Dar es Salaam and the megacity

Joe Boyle at the BBC has written an interesting piece on the rapid growth of Dar es Salaam. ¬†It’s a fairly pessimistic read, starting out hopeful but then sketching the city as under-siege¬†from ¬†informal hordes, only to find salvation in Singapore-style urban planning.

The UN estimates that 70% of Dar es Salaam’s population live in informal settlements; there are no slums in Singapore.

Slum clearance would be vital to any regeneration project. It would involve rehousing possibly hundreds of thousands of people, and the extra headache of clarifying the legal status of the land that has often passed down through generations of families without any legal paperwork.

Most of my work in the last two or three years of my PhD has been focused on the slums of Dar. I’ve written about my views of slum formation on this blog¬†before: I do think they represent a missed opportunity, but I’m not sure that slum clearance is the answer. While there is something appealing about wiping the slate clean and doing things properly, the Tanzanian government doesn’t have a history of well-managed land expropriation, often botching both the relocation and compensation of those displaced.

In one of the¬†neighbourhoods¬†where our¬†land titling project¬†is running, over 200 homes have been marked for demolition by the local authority due to their proximity to a river (which was the source of major flooding in December). Ostensibly, all houses within a certain distance are to be bulldozed, but glancing around it’s clear that the targeting has been a little haphazard, and many people are still holding out under the assumption that the actual¬†clearance¬†might not happen for months or years.

There’s little discussion in Boyle’s piece about an alternative route: giving the residents of slums good reasons to embrace formality. We often look at the informal property market as being inherently¬†dysfunctional, but it’s amazing just how well they do work in allocating a scarce resource to incoming migrants. The government would undoubtedly (I think) prefer everyone to have formal titles, so they can be identified, taxed, and regulated. But what¬†slum-dwellers¬†need to see is a formal system which gives them protection from unnecessary¬†expropriation, lets them buy and sell with relative ease, and gives them access to the sort of public goods and infrastructure that taxes¬†should buy you. Over the last decade, the government tried to get everyone to buy-in, advocating a cheap, renewable tenure system which would required everyone to pay land rent, but it failed to deliver on the¬†pro-quo¬†of infrastructure and services.

The slum¬†clearance¬†route would do this bluntly, by pushing people into planned housing and trying to do the same with newcomers, but I think formal systems which are put in place without good incentives for everyone to invest in them are bound to fail. Boyle’s article discussed the creation of a new master plan for Dar es Salaam as a means to curb slum formation. It might be worth noting that the last master plan was updated in 1979, just before several decades of absolutely massive informal growth.

Finally, I’m also a bit perplexed by the comments of Taweza’s Rakesh Rajani:

He says Tanzania could face a similar conflagration to Kenya in 2007, when thousands of people were killed in post-election violence.

Rajani undoubtedly is more in touch with the average Dar es Salaamer than I am, but I still find such a prediction hard to swallow. Yes, there are tensions, both today and historically, especially with young men (David Brennan’s article on the Tanu Youth League makes for some good reading), but the sort of violence Rajani is afraid of needs both a spark and incentives to keep the flame alight. I don’t know if I see either in Dar es Salaam, although I am typing this from my desk in Oxford.

Hat tip to @AndreaScheible for the BBC link.


5 thoughts on “Dar es Salaam and the megacity

  1. Ranil Dissanayake

    July 31, 2012 at 11:48am

    I’m with you re: incentives, formality and titling.

    However, I think Rakesh is most likely right. Don’t forget that during the last elections, there was some pretty severe violence in some areas – riots, arson, demonstrations. Not in Dar yet, but this could happen. Up till now it’s never been a problem because CCM haven’t had a legitimate opposition. That is no longer true. Chadema are a political force and made an impact at elections on all levels this time, without threatening a majority anywhere.

    What’s particularly interesting about this is that it’s got a generational element to it – the young (and angry, and under-employed) are voicing a desire for change.

  2. Ranil Dissanayake

    July 31, 2012 at 11:53am

    Just to clarify, I meant a majority in the house or in the presidency.

    They won several seats with a clear and significant majority.

  3. Peter

    July 31, 2012 at 5:21pm

    The levels of civil unrest in Tanzania in the past two years are alarming. There have been major incidents in Arusha, Mwanza (twice), Mbeya, Tabora and Zanzibar. Clashes between youth and police in Dar are not uncommon either (were you around for the clearances at Ubungo or Mahakama ya Ndizi?). And it is not just large urban centres – small towns such as Usa River, Ikwriri and Tandahimba have been particularly badly hit with trouble going on for days in those cases.

    RR’s concern is not misplaced, particularly bearing in mind the increasing use of violence and its threat for political ends in Tanzania.

  4. Peter

    July 31, 2012 at 5:29pm

    But your discussion of the uselessness of city “plans” in our context is spot on

  5. Matt

    July 31, 2012 at 5:33pm

    I was prepared to be wrong about it and it looks like I am – partially because I’ve been so DSM focused in the past few years that I’ve missed the recent violence in the rest f the country. A few more thoughts:

    The article sets up the potential for violence in DSM to be of similar magnitude and cause as the post-election violence in Kenya. Obviously some of the roots cause are similar (the availability of a lot of angry young men), but I can’t quite see the potential for wanton neighbour-on-neighbour violence we saw in places like Kibera. A large-scale conflict between young angry men and the authorities? This is more believable.

    The article also seems to suggest that the growth of informality is causing these problems. It isn’t – as you suggest, the government’s push back on informality is going to further this sentiment – slum clearance can only create more angry young men. This is something we hope to study in the future, if we can find the money to follow up with the households displaced by the flooding.

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