Photo: Make Noise not Art/Flickr
To explore this query, we embarked on a cross-country analysis of cities in West, Central and East Africa, seeking to not only better our understanding of urban fragility, crime, and violence, but also identify critical entry points to curb the challenges we would find. In the report Urban Fragility and Violence in Africa: A Cross-country Analysis, we explored one of the most recently relevant but less explored dimensions of fragility and violence in Africa: urbanization.
The world is urbanizing at staggering, unprecedented rates. By 2014, 54% of the world’s population was residing in urban areas. This number is projected to grow to 66% by 2050. Today’s large cities are concentrated in developing countries, with medium-sized African and Asian cities as the fastest growing urban agglomerations. People migrate fervently to urban areas with hopes of higher per capita incomes, increased employment levels, improved living conditions and well-being, and better chances to integrate into the national territorial economy.
Unfortunately, this promise has yet to be fulfilled in many cities. Often, the urbanization process is poorly managed and the mismatch between the growing number of migrants and the institutional and infrastructural capacity of cities is large. Experts argue that “the pace of urbanization, together with its sheer scale, is likely to stress national and urban institutions in many developing countries to their breaking point."
Cities are often violent places – a social, ethnic and religious tinderbox of people piled up together with competing needs for space, housing or cash. Mostly the tension is contained, but not always - when and why does it spill over into bloody mayhem? That’s the question at the heart of a fascinating research project run by Caroline Moser, one of my development heroes, and Dennis Rodgers. The research team fed back on its findings in Geneva last week. They have a draft overview paper here and welcome any comments by the end of June (as comments on this post, or if you want to get really stuck in, emailed to urbantippingpoint@Manchester.ac.uk). Here’s a summary of the discussion in Geneva.
The Urban Tipping Point scanned the literature and identified four ‘conventional wisdoms’ on the causes, not always based on much evidence: they are poverty; ‘youth bulges’ (demographic, rather than waistlines); political exclusion and gender-based insecurity. It decided to test these with empirical research in four very dissimilar cities - Nairobi (Kenya), Dili (Timor-Leste), Santiago (Chile) and Patna (India).