Theme Three: Urban land, services and infrastructure

Tue 31 Jul 2012 at 10:00 am to at 11:00 am

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Moderator: Prof. Fantu Cheru, Director, Nordic-Africa Institute
Speaker 1: Dr. Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, Urban LandMark, Pretoria
Speaker 2: Prof. Jianhong Wu, Beijing Jiaotong University
Discussant: Davinder Lamba, Director of Mazingira Institute


Moderator: Prof. Fantu Cheru, Director, Nordic-Africa Institute

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Dr. Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, Urban LandMark, Pretoria - Making African land markets accessible to the poor

Urban land markets in Africa are characterized by a high urban growth rate, especially at the peri-urban periphery which is outside government regulation and planning, and thus “informality”. Most housing is extra-legal, and there is rapid densification and infill also in formal housing areas. There is widespread distrust of courts and their ability to enforce land rights. Transactions take long and are high cost. In South Africa there are three systems of law, colonial-inherited common law, customary law recognized in statute and Sheria law which has its own courts. Most transactions are outside any of these systems. However, there are robust informal commercial markets. Agreements may be written or verbal (19%) and depend on social networks for enforcement. Studies of these informal systems in Mozambique and Malawi suggest that routes must be opened to link them to the formal systems of tenure so that the sense of security people have in them can be regularized. A series of steps between the existing administration to a new form of legal tenure was outlined. Fear of eviction was associated with less security or recognition of informal agreements. Interim recognition was associated with master planning that recognizes settlement reclassification. More security was associated with a new form of legal tenure and block planning with group rights. Land titling is not an end in itself but a means to security of life for the urban poor.


 Prof. Jianhong Wu, Beijing Jiaotong University: Transport infrastructure development (TID) and its role of poverty alleviation in China

This paper summarizes studies carried out on the impacts of several major infrastructural developments in China. Two stages have been identified. At first, the infrastructure investment is faster than the rate of GDP growth. Then in the second stage, GDP grows and poverty levels reduce. A cyclic relation has been identified in the relation between TID and poverty, and this has been traced using an input-output quota model matching steel and cement with job creation and consumption levels. International studies (ADB) conclude that: Pro-poor impact can be enhanced by coordinated investment (e.g. in power supply); Without sustained maintenance the impact on poverty is not sustained; There is a higher impact in poorer areas, BUT; The initial level of development is crucial – in very poor areas there is no impact. In the Chinese cases presented (Beijing-Hong Kong railway, Shenmu-Yanan Railway, Yichang-Wanzhou railway) there was faster economic growth through the supply of labour, materials and services during construction, increased labor mobility and agriculture and tourism development.  Poverty reduced dramatically but there was also a problem of displaced persons as an unwanted side-effect. The question is, can this learning be transferred to Africa? Or will planned railways and expressways there become “white elephants”? Comparable studies are needed on Chinese investments in Africa. Maps were shown of potential Chinese investments in infrastructure but these must be well planned. As a final comment, the best strategy ultimately for poverty reduction is education.

Discussant: Davinder Lamba

Participants focused on people-based perspectives to the material presented in both papers on this theme, as these encompass the wider questions which are the concern of this forum. For example, with regard to land and services, it is not possible to criminalize virtually an entire population for living with informal tenure. Titles to land have to be evaluated in relation to rights to land. Likewise, infrastructure can be planned for vehicles but what does it mean for the people who daily have to cross it? Where is the road going for them and have their daily lives been thought about in the planning?

The governance dimension was identified as critical. If there is a governance deficit, planning is a form of oppression instead of facilitation for people and their needs. Gaps in governance were pointed out as failure to recognize the three platforms of state, private sector and civil society. Citizens have a right to challenge the state because they are active subjects of development. Sound institutions are stable sets of rules – whether formal or informal – that constitute governance (and also guarantee secure tenure). It was observed that this governance deficit in Africa is a product of weak capacity and leads to corrupt practices. It was also pointed out that the absence of money for delivery of serviced land and infrastructure is a major causal factor in poor performance leading to urban poverty.  Obtaining public funds through taxation is a major challenge in Africa. Thus the importance of working with people to translate their meager funds into realistic investment choices was emphasized. ICT technologies could provide new opportunities for such mobilization.

Specifically in relation to land tenure, the model presented was endorsed, and it led to further discussion on the nature of security of tenure. Sometimes formal tenure can itself be made insecure if there is corruption in its administration as happened in Kenya in the 1990s, recounted through the experience of the civil society “Operation Firimbi” (Blow the Whistle) campaign against grabbing of public land by corrupt officials. Or there may be conflicts arising between different forms of tenure, including conflicting systems of informal tenure for example when they are based on ethnic or political affiliations. It was agree that the basic requirement was public trust in the institutions mediating tenure and a basic level of mutual trust in society, and between the state and those governed.