Urban Governance in Africa Today: Reframing, Experiences, and Lessons

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Journal Article
Growth and Change, 2017, 48 (1), pp. 4 - 21
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© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc Progress in analysing the instrumental view of governance as an engine for growth, poverty reduction, and inclusive development has been held back by the difficulty in framing governance. This essay seeks to address this problem by 1) reframing urban governance 2) evaluating its aims, processes, and outcomes, and 3) explaining those outcomes on the basis of which some lessons are teased out. Using examples from Africa and an institutional political economy approach (based on institutional economics, Marxist political economics, Georgist political economics, and Polanyian political economy), I show that, overall, while urban economies are growing; both urban poverty and inequality levels have risen substantially. Urban governance has paved the way for new forms of urban development that only benefit the few. Not only are there differences in how urban services and resources are experienced, accessed, and controlled but the varieties are also socially differentiated. I argue that the underlying reasons for this disjuncture between “urban governance” in theory and “actually existing urban governance” are 1) difficulties in implementing urban governance theory consistently in practice, 2) problems arising because urban governance theory has been implemented in practice, 3) tensions that would entangle most policies which do not address historical and structural economic issues, 4) restrictive assumptions, and 5) incoherence among the different dimensions of urban governance. To resolve these contradictions, I put the case for major structural and institutional change involving: 1) the re-ordering of the roles of the state, market, and society as institutions of change; 2) re-working the relationships that bind together land, labour, capital, and the state, and 3) re-organising the channels for keeping the attainment of the ends of urban governance in check.
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