Urbanization in Poverty, Urban Land Use Planning and Management


Africa is still a largely rural continent, however it is the region with the highest rates of urbanization in the world. Between 1990 and 2001, urban growth in some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa reached staggering rates of 7 per cent per annum (World Bank, 2003:314). Half of the population in Africa still lives on less than US$1.25 per day. The two facts taken together indicate that in Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty is urbanizing. Escalating of poverty has interalia given rise to widespread informal urbanization and severe deficits in public infrastructure services. These issues are interlinked and mutually reinforcing urban issues. In 2001, 166 million people, about 72 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s urban population, were living in informal settlements, compared to 42 per cent in Asia and 32 percent in Latin America (UN-HABITAT, 2003). Between 1990 and 2001, the number of people living in slums and informal settlements in African cities increased by 65 million, i.e. at an average rate of 4.5 percent per annum. Then the urban growth rate in the formal sector in most countries was less than 3.5 per cent annum.

High urbanization rates and increasing poverty have invariably overstressed both market mechanisms and statutory land management institutions including those responsible for the provision of sufficient housing land. Current rates of urbanization in Africa more or less parallel those of the Western Europe during early industrialization at the end of the 19th century, and exhibit a number of similar problems; these include poor and crowded housing, lack of basic infrastructure services, high child mortality, low life expectancy and many environmental hazards leading to high vulnerability to infectious diseases. Unlike in the West, however, rapid urban growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is not supported by or commensurate with rapid economic transformation and growth. As a result, both the public and private sector are generally poor. Attempts to check or stop rapid urban population growth have either failed, or deemed undesirable as they conflict with democratic rights enshrined in the national constitution of most countries. It can thus be safely assumed that rapid urban growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to be sustained for quite some time in the future. Yet, despite anticipatable sustained high urban growth rates, the hitherto public actions and policy responses to address haphazard urban growth, unmanagement land development, and informality, including excessive urban densification and its inherent socio-spatial deficits including provision of basic infrastructure services have generally been ineffective.

The reasons are manifold and complex, the lack of public resources being only one. The failure of the ailing state is aggravated by misplaced priorities, outdated legal frameworks, inappropriate urban planning and land management concepts and practices. Mostly importantly, continued neglect of the potentials for urban growth regulation systems which are being deployed by informal institutions or actors at the grassroots in the absence of an effective statutory land use planning and management in most parts of SSA cities, is also a concern.

Policy Initiatives and Actions

Initiatives so far undertaken such as in situ upgrading, slum clearance and more recently regularization and formalization of informal settlements as well as mobilization of more resources to boost the supply of planned and surveyed of building land have not been effective in checking the problems poor urban land management. Most policies seem to have focused on treating the symptoms (reactive) and not addressing structural issues such as inappropriateness of urban land use planning and management concepts, standards and regulation (Kombe, 2014).

There is a consensus that conventional intervention strategies such as Sites and Service and Squatter Upgrading programmes were reactive and not proactive. Besides, these interventions sought to solve the informal housing and slum problems through traditional engineering approaches without adequate resources to match the growing problem associated with urban poverty. Strategies to deal with planning and land management in cities facing urbanization in poverty ought to go beyond the provision of housing and physical infrastructure (UNCHS, 2003:164). That is they ought to go beyond the normative. Issues such as governance and political will, ownership and property rights, social capital and access, and partnership including involvement of the poor in economic and political activities, ought to be at the centre of interventions.

On the other hand, the move to regularize, formalize and improve property rights of the poor informal settlements is a welcome idea, as it may provide prospects for income generation. But considering the magnitude of the problem of informal settlements and their high rate of growth and consolidation and huge financial outlays that are (likely to be available) required to regularize them, this strategy appear a palliative measure and not a cure. Unless measures are taken to proactively check haphazard urban expansion and excessive densification, the intention to regularize so as to improve informal settlements issue licenses/titles would not change the situation much. This is primarily because the expectations that licenses or titles issued for areas can be used as collateral would fail to attract financial institutions, because of poor environmental setting. Given the extent of the informal housing sector in many cities of Sub-Saharan Africa and the weak public sector, adoption and implementation of a comprehensive upgrading approach such as regularization is out of question (Sliuzas, 2004).

In the highly industrialized countries, rapid urban growth during the period of early industrialization was driven by economic development. After a difficult initial phase, when urban management concepts and instruments were still to be developed, local authorities were charged with the tasks and endowed with the necessary resources to check rapid urban expansion. Most importantly, even though the budget required to establish effective planning authorities were supported by a growing tax base, and political commitment to the recognition of subsidiarity and decentralization, the early urban land use management regulations were simple and straightforward, but strategic enough to improve public health, facilitate vehicular circulation, and direct urban growth into favorable location. This is ought to be food for thought for the SSA technocrats, policy makers and researchers in the Sub-Sahara Africa region.

From the foregoing, it is apparent that a more pragmatic approach to urban land use planning and management is wanting. One of the strategic moves ought to focus on the need to explore mechanisms and policy measures to improve the performance of the grassroots institutions including the informal sector actors who appear to be the indispensable builders of our cities as well as service key providers.

Leave a Reply