Cities, Governance and Civil Society in Africa

Programme Co-ordinator: Mariken Vaa
The programme started in 1997 and was completed in 2002

The programme addressed the issues of informality or extra-legality in two urban sectors, namely shelter and income generation, in relation to urban development, governance and citizen action. In contrast to much previous research, where unauthorised settlements and unregistered work are primarily seen as arenas for the survival strategies of the poor, this programme focussed on the relationships between extra-legality, poverty and wealth, and on government policies and practice towards the informal city.

Research themes
1) The informal city
Extra-legal housing and unregistered economic activities are the main elements of the informal city. The importance of the informal economy, in terms of the proportion of the work-force engaged there, how it is gendered, how income levels compare to the formal economy and the extent to which better-off segments of the urban population are involved in the informal economy is of particular interest. In unauthorised settlements, the prevalence of absentee ownership may be important. The emergence of housing sub-markets and how informal land markets operate is of special concern.

2) Civil society and urban development
Recently, a variety of voluntary associations have emerged in African cities, often in response to the state's inability to provide a modicum of public services. The programme focussed on under what circumstances and in what contexts people have organised themselves. The degree to which the new urban associations incorporate the poor was of special interest. The responses of central and local governments to popular, collective action for urban development, and how governments have responded differently from one country to another was an important field of research.

The programme started in the first half of 1997. The principal form of work was establishing networks of researchers from the Nordic countries who work on topics embraced by the programme, and matching this network with networks of African researchers who work on related themes. A series of conferences and seminars were organised, and contributions edited and published.

The first conference was held in Bergen, Norway, in August 1998. It was organised in co-operation with the Chr. Michelsen Institute and the theme was "Associational Life in African Cities: Urban Governance in an Era of Change". As a result of the conference a book edited by Arne Tostensen, Inge Tvedten and Mariken Vaa was published during spring 2001. The book is entitled "Associational Life in African Cities: Popular Responses to the Urban crisis".

In cooperation with The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, Copenhagen, The Centre for Development Research, Copenhagen, and The Department of Geography and International Development Studies, Roskilde University, a second conference on the theme "The Formal and the Informal CityWhat Happens at the Interface?" was held in Copenhagen in June 2000. Mariken Vaa and Karen Tranberg Hansen are editing a selection of the conference papers, which will be published by NAI.

A workshop on "Urban Governance, Gender and Markets" was held in Bamako in September 2002.

The Programme was co-ordinated by Ms. Mariken Vaa, a Norwegian sociologist with many years of experience in urban research.

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