VIII-6. The Formal and the Informal City in Africa: Planning and Governance Dilemmas

Convener: Geoffrey I. Nwaka (Abia State University, Uturu, Nigeria); e-mail:

Urban planning and governance have not adapted fast enough to the extraordinary situation of rapid urban change in Africa. The planning profession is in many respects still prisoner of received laws and codes tied to the colonial tradition, and established prior to the rapid urban expansion of the post colonial period. Many analysts have observed in post colonial Africa “a new process of urbanization unleashed by the masses of relatively low income migrants who have flocked into the cities since independence, and are seeking to solve their problems of accommodation and employment informally, and on their own terms…; the urban poor are dominant, and in most cases are transforming the city to meet their own needs, often in conflict with official laws and plans.” UN-Habitat estimates that sub-Saharan African cities have over 166 million slum dwellers, most of who work in the informal sector where they simply do not earn enough to afford decent shelter and service. What does sustainability mean for such cities and townspeople? Government officials and planner, who often aspire to international standards of modernity, face a difficult dilemma of how to plan and manage this rapid urban growth in a way that promotes employment, income and shelter for the poor, and at the same time ensures a reasonably orderly, healthy and socially acceptable environment. Unfortunately, many of these officials tend to blame the victims, and to see the urban poor, the informal sector and the slums in which they live as evidence of the failure of official policy, and therefore something to be removed though misguided policies of forced eviction and other forms of repression. But current research suggests that the path to urban peace and sustainability in Africa lies in building more inclusive and socially equitable cities “where everyone, regardless of their economic means, gender, age, ethnic origin or religion are enabled and empowered to participate productively in the social, economic and political opportunities that cities offer”. The panel invites papers that consider appropriate, realistic and balanced ways to respond to the economic, social and governance challenges of rapid urban change in Africa.