How African cities are run is largely shaped by everyday politics, what you need to know…

By Jeffrey W Paller, University of San Francisco

Cyclone Idai tore through Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique and devastated local communities. Hundreds were killed and more than a million people were displaced.

Much of this devastation occurred in southern Africa’s rapidly growing coastal cities. The city of Beira in Mozambique, which faces rising sea water, was nearly wiped out entirely.

How do African cities grow and develop in a sustainable way to confront climate change?

The international community and African governments are aware of the emerging challenges of climate change. Beira, for example, invested $120 million in a drainage and water detention project to deal with rising seawater.

But mismanagement and booming population growth continues to place pressure on cities’ poor infrastructure. Therefore, people in Africa who live in urban areas are often forced to confront climate change on their own.

My new book Democracy in Ghana: Everyday Politics in Urban Africa suggests that people in Africa who live in urban areas confront these challenges in a contentious political environment. The distribution of resources and the building of infrastructure take place in a political struggle over control of the city. In particular, informal settlement and claims to urban space continue to structure everyday politics in Africa’s cities.

During my fieldwork, I found that urban development is shaped by relationships between those who claim they’re from a particular place – or indigeneity – and the rest. Groups native to a territory hold special rights and entitlements. The relationship between the hosts and migrants often dictate the politics of neighbourhoods.

These forms of everyday politics boil over into multi-party politics and municipal governance. Focusing on everyday politics can help explain why public policies are enacted, but also why powerful interest groups undermine policies that might improve the public good.

The case of Accra

In my view the everyday politics of urban neighbourhoods can help explain why the capture of public goods for private gain, and sustained ethnic politics continue to undermine urban development….

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