasing administrative and financial incapacity of urban governments. An important theme will be the importance of rural-urban links, and changing patterns of migration. African urban residents have long maintained strong social and economic links with their rural "home" areas, although the nature of those links has varied over time, as the nature of migration streams has adapted to changing economic and political circumstances, and from country to country with variations in factors such as colonial policy, urban history, and land tenure and land availability. The recent era of severe economic decline and structural adjustment has seen such linkages assume a new and vital significance.

Trends in urban poverty: Life for the new urban poor in African cities

Most residents of African cities today are poor by any standards. Accurate city-wide data on income distribution are rare, but there have been many surveys, particularly during the period of structural adjustment, that show quite clearly how urban incomes have been devastated and explore the ramifications of this for household welfare, including health and nutrition. In many cases the levels of income reported are so low that it is hard to see how households can feed themselves, let alone cover other necessary costs, such as housing and transport to work, or vital welfare expenditure on health, education, or clothing. Significantly there is now much evidence that average rural incomes frequently exceed the incomes available from most formal wage work in the cities (e.g. Jamal and Weeks, 1993).

The boost to urban living standards that used to derive from superior access to affordable public services compared with rural areas has also very significantly diminished in many cities. Cuts in health and education expenditure mean that schools and clinics are increasingly overstretched; sometimes they are quite unable to cope with the demand and the private alternatives are unaffordable for the urban poor. The crucial area of housing has also suffered. Although the need for low-income housing was never satisfied in the 1960s and 1970s, the adoption of more realistic approaches to this sector in the 1970s had led to some improvements: many city administrations ceased arbitrary demolition of unplanned settlements, and "squatter" upgrading programmes went some way to providing basic services in some of these settlements and enhancing security of tenure. The site and service approach also helped the poor to some degree, although the hoped-for benefits were often reduced by stubborn insistence on overly high building and service standards and downward raiding by higher-income groups, which squeezed out many of the intended beneficiaries (e.g. Amis and Lloyd, 1990; Stren, 1990; Potts with Mutambirwa, 1991). During the 1980s, however, public housing programmes often languished or ceased altogether, owing to lack of finance. Examples include Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, and Tanzania (Stern, 1989; Dubresson, chap. 8 in this volume). Most new housing is therefore unplanned, unserviced, and unsubsidized - as in the rural areas.

Although there had been real increases in formal sector wages for urban workers in many countries in the 1960s, there is some debate about how much benefit, in terms of disposable income for nonessential items, this meant for workers. In eastern and southern Africa it had been colonial policy to discourage or ban family migration to towns, and wages were largely set to cover the basic needs of a "single" male labourer. Jamal and Weeks (1993) show that the rises in incomes in the 1960s were mainly necessary adjustments to make some allowance for urban workers' family consumption needs - and did not necessarily mean that wage-workers could afford improvemeets in their standard of living, since the extra income was absorbed in meeting the basic needs of family members. The in-migration of women and children was certainly one of the most significant changes in the post-independence era (O'Connor, 1983; Potts and Mutambirwa, 1990). It was evidenced by a normalization of city population pyramids away from the colonial pattern of a heavy bias towards working-age men, more normal sex ratios (which for many cities are now at or near the national average), and a resultant rise in the rate of urban natural increase, so that most urban growth is now derived from this component rather than net in-migration.

Jamal and Weeks' analysis is in opposition to the view, accepted by many academics and policy makers in the 1970s and 1980s, of African wage-workers as a "labour aristocracy," which was successfully defending its privileges through organized activity such as trade unions. In their analysis, the reductions in urban income, which they show often began in the 1970s as economic conditions deteriorated, reduced urban residents who were already far from well-off to real poverty. Thus the devastation of urban living standards wrought by structural adjustment policies served further to immiserize most urban households, rather than to reduce a privileged lifestyle. Amis (1989), on the other hand, believes that really significant gains did accrue to the African urban labour force in the 1960s, and that their labour aristocracy status in that decade has some validity, but he concurs with Jamal and Weeks that these gains were soon dissipated in the 1970s.

The combined impact of the debt crisis and structural adjustment policies reduced urban workers to astonishing levels of poverty, evidence of which, as incomes from wages slipped completely out of line with the minimum required to keep a family (or in many cases even an individual) fed, let alone sheltered and clothed, abounds in the literature. The most comprehensive analysis of the fall in urban incomes during the 1970s and 1980s is provided in Jamal and Weeks' (1993) book: Africa Misunderstood, which is tellingly subtitled "Whatever happened to the rural-urban gap?" A selection of their data for different African countries, supplemented by some other sources, is presented in table 13.1.

As a consequence of the massive falls in most urban incomes, sometimes combined with improvements in rural incomes accruing from better agricultural prices,1 the "new" urban poor of Africa² are often poorer than rural households in crude income terms. In fact the measurement of the rural: urban income gap is notoriously difficult, since in both sectors so much of household income is irregular and non-monetized. The surrogates often used are average rural household income and average or minimum urban wages.³ The reversal of the income gap has been clearly documented for Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Tanzania. For Nigeria, Jamal and Weeks (1993) calculate that the ratio of unskilled wages to average rural household incomes was already 1:1 by 1978/79 (before structural adjustment), and Collier (1988) states that by 1984/85 the urban self-employed had lower incomes than rural households, since the average real incomes of the former fell twice as fast as those of the latter from 1980/81 to 1984/85. In Sierra Leone, average non-agricultural wages were estimated to be 72 per cent lower than average rural household incomes in 1985/86 (Jamal and Weeks, 1993), a situation supported by Riley's (1988, p. 7) contention that by 1986 the urban poor of that country were "a deprived group with fewer income or equivalent earning opportunities than the rural poor." In Uganda, the average farmer's income was 30 per cent higher than the average income of an urban minimum wage-earner in 1984 (Jamal and Weeks, 1993). In this case, the calculation is of particular note, because the urban income estimate has taken into account earnings from other non-wage sources - in fact 80 per cent of the wage-earner's income is assumed to come from other sources. For Tanzania the rural: urban income gap reduced from about 1:3 in the mid-1970s, to 1:1.4 by 1980 (Mtatifikolo, 1992), and by 1982 average smallholder income was 21 per cent more than the minimum urban wage in that year (Jamal and Weeks, 1993).4 In Lesotho, the 1986/87 household budget survey designated 24-27 per cent of urban households as "poor," compared with only 7-11 per cent of rural households (Sembajwe and Makatsjane, 1992).5

Table 13.1 Indices of real minimum for selected African countries


Indexa (date)

Uganda 29 (1957) 100 (1972)   6 (1980) 10 (1990)
Zambia 56 (1960) 128 (1970)   83 (1985)  
Tanzania 100 (1957) 206 (1972)     37 (1989)
Ghana   100 (1970) 149 (1974) 18 (1984) 34b (1986)
Nigeria       100 (1981) 10 (1990)
Egyptc     100 (1974) 119 (1981) 72 (1986)

Sources: compiled from data in Jamal and Weeks (1993), Gefu (1992), Jeffries (1992), Zaytoun (1991).

a. Indices are not comparable across countries.

b. This small recovery in Ghanaian minimum wages was subsequently dissipated when they fell again by 45 per cent in real terms between 1988 and 1990, for which a 30 per cent rise in 1990 only partly made up (Jiffries, 1992).

c. The Egyptian index is for real wages in the government employment sector only.

The fact that urban poverty may now surpass rural poverty is of particular significance to any study of the nature of urbanization in Africa. First, it is a particularly telling indicator of the levels of poverty urban households must bear, and it is important to remember that in some ways they are even more vulnerable than farmers, because their most basic need, food, is much more endangered by household income fluctuations. The significance of food self-sufficiency for rural households in comparisons of urban and rural livelihoods is particularly emphasized by Jamal and Weeks.6 Secondly, it is vitally important that policy makers recognize this, now longstanding, situation so that urban poverty can be tackled and further deliberate reductions in living standards prevented. That this is necessary is indicated by Amis and Rakodi (1994, p. 632), who point out that in sub-Saharan Africa "a view that urban areas are well off and that all the poverty is rural has proved remarkably robust." Thirdly, the nature of the rural-urban income gap is, in theory, the most important factor influencing rural-urban migration, and hence urban growth rates. Despite some assertions in the literature that economic recession in Africa has not led to reduced migration and urban growth (e.g. see World Bank, 1981; Jamal and Weeks, 1993; Gilbert, 1993), there is in fact mounting evidence that migration patterns in Africa have adapted to the deterioration of urban incomes, in line with theoretical expectations (see Potts, 1995). These important adaptations will be addressed in greater detail later in this chapter.

The wages: food gap and urban nutrition

For millions of urban families throughout Africa the economic circumstances described above have had seriously negative consequences for their ability to feed themselves adequately. Many surveys emphasize urban poverty in the 1980s and 1990s by calculating how much food typical wages can buy, and a range of illustrative data are set out below. It is important to note that, were these data to tell the whole story, obviously there would be mass famines in African cities; since this is not the case, equally obviously urban households have adopted coping strategies and these will be discussed in the next section. However urban diets have suffered tremendously, and not just in terms of protein intake, but often even in terms of calories, so that people are not just malnourished but undernourished. There is abundant evidence that urban households have substituted cheaper foods for preferred foods (e.g. cutting out bread and eating more staples such as maize); have cut down on or virtually ended the addition of high-protein items such as meat, milk, or fish; and have cut out some daily meals altogether. Furthermore, because proper preparation of traditional foods is often quite time consuming (which is one of the reasons why convenient bread became so popular in many parts of urban Africa), and women's time for domestic duties has been very hard hit by many of the adaptations made necessary by urban economic decline, there is also evidence that the form in which food is being consumed is changing (e.g. cold rather than hot, semi-rather than finely processed;), which usually means it is less nutritious. As always, it is the health and welfare of the most vulnerable members of the household, such as small children, that are most affected by adverse dietary changes. Given that most families would not introduce such drastic changes in their diets except as a last resort, it is obvious that urban families have already forgone vital expenditure in other areas such as clothing, education, and housing.

The fact that the measurement of urban living standards requires consideration of expenditure on much more than food is highlighted by Tripp's Tanzanian data, from which she estimates that, if other basic costs are included, the average monthly income in the late 1980s would cover an urban household of six for only three days (Tripp, 1990). Another East African example comes from Kenya, where 30 per cent of urban wage-earners could not buy the minimum amount of calories needed for a family of five by 1988 (Jamal and Weeks, 1993). Steep food price rises in Zambian towns combined with drastic falls in real wages to bring about a nutrition crisis in the 1980s. A survey of 100 households from different townships in Lusaka, the capital city, found that "as prices rose, poor families stopped buying meat, chicken, fish and bread. They also cut back on vegetables and even on mealie meal. Most families reduced from two to one meal per day in order to save money" (Mulenga, 1991; emphasis added). According to an Oxfam report, this had had adverse health effects, particularly for children (Clarke and Allison, 1989). Increases in child malnutrition in urban Zambia in the late 1980s are also reported in Jespersen (1990, p. 44), and by the 1990s infant mortality rates were rising and life expectancy was falling (Financial Times, 1994).8 In the Malawian cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe, low-income households were spending nearly two-thirds of their incomes on food in 1987/88, compared with about one-quarter in 1980 (Chilowa and Roe, 1990; Roe and Chilowa, 1990). The situation in Angola was even more extreme: although it too has had a (self-imposed) form of structural adjustment, the main cause of dire urban poverty here is the civil war, which started again, after a short respite, in late 1992 and which drove huge numbers of rural people into the towns. In Luanda, refugees have built shelters on any available space - former market gardens, factory land, city parks, and even the municipal rubbish dump. The minimum monthly wage in 1994 was sufficient to purchase only 5 loaves of bread or 10 buckets of clean water (Observer, 1994). In Zaire, urban living standards also fell dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s, and Mbuyi (1989) reports that many inhabitants of the capital, Kinshasa, state that they now take only one main meal a day (see also Piermay, chap. 7 in this volume).

West African examples include Sierra Leone, where by 1988 the average monthly urban wage covered only a week's food for a family of four (Jamal and Weeks, 1993). Supporting evidence for the gross insufficiency of Sierra Leonean urban incomes at this time is found in Riley (1988). Drawing on UNICEF data and his own estimates of the sort of diet that urban families had been reduced to by 1987 (a diet of significantly less nutritional and calorific value than that common in pre-structural adjustment times), he calculates that the minimum wage could cover the cost of only 10 meals a month in the capital, Freetown. He suggests that this must have had adverse consequences for infant mortality rates and malnutrition, a contention supported by a UNICEF study in 1989 (Jespersen, 1990). Another example is Ghana: Jeffries (1992) estimates that an urban resident on the minimum wage in 1990 could just about feed him- or herself, although no other necessary expenditure could be covered, or the subsistence needs of any dependants.9 Similar evidence of urban deprivation is found for Nigeria, West Africa's most populous state, which has by far the most urban centres in the region. Peil (1991) estimates that the minimum wage in 1989 would have bought a total of half a tin of local rice, one tin of garri (dried cassava), one tin of powdered milk, a litre of groundnut oil, two small loaves of bread, and six eggs. She also points out that many employees in small firms would receive less than this minimum wage, as would many of the self-employed; this of course is also true of all the other countries so far cited. The economic situation has worsened since then in Nigeria, with major currency devaluation and price rises in 1994 making the lives of the urban poor even harder (E. Blunt, personal communication, 1994; and see Abiodun's description of Lagos in chap. 6 in this volume).

Of course the impact of economic decline and structural adjustment policies has not been uniform across Africa, or even across the urban hierarchy within any one country. As a broad generalization it is the countries of tropical sub-Saharan Africa that have experienced the most extreme falls in urban living standards, and in some of these drought and/or wars have been even more important macro-influences on processes of urbanization and migration. The countries at the southern tip of the continent - South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland - have so far escaped the imposition of drastic austerity and liberalization programmes. In North African countries, structural adjustment policies have been implemented since the 1980s, with predictable consequences for the urban poor, but it appears that the impact on urban livelihoods has not been as extreme as in sub-Saharan Africa, presumably because their economies were and are less weak than those of most sub-Saharan states. In Egypt, for example, serious falls in real wages have mainly occurred in the government, rather than private, sector (see table 13.1). In the private sector, wages had often strengthened during the 1980s, and the agricultural wages index increased from 100 in 1975 to 215 by 1986 (Zaytoun, 1991). However, strong pressure from the IMF in 1990 led to steep price rises for staple foods, with rice prices rising 50 per cent (Niblock, 1993). Strong political protests from the urban population against increasing poverty appear to have been more common in North African countries (although sub-Saharan Africa has also experienced food riots), and this aspect of urban lives is well represented in the regional literature (e.g. Seddon, 1989, 1993; Denocux, 1993).

The ideology of economic "liberalization" and cost recovery and urban living standards

The gap between food costs and urban wages has arisen not only because wages have fallen in real terms but also because there have been significant price rises for food items. This has largely been caused by the liberalization of the food trade, in line with IMF conditionality, so that food prices are no longer fixed by government decree, and previous government subsidies that reduced the price to the buyer have been removed. In Tanzania, for example, the food trade was liberalized in 1984; between 1982/83 and 1987/88 real consumer prices for both maize and rice rose roughly fivefold (Maliyamkono and Bagachwa, 1990, table 3.6). Fixed prices for many products had often meant that parallel markets developed as demand outstripped supply, and urban families sometimes had to resort to these much higher-priced products. Inflexible and unrealistic fixed pricing, which led to serious shortages, was undoubtedly a disbenefit for the urban poor. In urban Tanzania and Zambia in the early 1980s some food and many other products were virtually unobtainable except on the parallel market (Maliyamkono and Bagachwa, 1990; Mulenga, 1991; Rakodi, 1994a), although subsidized maize meal was usually readily available in Zambia. Full liberalization of the food trade according to the IMF ideology that prices should be set by supply and demand, that marketing should be privatized, and that there should be full recovery of the costs incurred in marketing food to urban areas has obviously, however, contributed to the income problems faced by the "new" urban poor.

The idea that cost recovery and privatization will provide better services in urban areas is also encouraged or forced upon urban authorities by the international financial institutions. By the 1980s the situation with regard to services such as water supply, sewerage, electricity, public transport, and rubbish removal was disastrous in most urban areas (Stren and White, 1989). The debt crisis meant that foreign exchange shortages and general financial restrictions were faced by nearly all service suppliers. As a result, newly developing areas of the city (whether planned or unplanned) could often not be publicly serviced at all, and in the older urban areas existing infrastructure could not be maintained. In all sectors the common story was that there was not enough equipment, or supplies of inputs, or vehicles, or what was available was not functioning for lack of spare parts. Privatization and/or cost-recovery strategies in a liberalized economic environment are argued by the World Bank to be the answer. Although this could lead to some service improvements, the bland assumption that the poor will benefit too is often misplaced (see also Aina, chap. 12 in this volume, for a critique of this approach to urban services). A common pro-privatization argument is that residents in unplanned settlements often pay more for their water (per unit) than the wealthy with piped supplies - and would therefore be happy to pay for an efficiently run unsubsidized water supply to their settlement. However, the poor cannot avoid consuming water, and the logic of generalizing from the case of water provision to other services is deeply flawed. There has been significant recourse to the private sector for services (e.g. septic tank emptying, rubbish collection) by the urban wealthy for some time (Stren and White, 1989), but at a considerable cost premium. Since the poor can rarely afford services now, it is usually untenable that a more expensive service, albeit one that functions, is going to help in any way.

In terms of living standards, the introduction of cost-recovery systems in education and health has even greater implications. Most African governments subsidized these services to a significant degree, and much higher charges are usually now being made. This is putting further pressure on the budgets of the urban poor, who now often have to withdraw their children from school and delay going to clinics, or not obtain medical help at all. In Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe, user costs for education and health have increased dramatically since the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) was instituted in 1990. People in low-income residential areas are finding the extra costs a difficult burden (Kanji, 1993), and my research in 1994 found that recent migrants to the city often mentioned the problems caused by price rises for health and education first when discussing the impact of ESAP (Potts with Mutambirwa, forthcoming). Maternity services, for example, now cost so much that hospital deliveries have declined and the maternal death rate has soared.

In comparison with many other African nations, however, the situation in Harare is still favourable, even for the urban poor. In others, state health and education services have virtually collapsed. Thus in 1994 in Luanda in Angola it was difficult to educate a child outside the private sector, where one month's fees are roughly double the minimum wage (Observer, 1994). In Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, pert-urban areas in the early 1980s had virtually no services of any kind. Mass mobilization of the residents from 1983 by revolutionary committees brought about significant improvements in educational facilities in particular, which were built "privately', and eventually staffed by government teachers (Jaglin, 1994). However, levies had to be paid to the committees for the new schools, representing an additional "tax" burden for those least able to afford it.

Although most new housing for the urban poor today is completely or virtually unplanned, and therefore largely unserviced, government financial constraints and the cost-recovery ethos mean that planned sites are now so minimally serviced that the difference between planned and unplanned housing in physical environmental terms is not very marked. This has been true of many site and service schemes in South Africa (Potts, 1994). In Tanzania, planned sites and services programmes in the 1980s were provided with no infrastructure, not even water or unsurfaced roads.

The incapacity of African urban government to maintain infrastructure and services has been a major contributor to the declining living standards of the urban poor. Although the wealthier sections of the population have not by any means escaped the problems, the poor are more vulnerable and have fewer options. In the context of Nigeria, Uduku (1994, p. 75) has recently argued that "the commercialization drive and possible deregulation [in social infrastructure provision]... that is currently being pursued is unlikely to benefit the average city dweller," since current levels of poverty are such that most people could not be serviced at a profit and will thus not be serviced at all. Similar fears for the poor about this approach to services have been voiced by Stren (1990) and Gilbert (1992). The picture so far painted of life in urban areas has been one of increasing hardship and real impoverishment. Most people are now very poor, and were they to rely on formal wages and public sector infrastructure they would not be able to survive. The impossibility of staying alive on typical urban wages in Africa has been dubbed the "wages puzzle" by Jamal and Weeks (1993). That people do survive is testimony to their ingenuity, determination, and sheer hard work a host of coping strategies have developed. It is to these strategies that this chapter now turns.

Household survival strategies

The urban poor have adopted a number of strategies10 in their attempts to manage the changes in their economic circumstances. Two major coping strategies have now been well documented. The first involves an increase in informal sector activity, with previously non-earning household members entering the petty commodity sector, as well as wage-earners taking on supplementary cash-earning activities (see, for example, Tripp, 1989; Jespersen, 1990; Roe and Chilowa, 1990; Maliyamkono and Bagachwa, 1990; Bibangambah, 1992; Bigsten and Kayizzi-Mugerwa, 1992; Kanji, 1993; Adepoju, 1993; Rogerson, chap. 10 in this volume; Piermay, chap. 7 in this volume; and, for a general review of evidence for such strategies in third world cities, including Africa, Gilbert, 1994). The second strategy involves the development of food-growing by urban households on any available patch of arable land within and around the

urban area (e.g. Sanyal, 1985; Mulenga, 1991; Gefu, 1992; Holm, 1992; Mlozi et al., 1992; Mbiba, 1994; Drakakis-Smith et al., 1995; Rogerson, chap. 10 in this volume). New ways of accessing services or of adapting to their absence are other types of coping strategies. Many of these strategies have fairly specific gender implications and may bring the poor into conflict with urban authorities. A final and very important survival strategy involves the strengthening and adaptation of the rural-urban linkages that have always been such an important part of urbanization processes in sub-Saharan Africa (Potts and Mutambirwa, 1990). The following sections consider these issues in more detail, beginning with the nature of rural linkages and adaptations in migration patterns.

Vital rural linkages: Continuity and change

There is a long tradition of academic interest in the nature of linkages between rural and urban areas in Africa. One aspect of this interest has been a fascination with the degree of commitment urban residents have to their urban life and lifestyle and the urban milieu generally, and how best to analyse and categorize those who maintain strong rural ties (e.g. Epstein, 1958, 1961, 1967; Mitchell, 1959, 1966, 1987; Gluckman, 1960, 1961; Mayer, 1961, 1962, 1964; Gugler, 1971, 1991; Stopforth, 1972, 1977; Moller, 1973; Gutkind, 1974; Gugler and Flanagan, 1978; O'Connor, 1983; Potts and Mutambirwa, 1990; Mabin, 1990; Andreasen, 1990). Research on related topics has included surveys of urban residents' social and political affiliations and their attitudes toward urban living. It is usually assumed that of great significance for understanding and gauging commitment to town are the incidence and degree of maintenance of rural links, such as rural land, a rural house, family ties, and rural-urban and urban-rural economic transfers, and that the ultimate "proof" of weak urban roots is a stated intention to return to a rural lifestyle at some point in the future.

The focus of much such research tends, for obvious reasons, to be on people who were originally rural-urban migrants. For many African urban settlements such migrants made up most of the population until about the 1970s. One reason was the colonial practice in much of Africa of considering towns as European areas. A range of policies "encouraged" African workers to come to town as "single" male migrants, rather than as families, and not to settle down permanently. Of critical significance in facilitating circular migration was the nature of land tenure: for most of sub-Saharan Africa this was communal and the vast majority of the population had rights to land through their lineage or marriage, which migration to town did not abrogate. In South Africa, Namibia, and Southern Rhodesia, these policies were formalized, and racist influx controls on permanent African residence were institutionalized. Even there such policies were never fully effective, and elsewhere their implementation varied over time. Inevitably a stabilized urban-born component of city populations developed. Nevertheless, patterns of circular migration, whereby in-migrants eventually returned "home," were firmly established. After independence, a shift towards more family migration occurred, and it became more common for migrants to stay in town for longer periods of time, perhaps for their working lives, and many settled permanently. In the 1960s, migrants still dominated urban populations, especially since the rate of migration increased significantly throughout the continent. However, the fact that more women were now present inevitably meant that natural increase was becoming more significant, and by the 1970s there was often a rough balance in urban growth rates between net in-migration and internally generated population increase.

In the literature, particularly amongst the earlier social observers, negative connotations were often associated with African rural-urban migrants who retained strong rural links. There was a feeling that they were somehow socially and politically unformed or chaotic, and that their position implied a rejection of the urban milieu and a degree of mental stress (Gutkind, 1974). Certainly their situation made them hard to define in standard anthropological, sociological, or political economy categories, as reflected in the common assertion that they were not "fully urbanized," with its implication that they were, in some way, not "complete." Such attitudes are quite misplaced; as will be seen, the strength and nature of African urban-rural linkages vary over time as macro-political and economic conditions change, and such links represent vital safety-valves and welfare options for urban people who are very vulnerable to economic fluctuations in the absence of state welfare systems (Potts and Mutambirwa, 1990). The nature of the linkages is thus not a given, and neither are their implications. The anxieties about where migrants' affiliations lay were questioned early on by Gluckman (1961, p. 69) in his famous assertion: "an African townsman is a townsman, an African miner is a miner." Gutkind (1974) went further in criticizing the conception that migrants are not deeply involved in town life and what he felt was an overemphasis on the problems migrants faced in adapting to towns. Although acknowledging that such adaptations were not always easy, he stated that they were "not generally the central problem for the migrant. What matters is the availability of housing, work, and adequate wages" (Gutkind, 1974, p. 53).

In concert with Gutkind it is now more generally recognized that most migrants to town have a fairly realistic idea of what faces them, because information flows and visits between rural and urban areas are well established. Gutkind's reformulation of the implications of migrancy and rural-urban links even asserted that the latter, which were absolutely vital to the migrant, could increase migrants' commitment to town. He argued that:

The degree of contact the African urbanite maintains with his [sic] home community does not involve him in less participation in the life of the town but, frequently, in deeper and more persistent involvement. Visits to a rural home, or other regular links, are usually a reflection of a fairly high degree of commitment to an urban-based wage economy or to the perception by the migrant that life in town provides him with the potential of some degree of upward economic and social mobility which, if realised, in turn increases his stature in the rural community. Thus rural (traditional) influences rather than making a migrant less of an urbanite might actually involve him more deeply in the urban milieu. (Gutkind, 1974, pp. 31-32)

Although the importance of status considerations cannot be ignored, it would be hard to maintain that this interpretation of rural-urban linkages is of most relevance to understanding today's links. Instead, as will be shown, it is vital economic considerations that currently dominate.

It is now firmly established that economic considerations are the primary cause of rural-urban migration (e.g. Mitchell, 1959; Gugler, 1969; Caldwell, 1969; Todaro, 1969, 1971; O'Connor, 1983; Potts and Mutambirwa, 1990). When the rural: urban income gap was strongly in favour of urban areas in the 1960s and early 1970s in most African countries, the advantage of moving to town was fairly obvious. Although rising levels of urban unemployment (measured in "formal" terms) in the 1970s somewhat affected this economic advantage, continued rapid urban growth was generally explained in terms of a generalized "Todaro" model whereby migrants assessed their lifetime's earning potential in urban versus rural areas. Other important factors in rural-urban migration were the better health and education facilities available in town. It has also been shown that migrancy is a selective process, being particularly prevalent amongst younger working-age men and those with a better education. However there has been a significant increase in female migration since independence, with the move towards more family migration being an important factor. There are of course regional variations in these patterns; Ethiopia, for example, has always had a preponderance of female rural-urban migration (O'Connor, 1983), and this was also noted for Zaire in the early 1970s (Mbuyi, 1989). The causes of the high incidence of female migration in these countries are not clear, although in Ethiopia they presumably have something to do with the notably different history of land tenure in that country compared with most of sub-Saharan Africa.

The shift to longer periods of migration or permanent migration by the 1970s did not mean that full "stabilization" had occurred - that all migrants brought their families and intended to remain permanently. The persistence of male and circular migration,12 and of the implicit rural-urban linkages, has been somewhat contrary to certain theoretical expectations, which foresaw a greater degree of stabilization as economic development occurred, policies "encouraging" return migration came to an end, and modernization weakened social ties to villages. An assumption that this was a one-way process has been quite strong. In fact it is now clear that return migration and rural-urban linkages have strengthened in many countries since, and sometimes during, the 1970s. Such processes are well exemplified by Zambia, and the implications of such changes and their relationship to the model of eventual stabilization have been debated between Macmillan (1993) and Ferguson (1990, 1994).

By the 1980s, the idea that economic advantage was fostering rapid rural-urban migration no longer made much sense, particularly for those sub-Saharan African cities where the gap between formal earnings and even the most frugal expenditure on food was so evident. Yet the urban growth reported for most countries appeared to show rates that suggested continued significant net in-migration. These reported rates were usually derived from World Bank or United Nations published data, and have been endlessly regurgitated in the mainstream literature on third world or African urbanization (e.g. see Gilbert, 1992; Jamal and Weeks, 1993). Thus it was common in the 1980s for Africa to be characterized as the continent with the lowest levels of urbanization but the highest urban growth rates. Given that the majority of the population of so many African towns and cities experienced a massive decline in their living standards at this time, it seemed increasingly puzzling that urban growth rates, and rural-urban migration, were not felt to have been much affected by the squeeze on urban incomes and employment.

In reality, urban growth rates have fallen, sometimes quite dramatically for certain towns, in a number of African countries. The tendency to assume that very rapid growth has persisted in Africa derives, as noted by earlier contributors to this volume, from the uncritical use of outdated projections (see Piermay, chap. 7 in this volume, for a useful discussion of the problems and dangers of assuming that past growth rates for Kinshasa are in any way a useful guide to current growth). Careful analysis of recent census data (unfortunately available for only a handful of countries) suggests a very different scenario, and demonstrates not only that rural-urban linkages persist, but also that they have undergone specific and logical adaptations in response to urban economic decline. Three main types of change have occurred in rural-urban linkages and migration processes: adaptations in household composition; increases in rural-urban transfers; and declining in-migration and increased out-migration.

Household composition

As discussed above, there has been a major trend towards more family13 migration, in the case of married people, since the colonial period, although young single people are naturally still an important component of rural-urban flows. That many people should want to live in family units is scarcely surprising; this is after all a social norm in most societies worldwide. Nevertheless, some countervailing factors have continued to operate, so that for some migrants, and in some areas, the disadvantages of bringing all immediate family members to town outweigh the advantages. For example, where land is in short supply a migrant might decide that continued rights to communal land might have to be guaranteed by leaving an actively cultivating spouse behind. This is a complex issue and its significance varies geographically. There is no clear-cut evidence of a relationship between rural population pressure and the composition of migrant flows; many other factors such as lineage status, relationships with authorities involved with land, or the amount of family land may also affect the decision. Despite creeping commercialization of land in some parts of Africa, the perception that rural-urban migrants have a strong birthright to land is still very strong, as is the feeling that it will be honoured. Gugler (1991) has shown that migrants in Enugu, Nigeria, are still convinced that they will be able to return home and farm after decades in town, and the strength of rural-urban land ties in Nigeria has also been demonstrated by Andrae (1992). In Zimbabwe, where land is in very short supply, Potts and Mutambirwa (1990) found that three-quarters of migrants by the 1980s were choosing to bring their spouses and children to town with them, but also that roughly one-third of migrants definitely intended not to stay permanently in town - and the vast majority of these expected to return to farming in the future. However, Potts and Mutambirwa also identified complex visiting patterns to rural areas, particularly involving wives, which allowed much of the land held by those migrants who still had land assets to be cultivated. Van Donge (1990) does, however, pinpoint land shortage in a specific region of Tanzania (Mgeta division in the Uluguru mountains south of Morogoro) as a prime reason for Waluguru migrants wanting to establish themselves permanently in Dar es Salaam.

Other reasons for leaving family members behind in rural areas are lack of income to support them and lack of housing (Potts and Mutambirwa, 1990). Although overcrowding in urban dwellings is virtually ubiquitous, and very high proportions of poor urban households can afford to occupy only one room (O'Connor, 1983; Potts with Mutambirwa, 1991; Tipple, 1994; Amis and Lloyd, 1990), for some inadequate accommodation may be a factor in determining migrant household composition. In Thika, Kenya, for example, Andreasen (1990) has documented such appalling poverty, insecurity, and inadequate housing for some migrants that family life would be quite impossible. Undoubtedly the decline in real incomes that urban residents have suffered since the 1970s may have encouraged the tendency to leave some people behind or to send some "home." This is particularly reinforced by urban households' desperate need for food: people at "home" can grow food, some of which can supplement urban sources, as noted for Uganda by Jamal and Weeks (1993) and for Zambia by Mulenga (1991). On the other hand, a rather different adaptation has been noted in Harare, where in some households where female spouses usually spent most of their time in the rural areas the women were now spending more time in town "in order to save on transport costs for either spouse to visit each other but also, for women to try and earn hard cash in town," although the women were still expected to maintain rural food output as well (Kanji and Jazdowska, 1993, p. 21).

Another aspect of changing household composition involves children. Declining urban educational facilities combined with their increased expense may encourage parents to return children to rural areas where schools are cheaper (e.g. see Dubresson on Abidjan, chap. 8 in this volume). Nelson (1987) has also documented the strategy of fostering urban children in rural areas in Kenya in order to reduce urban expenditure. Additionally, there is evidence of more children attempting to earn money and an increase in the number of children living on the streets, as described by Obudho for Nairobi (chap. 9 in this volume).

Adaptations in rural-urban and urban-rural transfers

Transfers of goods and cash between urban and rural households have always been a vital part of African migration processes (O'Connor, 1983), but the dominant flow has tended to be of cash remittances to rural dependents. In many societies these have been fundamental to the survival of rural households, particularly in southern Africa where unequal land division between black and white and influx controls rendered many rural households virtually destitute. However there is evidence of significant shifts in the nature of such transfers.

It appears that far more food is now being brought in from rural areas, which of course greatly enhances urban residents' vested interests in maintaining their social and economic rural links. These transfers can rely on surpluses generated by existing rural kin or on urban residents returning in the rainy season to cultivate, which they would probably not choose to do if they could afford urban food prices or could gain access to sufficient land in town to grow food. On the other hand, there is some evidence that remittances to rural areas are declining as urban households find it harder to spare any money. This was true of urban households in Harare (Kanji, 1993) and in Lilongwe and Blantyre (Chilowa and Roe, 1990). In the latter cities in 1988/89 only 17 per cent of households remitted to rural areas during a three-month period.


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