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.