Legislative Challenges for Sustainable Urban Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Wekwete, Kadmiel H.; Sesay, Shekou M. | UN Chronicle, June-August 2001 | Go to article overview

Legislative Challenges for Sustainable Urban Development in Sub-Saharan Africa


Wekwete, Kadmiel H., Sesay, Shekou M., UN Chronicle


At the onset of the twenty-first century, Africa faces major challenges, which include rapid urbanization without meaningful industrialization of the national economies. This has major consequences in that while the bulk of the population will have moved to the cities by the year 2025, the economies will still be dependent on primary activities, in particular agriculture, which is in urgent need of investment to have the capacity to feed the growing non-agricultural population. The urban-rural linkages need to be strengthened.

The Habitat Agenda, adopted globally in 1996, clearly recognizes the urbanization challenge and the need for all Governments and international agencies to prepare and implement plans of action to support sustainable urban development, which is essential in achieving economic growth, social development and environmental protection. The major paradigm that the Agenda reinforces is that of enablement by Governments to allow other actors to perform efficiently and optimally. Enablement is consistent with the current dominant neo-liberal economic model, which seeks to strengthen the role of the market in economic development and argues for a facilitator State.

Legislation represents the primary mechanism through which the modem State makes its laws and regulations that form the basis on which society is governed and that continually reflect the norms and values of a given society. This is a fundamental recognition that laws and legislation are not just technical outputs, but an important part of the social and political development of any society. Meaningful urban development, which is efficient, equitable and sustainable, depends to a large extent on the existence of and commitment to the implementation of the laws. The challenges that African Governments face are not the passing of laws but creating the mechanisms for their implementation.

One of the key commitments of the Habitat Agenda is to promote sustainable human settlements in an urbanizing world. It calls for the efficient use of resources within the carrying capacity of ecosystems and promoting socially integrated and accessible settlements. This challenge requires an institutional framework that clearly defines policy and the necessary instruments for policy implementation.

First and foremost is the need for a clearly articulated human settlement policy, highlighting the respective economic and social roles of rural and urban settlements. An important plank of such a policy is defining clearly the modalities of centre-local relationships, which include decentralization of political and administrative powers, and mechanisms for effective resource allocation and mobilization.

Secondly is the need for appropriate legislation at the local levels for managing the utilization of land and the built environment. This is usually linked to local government power, which defines the jurisdiction for local planning and gives the locally elected authorities powers to manage the provision and maintenance of basic social and physical infrastructure services.

Thirdly is the need for synchronizing local and national needs to ensure a non-distortionary policy environment. In most cities, there is usually the phenomenon of dual representation, whereby national level legislators overlap with locally elected leaders for councils. In most cases, the responsibilities overlap, but there is poor developmental coordination.

Many African countries are undergoing major economic and political transformations resulting from the implementation of the economic structural adjustment programmes, globalization and the transition to democracy. This has called for a major review of laws and regulations as the overextended States have scaled back, allowing for markets to work and freeing public resources for priority activities through reduction of subsidies. In the urban sector, there has been a concerted attempt to free the land and housing markets, and create incentives for investors. …

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