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Urbanization in Africa and its effect on land use

The transformation of Africa from a basically rural society, towards a mainly urban one, through the process of concentrating of large numbers of people in large cities has been an ongoing phenomenon that has come to characterize Africa. The emerging community practices in land use planning and management of urban settlements in Africa’s cities are a result of urbanization and the diminished capacity of the state and its administration to provide services and to manage urban development.

The altering political and socio-economic environment in urbanized Africa since the mid1980s has resulted in the adoption of market-oriented policies, which have made the role of the state very different from the one it had during the previous periods, when it had the formal authority to the provide housing, services and infrastructure. In this transformed role, the state is no longer the major provider of services and infrastructure in housing and in urban planning. These transformations have increased the role of local actors: groups of people, CBOs, residents and other groups in the civil society in urban land use.

Although there are a large number of actors in housing and service provision and land use planning, there is still an unclear interrelation between official and unofficial planning systems. This paper deals with the issues of land use across a range of different urban contexts. The paper examines access to land for housing in Africa through the lens of the legislative instruments and informal initiatives designated for regulating and regularizing the use of urban plots. Introduction

At the turn of the millennium, Africa’s urban areas were driven mostly by not formal practices in such important areas as land use (Stren and Halfani 2001:474). The significance of land developments in Africa invites close attention by researchers and policy makers to attempt to explain how African urban maintenance is made in order to improve generally worsening standards of living. It is only recently that major large business companies and bilateral development organizations have turned their attention to the quickly growing cities in Africa (UNCHS 2001).

It is clear that this tendency reflects concerns about land use in some of the poorest parts of the world. In most African countries, the capacity of public establishments to guide and support land use has decreased extremely over the last three to four decades. Houses are primarily supplied through illegal occupation of land or subdivision of land in conflict with planning procedures, and building of houses without authorization to do so and in violation of building codes. Not only the poor members of society build houses outside the law.

In recent years, middle and high standard housing regions have also been managed informally, chiefly based on subdivision of land having no official permission, both public and private. There, as in low-income communities, infrastructure is in poor state or absent. Informal establishment of new regions that appear to have emerged in defiance of the law may at present be based on a combination of political support, implicit permission on behalf of the local government and some elements of present regulatory standards.

Main Body 1. Shifts in Power In Africa, concern over the cost of low density urbanization, the need to provide serviced land for low and middle income members of society, the inherited segregated urban complex organization, and decreasing sovereignty of central governments is revealing problems associated the legal right of possession and use of land and planning for development.

The current land use transformations of urban space in Africa are set into motion by a combination of processes that indicate to the decreasing sovereignty of central governments. State authority is being de-institutionalized and decentralized under internal demands of urbanization and external urgent demand for economic liberalization. In the development of neo-liberal reforms in urban areas, changes in land value are altering both the place and essential character of commercial space and affecting access to houses and their location.

One stratagem followed in some countries, privatizing housing markets by means of the sale of municipal or state-owned housing units to tenants occupying a house, easily favors wealthy persons who in turn push previous tenants onto the housing market not of a formal nature because of their financial lack of means to buy or rent formal housing. As a consequence, “privatizing the housing stock may actually promote a sort of gentrification process that not only extends the housing gap between poor and rich but also is gender biased” (Schlyter 2002).

A recent analysis from Zambia’s Copperbelt, for example, indicates that far fewer women tenants than men had possibility to purchase their houses (Chellah 2001). Women’s access to official credit was limited and they had to be dependent on financial support from relatives and friends. The absence of appropriate finance systems makes it problematic for government authorities and municipal councils to meet the low-income population’s demand for land and housing (Durand-Lasserve 1998:236).

In areas where privatization of housing markets is realized without the construction of low-cost housing by governments or private investors, the large number of urban populations is forced to live in lodgings built without legal permission. It is not unexpected that the most effective supply of housing happens beyond the limits of the law. In a large number of cities planned by British colonial authorities, in particular in former settler regions, the urban system is still having residences that are segregated, in a former time along racial lines and at present along class lines, and by inflexible zoning of land use activities.

As a result of this segregation, the search for housing by the poor classes often pushes them onto the outermost boundaries of an area where infrastructure and services are in short supply. In these areas, insufficient provision of electricity, water, and transport decreases the utilization of economic opportunities in both services and small scale manufacturing activities. The opportunities for spatial expansion are often restricted because of neighboring developments on per urban land, such as farms engaged in commerce and airport industry.

The consequence of this is overpopulation in existing informal settlements where growth of the number of the inhabitants is accommodated on subdivided plots in a rapid growth of rented rooms (Kempe 2002). In some cases customary holding of a property co-exists with a liberalized land market, for example in peri-urban Kampala, Accra, Gaborone, Maseru and Bamako (Mbiba 2001). Lawfulness of land use, shelter production and work in African cities are not simple matters. Legal systems rarely exist alone and are characterized by unity with courts that are placed to be the sole judges of what is established by law and what is not.

Ignoring the complex conditions of law, including informal law, is no way of answering the problem. Already in the early 1990s, an international specialist regarding legal land use questions, Patrick McAuslan of UNCHS, proposed that urban reforms should start with a careful examination of the legal situation. He claimed that, without such a survey “it is not possible to know whether the problem is too much law, too little law, out of-date law, ignorance of law, law at variance with practice, customs and beliefs, a reasonable law unreasonably administered, law needing wholesale reform, or law needing minor adjustments” (Kempe 2002:248).

Such analyses should not be limited to urban land use, but consider legal matters belonging to the informal economy, such as commercial law, taxation law, labor practices and environmental laws. 2. Informal Land Use Planning As a response to the failure of the official planning system in urban areas, communities have developed local structures for informal planning, for gaining land and supplying services.

Informal planning here involves the popular practice of activities based on providing the means to help oneself without relying on the assistance of others by which individuals, groups of people or local communities provide land rights, make spatial structuring or land subdivision, land operations and service provision. Communities manage land use without deferring to the administrative or legal state structures, this means outside the traditional public sector planning and land management control mechanisms. 3. Urban Land Management The main physical, economic and political source of economic wealth in Africa’s cities is land.

It is, as a result, environmentally sensitive, subject to investment involving high risk and hoarding as well as productive investment and open to political debate. Africa is experiencing high rates of urbanization, the extent and pace of which have become greater dramatically over the last four decades. Therefore, the urban land management system needs to deal with possession and holding arrangements, procedures for registration and agreements, plans and standards of land use, investment in and development of land used for commercial purposes, and provision of infrastructure.

The instruments used in Africa are collected in national legislation that is usually based on some mixture of imported laws and indigenous systems, provided to by land ‘reforms’, such as nationalization in the 1970s. For a long time it has been accepted the fact that implementation of formal systems of tenure, registration, transfer, land use planning and development control goes beyond the boundaries of the administrative and financial capacity of African local government. In addition, such systems are misconceived in the terms of this limited capacity, fast low income urban increase, and local systems of property rights and processes.

In most cases, most land becomes available for urban use and is developed and transferred through unofficial processes. Unofficial procedures operate in parallel to official systems that are effective only in some parts of the urban areas in most cities of Africa (Rakodi, 1997). In recent years, researchers have focused their attention either on repeated reports of the failure of formal systems of land use or on making efforts to analyze the informal processes of subdivision, transfer, development and regulation (for example, Kombe and Kreibich, 2000).

It is obvious that the unofficial processes have enabled large numbers of people to gain access to land, the development of land and real estate markets, and incremental investment in buildings and business premises. It is also recognized that problems associated with urbanization result, most importantly (Kempe 2002: 45): • insecure and contested tenure; • imperfect markets characterized by limited information; • speculation in and hoarding of land;

• increasing difficulties facing low-income people in accessing land, because of increasing commercialization of land markets and the importance of political patronage in laying claims to land; • unplanned urban sprawl; • development in unsuitable areas; • poor environmental health due to the lack of infrastructure; • poor quality construction due to insecurity, lack of access to credit and non-enforcement of building regulations; • failure to yield profit to pay for lengthening of roads and other urban services, and lack of land for public uses, for instance, schools.

Recently policy makers proposed recommendations that focus on ways of addressing some of these problems. At the same time, they recognize the benefits and profits of unofficial processes of land and property use over ineffective official systems. Some are presented below: 1. There is an developing debate over the best actions for improving security of realty. Some support the view that formal individual title should be made universal, to improve eligibility for credit, increase investment and make administration less complicated.

However: individualization of title discriminates in favor of those who succeed, via claiming group rights or exploiting their wealth or connections, in achieving land and house ownership, while it excludes those who previously benefited from family claims or non-commercialized access via squatting … The majority of urban residents are already tenants and do not stand to benefit from individualizations of title [which may also lead to increased rents]. (Rakodi, 1997: 402-3)

Others, therefore, present supporting reasons for measures to improve security of realty without the costs and other unfavorable conditions of individual freehold title, including the acts of protecting from eviction, various forms of title (leasehold, collective title), elementary surveying and registration arrangements, and working with indigenous arrangements for transfer, registration, and problem management wherever capable of being achieved (Kempe 2002). 2.

It is suggested that, because bureaucratic activities for subdividing and allocating land under state have created favorable combination of circumstances for corruption, land should be transferred from public to private ownership. 3. Specified attention should be given to complete registration of possession of a property as a basis for taxation, rather than the preparation of a formal cadastre (Mbiba 2001). 4. The use of collaborative decision making methods in the preparation of strategies and plans at the cities should be improved (Kempe 2002). 5.

Main infrastructure investment (roads, a system of watercourses, and water mains) should be used to guide broad models of process of developing. 6. Infrastructure should be located with minimum demolition in already settled urban areas, by following right standards and combined approaches. 7. Alternatives for achieving a better standard in the planning of new development areas, installation of infrastructure, and reservation of places for public uses, without government having to get the land, should be serving as a guide, for instance, by the use of reconstruction techniques.

8. Methods providing adequate financial return should be developed for infrastructure installation, operation and management, such as AGETIPS (Kempe 2002). 9. The quality of land use can be improved by cooperating with unofficial and small-scale contractors and their customers, by means of education and explanation programs. As a result, the limited resources for operating formal development control systems can cause to come to a single purpose regarding the main industrial and commercial areas and constructions open to public access.

Few of these proposals have been put into action. The strategies need to be examined for their local adaptability. Decisions should be made in the light of an improved understanding of how the processes which produce most of the urban built systems really work. Conclusions The rapid growth of urbanization in Africa is accompanied by conflicts over the use of urban space. Subdivisions of land, squatting, building, street trading and productive activities take place in defiance of existing legal regulations and governments’ efforts at ensuring obedience to these laws.

In Africa, rapid urbanization changed the concept of land use from a centralized, bureaucratic exercise to a participatory and communicative process. As a result, various types of informal appropriation of space, of land acquisition and use emerged to which local government responds in ways that reflects their limited capacity to govern land use in the cities. Looking at the whole process of land use initiatives in Africa, it is clear that the state-led regularization efforts culminated in controversy with the community and prompted its rejection by the latter.

So, how can the formal and informal land use co-exist in such conditions of transformation? What steps need to be taken by the public sector planning to find solution and help to the local groups in general in their efforts to achieve a better quality of their settlements? The significance of acquiring knowledge and a better understanding of how local figures are shaping urban land use practices becomes of the greatest importance.

There is therefore a need for conducting further examination and analysis through detailed case studies in order to understand alternative modes of urban land use.


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