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.


In praise of slums?

When I was your age, we would have *killed* to get the chance to live here.

The Roving Bandit races to defend the existence of slums:

Slums are created when people leave their rural village to go in search of a better life/more money in the city. Slums aren’t some kind of alien cancerous growth, they are the result of natural economic forces (*cough* WDR 2009 *cough*), of people becoming more productive when they are closer together, and can more easily exchange their ideas, their labour and their services. Africa may be the fastest urbanising continent in the world but that’s probably because it was the least urbanised to begin with. Urbanisation is a good thing.

I agree that people probably get a little too worked up about the presence of informal settlements. They are more likely to appear than not during intense urban growth, and while they are not generally known for being wonderful places to live, they still represent – to some extent – a symptom of a good thing. That doesn’t mean that they represent the first-best outcome in the range of achievable urban landscapes. That doesn’t mean that more formal growth wouldn’t be a better thing, or that we shouldn’t think about to improve the welfare of slum-dwellers.

I spent a few months this year working in some of Dar es Salaam’s informal settlements. One of them is bordered to the south by a river that is full of trash. It does have another river, which has a lovely, opaque dark green colour. Often during the rainy season a quarter of the residents have to trudge through ankle-deep water when the place floods, mixing together all the trash and pit latrine runoff into nature’s least exciting swimming pool.

Sure, you can look at that and say: “Wow – urbanization is fantastic! This is just a symptom of wonderful things,” but one also could think of ways to nudge outcomes for the better.

Book recommendations: Tanzania

There’s a significant chance I’ll soon be going to Dar es Salaam for a few months to work on (probably) a land rights project. Aside from having spent a few days in Dar and a week in Tanzania, I know very little about the country apart from the basics. What books should I be reading (nonfiction and fiction)?

Living in Dar recommendations are also welcome!