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The urban challenge in Africa: Growth and management of its large cities
Edited by Carole Rakodi - United Nations University Press - TOKYO - NEW YORK - PARIS - © The United Nations University, 1997

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12 The state and civil society: Politics, government, and social organization in African cities

Tade Akin Aina


Ce chapitre est une tentative d'examen concret et détaillé des relations entre l'État et la société civile dans les villes d'Afrique. Les divers concepts sur lesquels repose l'analyse y vent d'abord expliqués, en soulignant la nécessité de comprendre la nature des pouvoirs centraux et locaux et en appelant l'attention sur la (ré)-émergence de la société civile, cette sphère d'interaction sociale englobant la famille, la vie associative, les mouvements sociaux et les formes de communications publiques à l'oeuvre dans le secteur qui s'organise en dehors de l'État et du marché. Le concept d'urbanisme s'entend des relations entre l'État et la société civile et l'on recommande d'aborder la gestion urbaine de manière globale. L'on a mis l'accent sur les évenements et processus des premières phases d'aménagement et de construction puis de crise de la période post-coloniale pour examiner trots catégories de relations entre État et société: coopération et soutien; opposition; indifférence et neutralité. Suit une analyse d'ensemble des relations entre Etat et communauté, État et éléments de la société civile, État et autorités locales. II en ressort que les relations entre État et communauté se vent caractérisées simultanément par des processus d 'adaptation et d 'incorporation, d'abandon, d'exploitation et de répression pour se détériorer au fur et à mesure que la classe politique dominante cherchait à consolider sa mainmise sur le pouvoir central. La société civile qui avait joué un rôle crucial dans la marche vers l'indépendance est passée au second plan lorsque l'État a pris la direction du processus de développement. Mais il y a eu ces derniers temps une résurgence des luttes sociales, surtout dans les zones urbaines mais pas seulement au sujet des problèmes des villes. Deux formes d'organisations sociales vent présentées plus en détail, les associations féminines et les organisations non gouvernementales, avec un examen en profondeur de l'évolution contradictoire de leurs relations avec l'État. L'on étudie ensuite ce qu'implique pour la gestion urbaine les conflits et la concurrence entre le pouvoir central et les autorités locales. Le chapitre conclut que s'il reste encore beaucoup à faire pour assurer une répartition équitable des ressources entre les différents groupes et structures des zones urbaines africaines, les relations entre État et société ont évolué, passant d'une forte centralisation et concentration à plus de décentralisation et de participation. Mais le devenir de cette évolution ne sera déterminé que par les luttes en cours au sein même de ces villes.


Since around the end of the 1980s, remarkable events, unprecedented since the massive nationalist politics of constitutional decolonization, have been sweeping through sub-Saharan Africa, forcing changes in political arrangements and leading to the emergence of multi-partyism and political pluralism, a new emphasis on the importance of human rights, dialogue between political opponents, and the liberalization of the erstwhile post-colonial polities (Hyden and Bratton, 1992; Mamdani and Wamba-dia-Wamba, 1995). These transformations are changing the language and content of national politics and polities and creating new forms of collective social confidence expressed in bolder modes of demand making and renewed struggle for engagement and participation. Like the waves of nationalist protests of the 1940s and 1950s, the origin and centre of these protests and movements are urban based.

This emerging politics is concerned with larger national governance issues, such as constitution making, multi-partyism, representative democracy, and human rights, rather than with immediate urban management issues such as access to shelter and provision of services. However in Africa, with the predominance of primate cities (O'Connor, 1983; Simon, 1992), national politics, except in a few cases, is urban derived, urban based, and urban driven. Thus this politics, in its organization, style, and constituencies, is primarily urban politics even though it is perhaps geared first towards resolving some of the dominant contradictions of national political economies (Ake, 1989). The struggles that are creating these changes are being carried on by broad coalitions of market women, workers, the urban poor, students, professional associations, women's groups, young people, business groups, religious organizations, etc. It is the range and waves of these actions in the very diverse arena that constitutes urban Africa that have led some to proclaim that so-called civil society is emerging in Africa.

In this chapter, I examine the implications of these political phenomena for state-society relations in urban Africa. My point is that the African crisis in general and the urban crisis in particular have had tremendous implications for emergent political arrangements and consciousness. For whatever it is worth, a new watershed with respect to definitions of the nature of state-society relations and the very substance of politics in Africa has been crossed. It is also argued here that, although the most dominant manifestations of the new politics are concerned with larger issues of governance and people's rights, these are only beginnings. Issues grounded in the more locally specific realm of urban politics are already beginning to emerge, and decentralized structures, institutions, and practices are evolving in response (Kanyinga et al., 1994).

This is inevitable, because Africa's urban crisis (Stren and White, 1989), that is the crisis of urban development and management, expressed in terms of increasing poverty and deprivation, structural inequality in access to strategic resources, and the collapse of services and institutions, cannot be reduced to a mere technocratic or managerial question. It is important to reiterate here that state-society relations, even in cities, are not only concerned with urban management, even though this is important. The struggle for the city goes beyond access to land and the provision of services, to embrace social relationships and people's livelihoods and all that these imply socially and economically. In its very constitution, the urban crisis is a political crisis. It must be understood from within the larger domain of politics and power relations that define the process of control, allocation, and distribution of societal resources and the very organization and structuring of production and social relations. For urban Africa, this has both an external global element in terms of its location in the hierarchical global economy, as discussed in chapters 2 and 3 (and see Aina. 1993a). and an internal element in terms of the history, culture, and political economy of specific settlements and regions.

It is the latter that this paper attempts to explore, through an examination of the dynamics and structure of state-civil society relations in urban Africa. Given the complexity of the questions subsumed under this broad theme, my focus here is on the intertwining of two elements, that is, how these relations can contribute to the emergence of a sustainable, equitable, and participatory urban management process in Africa and the linkages of this process to democratization. It is in these larger questions that the more specific questions of access to land, sustainable livelihoods, and basic services are grounded. Unfortunately, a paper such as this cannot take in many of the elements of these questions. It can recognize only their wide range and diverse nature, suggesting questions that deeper and wider conceptual and empirical work might take up.

In examining state-society relations in African cities, two sobering points should guide our analysis. The first is recognition of the simultaneous collapse of state structures and disintegration of social order in the crisis-ridden cities of African countries such as Somalia, Liberia, and Rwanda. This underlines in the harshest tones the vulnerability of some of our "political orders." The second is that, in observing and understanding the organizations and movements of ordinary people, intellectuals need to show greater empathy and restraint in their desire to project their anxieties and "revolutionary optimism" onto the day-to-day struggles of the urban poor. Indeed their organizations

are not only agencies for massive structural transformation for the poor but sites and instruments of the process of "learning by doing". A place and point where lessons in autonomy, empowerment, popular participation and democratic struggles are learnt, internalized and disseminated into the community of the poor... Here they are transformed and recreated into the cultural equipment and weapons for individual and collective development and liberation. (Aina, 1990a, p. 4)

The rest of this paper is structured into four parts. I commence with a clarification of some of the key notions, namely the state, civil society, urban politics, and urban management. I then proceed to an examination of contemporary urban development, looking at both the context of the crisis and what impact it has had on the urbanization process. The third and fourth parts of this paper examine the interplay between the state and civil society in terms of what is identified as the major question of African urban politics, namely the struggle for access to and control of resources. These issues are discussed around the two broad axes of state-society relations and central-local state relations. They interrogate the manner and process of struggle for basic needs and sustainable livelihoods by different urban interest groups and categories and what different interpretations and practices of urban management imply for them. The third part offers a preliminary typology of state-civil society relations and how these change or operate in a contradictory manner depending on the specific configuration of the articulation of interests and balance of social forces. The implications of the tensions in central-local government relations are briefly discussed before the conclusion examines the substance of the urban challenge in terms of trends in state-society relations, and the options with regard to the development of urban governance that is equitable, productive, and sustainable.

Clarifying the key notions

Some of the notions we are concerned with here are complex. They have been discussed in an extensive literature that cuts across the boundaries of disciplines and paradigms, and disagreements are common. My concern here is briefly to specify how they are understood in this chapter.

The state

This is perhaps one of the most important ideas in the understanding of contemporary human politics and governance. Conceptualizations of the state have been defined not only by the specific historical forms it has taken but also by epistemological and methodological issues and differing ideological positions that colour the implicit and explicit elements embodied in the notion. Rakodi (1986a, p. 426), in an attempt to grapple with the state in an urban context in Africa, identifies four broad ways of theorizing it that illustrate these differing ideological and methodological perspectives. Also of importance to our understanding of the African context is the need to periodize the state in terms of its changing forms and the changes in social relations and politics that these involve (Doornbos, 1990). Shorthand formulations of the peripheral capitalist state conceptualize it as an "institution of social and economic reproduction" and as "the site of class interactions and struggles," conceptions that assist us in seeing different patterns not only of state-economy relations but also of state-society relations. It must be pointed out that the state in Africa, even though it can be categorized as peripheral, underdeveloped, and capitalist, does not have a single form of expression. A variety of forms and subcategories have emerged, determined by the specific history of the society under consideration. It is this complex expression that explains the multiple and often contradictory forms that state-society relations can take in any African social formation. Claude Ake (1989, p. 44) attempts to capture this when he points out that:

[the state] is a specific modality of class domination... in which the system of institutional mechanisms of class domination are [sic] differentiated from the ruling-class and appears as an objective force standing alongside society. The essential feature of the state form of domination is that the system of institutional mechanisms of domination is autonomized and becomes largely independent of social classes including the hegemonic social class... the state really is... a contradiction of interests, of powers and of social forces. The dominant social forces struggle to maintain their domination and the subordinate social forces struggle against their subordination and related disabilities. This is the context in which public policies including development strategies are made.

The class character of the state raises the question of the interests represented and the implications for politics, public policy, and action. Apart from the conventional expression of the interests of dominant classes and their fractions, the very nature of the state and class formation in the African context allows the interplay and coming to the fore of interests and social forces not clearly located in the relations of production. Some of these interests are at the ideological and identity levels and are expressed as ethnic, racial, or religious interests. Others are those of strategic groups located within the state apparatus, either military or bureaucratic. Thus there are specific instances when the state is dominated by racial interests, as in the Afrikaner example of apartheid South Africa, or by religious interests, as in the case of the Sudan. However, these interests are often linked with class domination, as expressed through the representations and actions of dominant classes and their fractions. There is also a need to distinguish between the state as a locale for the expression of class domination and the state apparatus, including agents of state domination, such as the police, the military, etc. These are part of the state, serve the state, but do not by themselves constitute the state.

At a different level of territorial concern is the "local state," which locates the institutions and agents of the state at a different spatial and administrative/political level. A troubled notion, the conceptual ambiguity embodied in it, centring on the extent to which the local state is autonomous from rather than merely an agent of the central state, has led not only to criticism but in some cases to outright rejection (Duncan and Godwin, 1982; Bryne, 1982). However, the notion opens up further space for the discussion of decentralization and participation in urban politics and management (Rakodi, 1986a; Mabogunje, 1990a). In spite of the difficulties, the concept of an urban local state contributes to the understanding and evaluation of institutions and agents grounded in closer proximity to the concrete activities and lives of the variety of urban actors.

Civil society

Unlike society, which sociologists broadly agree is the field of structured social relations and action, notions of civil society are as varied and contested as those of the state. More recent use of the notion has tended to veil its pluralistic ideological and philosophical origins. In their concern with civil society as "bourgeois" or liberal democratic society, or as the outcome of market-dominated economic development, they fail to see that this represents only one perspective (Bayart, 1989; Cohen and Arato, 1990; Gellner, 1991; Fatton, 1992).1 The concern with civil society has essentially been Eurocentric, and recent attempts at applying the concept in the African context have remained either ethnocentric or insufficiently rigorous and historically sensitive in their analysis.² Mahmood Mamdani (1995a,b) and Abdel Kader Zghal (1995), in recognition of the limitations of these analyses, have recently offered a more Africa-relevant and non-Eurocentric application of the concept to contemporary Africa.

Mamdani (1995a, p. 3), in an introduction to a recent book on social movements and democracy in Africa, asks:

What is civil society? Does it exist or is it emerging? Is it confined to the "modern sphere", whose organizations are predicated on a differentiation between the political and the social, the social and the economic? Or does it include the "traditional" sphere where the organization of life process proceeds on the basis of a diffusion, and not differentiation, between the economic, the social and the political? Is the problem solved by making a distinction between "modern civil society", and "traditional civil society"... Or is it thereby simply shelved? On the other hand, does the notion of a "civil society" as a modern construct lead at best to a one-eyed vision of social and political processes?

The response to this questioning leads to a rejection of not only the conventional and simplistic state-civil society dichotomy and the prescriptive modernization perspective that characterized development theory in the 1970s, but also both the romanticization and the denial of civil society in Africa. It links the concept politically with the notion and practice of social movements, in terms of their contribution to democratic politics, the defence of people's rights and livelihoods, popular participation, and empowerment. It is also recognized that neither society nor civil society must be idealized or conceived of as a homogeneous entity with consensual political direction. Rather plurality, polarization, contradictions, and conflict of interests are all aspects of the existence of civil society. Furthermore, the relationship of civil society to the democratization process is not at all times progressive. Indeed there are often strong conservative trends.

Civil society in this context refers to the sphere of social interaction that comprises the intimate sphere (family), associational life, social movements, and forms of public communication operating in the arena of the organized non-state, non-market sector with origins in both the modern and traditional bases of society (Cohen and Arato, 1990). It is not synonymous with or inchoately distinguished from society at large but is a differentiated dimension of society with distinctive political functions (Harbeson, 1992). It is important to point out that the notion of "associational life" extends beyond secular or modern voluntary associations and includes associations defined on more particularistic and at times primordial identities such as race, kinship, ethnicity, and religion. Civil society, of course, interacts with both the market and non-marketized elements of the economy and the state in the pursuit of its constituents' interests. Although Zghal (1995) has argued for the inclusion of unorganized and spontaneous protests in civil society, there is a need to exercise caution, because sustained and patterned existence seems to be important in the relevance of this arena to political life.

Urban politics

Since the relationship between the state and civil society operates essentially in the political domain, the notion of urban politics deserves examination here. Let us begin first with politics, which is the struggle for control of the means whereby power is used to affect any organizational context, be it national societies, voluntary associations, or economic institutions. Politics is essentially the struggle for the control of power relations, whether institutionalized or not.

Politics in Africa can be characterized as containing not only undemocratic and non-participatory processes but also centralized, authoritarian, and at times archaic structures inherited from the colonial era and most unsuited to the conditions and needs of expanding populations, limited human resources, and contemporary demand for human and civic rights. This problem with political structures manifests itself clearly in the sluggishness, lack of faith in, and conflict between the different levels of the political system, such as between the central and local authorities or the judiciary and the executive. Although it is hard to generalize about "African politics," certain common, although not necessarily desirable, elements have emerged (Ake, 1989; Fatton, 1992). As I have observed elsewhere:

Africa's politics is currently characterized by fragile but authoritarian and over-extended state formations with weak roots in civil society. These are controlled by an insecure, non-hegemonic political elite who are dependent on the state for accumulation and who utilize both corruption and patronage as media of bargaining, negotiation and legitimation. Furthermore, a central element in their search for security and stability is dependence on external, often western, support to counter the main oppositional forces ranged against them on the domestic front. As part of their search for security, rulers utilize repression and non- and anti-democratic means to retain power without showing any concern for the human and democratic rights of their citizens, which they flagrantly breach. These rulers often adopt a political style that divides their citizens along ethnic, economic, religious and even racial lines, fuelling costly diversions which keep their nations off the track of development.... All of this makes participation in African politics a highly precarious, yet significantly profitable venture for a dominant few, while at the same time it imposes limitations on effective democratization and popular participation. It further reinforces the tendency towards the concentration and centralization of power and personal rule, and the depoliticization and departicipation of the majority... This kind of political situation leaves open only the option of violence in the form of coupe, urban riots, insurrectionary struggles, etc. as effective means of participation and expression for a marginalized majority or political aspirants. Recent examples from Liberia, Benin Republic, Togo, Cameroon and Zaire amply demonstrate these dynamics. (Aina, 1993a, pp. 13-14)

As was pointed out at the beginning of this paper, given the nature of African cities and their central role in politics, economics, and culture as "theatres of accumulation," sites of domination, and the locus of cultural life, national politics tends to be defined and expressed mainly in the dominant city and by the most powerful interests within it (Simon, 1992). For instance, most of the recent political struggles for democratization and protests against economic decline have emerged from the cities and towns (Bratton and van de Walle, 1992; Mamdani and Wamba-dia-Wamba, 1995). It is this larger context and practice of politics that defines urban politics in sub-Saharan Africa. In recent times, there have been some attempts to posit an overwhelming defining character for African politics in terms of either corruption or personal rule (see, for example, Post and Vickers, 1974; Joseph, 1987; Sandbrook, 1993; Bayart, 1993). The main problem with these analyses is their lack of recognition of the complexity of politics in general and African politics in particular. Given the significance of factors such as religion, ethnicity, and neocolonial relations, corruption and personal rule do not constitute complete explanations of African politics. Of course, these two elements matter, but they are often determined and driven by historical conditions and structural processes that allow them to predominate, as a result of the weakening and dissolution of other social institutions and countervailing forces. In terms of its main components, "urban" politics has been described as embracing both "the politics of want, of basic services, of minimum security of life and property" and the "politics of clan and tribe" (Sivaramakrishnan, 1994, p. 11).

Urban management

Increasingly the urban crisis in Africa is being tackled by what has been called the "urban management" approach. In terms of how this is being promoted and used by leading international agencies such as the World Bank, it refers to a body of techniques, rules, and practices for the planning and organization of modern urban settlements. In essence it is a professionalized approach to the management of these settlements. According to Stren (1991, p. 10), it encompasses at least four important elements: (i) a concern to situate urban development projects in the context of city-wide and institutional considerations; (ii) a concern to pay more attention to sources of local finance for more decentralized municipal government; (iii) a concern to devise alternative means of organizing and financing urban services such as water supply, public transport, electricity, sanitary services, and waste disposal; and (iv) a concern to seek and promote local community and participatory sources of support for urban services and infrastructure.

Rakodi has already subjected some of these ideas to critical review in chapter 2. From the point of view of our concern with state-society relations, the approach also has a number of problems, a major one being that it is too "state centred" (Lee-Smith and Stren, 1991). Apart from this, it is also too narrow, formalized, and technocratic, relying mainly on a body of professional knowledge and inputs from trained urban managers. Even though it seeks to incorporate so-called participatory methods, it is still too top-down and needs to incorporate the non-formalized but extensive "urban management" techniques and strategies of popular urban groups. That is, it needs to respect and incorporate the wide range of human practices and actions utilized by the poorer sectors and communities of African cities in providing themselves with urban services. As Lee-Smith and Stren (1991) have pointed out, the "urban management" approach misunderstands or neglects the informal sector, the question of gender, and community participation. For urban management to be relevant, it must incorporate aspects of popular knowledge and technology. It must thus seek to be less technocratic or managerialist and more participatory and popular.

Post-colonial urban development in Africa: Context, patterns, and problems

It is important to note that state-society relations in urban Africa are neither fixed nor unchanging. They are to a great extent determined by the wider historical, political, and economic context. They must therefore be situated historically. This requires that we attempt a periodization of both urban development and the evolution of state-society relations. Perhaps the most interesting point of historical delimitation, which affected most of the societies and nation-states of Africa, was the experience of colonization, which had implications for structures and processes in politics, society, the economy, and the urbanization process. At the broadest level, therefore, encompassing the political economy, the urbanization process, and state-society relations, we can identify distinctive colonial and post-colonial periods for most of Africa.

Here, we need not delay ourselves with the colonial period if our focus is on the contemporary dynamics. In addition, the colonial experience has received a tremendous amount of attention in the literature (see, for example, O'Connor, 1983; Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1991). As noted earlier in this volume, especially by Rakodi in chapter 2, in the post-colonial period some definite trends in economies, politics, and the urban development process can be identified. These consist of two distinct but in some respects overlapping phases. The first can be broadly called the "early post-colonial period" or the "Development and Buildings Phase." Recognizable for most countries in the continent, it occurred roughly within the first 10 years of independence for many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, i.e. from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. The second clearly identifiable phase is what I will term the "crisis phase," which began to emerge from the mid-1970s and became more evident in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Although ascribing dates to these phases gives a false impression of uniformity, they do assist in identifying landmarks meant to denote specific processes and structural changes. The processes and timing differ between the states of north Africa, most of sub-Saharan Africa, and southern Africa, particularly the Republic of South Africa. Islamic, Arabic, and to some extent Mediterranean influences in north Africa and settler colonialism and the politics, social relations, and urban planning of racial segregation and apartheid in southern Africa define urban characteristics and experiences in these regions and distinguish them from sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, the "politics of identity," in terms of religious fundamentalism and race, has come to define the social dimensions of these regions and their cities to a greater extent than elswhere in Africa (Smith, 1992; El-Kenz, 1991; Farah, 1994; Tayeb, 1994; Zghal and Krichen, 1995; Parnell and Mabin, 1995; Rogerson, 1995; Abouhani, 1996). However, there are also many similarities, such as the experience of settler-colonization and liberation struggle in Algeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa; the strategies of consolidation adopted by the post-colonial ruling groups; and the structural crises of the post-colonial era. In addition, throughout Africa, social relations have remained fundamentally the relations of inequality and domination, although the details of differentiation and responses to it vary between countries. Using the periodization given above, we can identify two definite patterns and phases applicable to the understanding not only of post-colonial urbanization, as explored in chapter 2, but also of state-society relations and central-local government relations.

The early post-colonial period, or the development and building phase

The early post-colonial phase coincided with the attainment of independence by mainly the sub-Saharan African states and the attendant optimism, confidence, and limited economic growth, albeit over a short period. Commencing from a relatively low level of urbanization, the early phase involved extensive physical and political expansion and construction (Vaidyanathan, 1992). As Richard Stren (1991, p. 16) has put it: "The 1960s and early 1970s were for most African countries a period of construction of an elaborate central state structure." They were also a period for the construction of new physical signs of nationhood, including infrastructure and prestigious airports, ports, military bases, and massive white elephant projects. Development plans contained massive allocations for these purposes.

Describing the context in a discussion of central-local government relations, Stren (1991, p. 16) points out that:

the consolidation of power by an aggressive nationalist party, the establishment of one-party (or military) government, the restriction of civil politics outside the direct control of the state, the setting up of mechanisms for central economic planning, the growth of a vast array of state administrative structures and parastatal bodies, and the emphasis on a highly personal form of presidential rule in many countries all reinforced the tendency towards centralization.

As for the economy, this was in fact a phase of increasing affluence for the more privileged strata as they achieved élite status and positions. The early phase of post-colonial urbanization was thus predominantly geared to the expansion of colonial physical and social space to incorporate new indigenous interests and needs and thereby spreading the "fruits of independence" to privileged and other groups with the capacity to stake claims to these, as shown in the accounts of cities such as Abidjan, Nairobi, and Lagos in this volume.³ But there were real limits to physical and social incorporation in the context of finite resources, particularly in a situation of rapid population growth, and especially where structural inequality is paramount. As a result, existing urban problems of poverty and inequality, unemployment, pressure on resources, deterioration of services and infrastructure, and the weakening of social and spatial order and control were exacerbated. Things began to get worse as the mid-1970s approached.

The crisis phase in post-colonial urbanization

As discussed especially in chapter 2, from around the middle of the 1970s, most African nations entered a phase of long-drawn-out economic decline, accompanied in certain areas by drought, famine, severe ecological degradation, political instability, conflict, indebtedness, and the imposition of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). Economic decline and the debt crisis constituted the most critical elements of this problem-ridden era, and stabilization and SAPs their expected antidote (Culpeper, 1987; Mkandawire, 1991; Oxfam, 1993; Adepoju, 1993; Mkandawire and Olukoshi, 1994).4

With respect to urban life, an important element of the philosophy of the economic reforms was their explicit anti-urban bias (see also chap. 13 in this volume). The reform packages were geared towards uplifting the rural and agricultural sectors and reducing the extent to which their resources are supposedly drained by the so-called exploitative and parasitic urban sector. The adjustment programmes were thus meant to affect cities and their residents adversely. As observed by a senior World Bank official, the response of hardheaded macroeconomists to the pain felt by urban areas is that: "This is what adjustment is meant to be. It means reduction of real wages and urban subsidies in the interest of restoring macro-economic balances and meeting external debt obligations" (Cohen, 1990, p. 50). That this unsentimental treatment caused pain for urban areas was undeniable and recognized by the World Bank itself, the leading physician (World Bank, 1991). Taking a closer look at specific contexts, Jacob Songsore and Gordon McGranahan (1993) have provided some preliminary documentation of the relationships between the economic crisis, structural adjustment, and poverty in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area of Ghana, while the case-studies of Nairobi, Lagos, and Abidjan in this volume, in particular, examine the impacts of structural adjustment in these cities.

On the implications of the economic crisis for urban management, the collective work edited by Stren and White (1989) clearly depicts the crisis situation that African cities have been thrown into with regard to urban management. The volume traces the decline in urban resources over the critical years of the 1980s and shows how the problem of diminishing resources was compounded by "rapid population increase in the cities so that per capita levels of urban expenditure on services and infrastructures have fallen dramatically" (Stern, 1991, p. 14). The collapse of services therefore became the major element used to characterize the condition of urban centres in the mid-1980s and in many cases up till now. These well-known features include traffic congestion, floods, bad roads, blocked drains, overflowing and open sewers, erratic electricity and water supply, failing telephone systems, and mounting vermin-infested rubbish heaps. While the health and environmental hazards multiplied, health facilities, starved of essential resources and supplies and/or suffering from prolonged industrial action by dissatisfied personnel, failed to cope (Hardoy et al., 1992; McGranahan et al., 1993; Aina et al., 1994).

The basis of law and order was also increasingly eroded as economic pressures mounted while ill-motivated and underpaid security agents either could not cope or were too vulnerable in terms of their material needs. The war against crime was often lost before it began, as, for example, in some parts of Nigeria, where criminals were better equipped with raincoats, torchlights, vehicles, and weapons than the police who were meant to prevent crime. To offer themselves some protection in their homes and settlements, communities organized vigilante groups and community watches, for example in the form of the famous Sungusungu of east Africa. These often administered instant justice by lynching suspected criminals. Although undesirable, this represents an expression of "self-help" organizing in response to difficult conditions.

Thus "self-help" in urban areas moved gradually from the "community development" efforts of the colonial and early post-colonial periods, which were often externally stimulated and directed by bureaucrats, to self-help (more as an autonomous, self-protective response based on real needs and pressures) in the provision of services such as waste disposal, drain clearing, and crime fighting. Where self-help (i.e. service provision not geared towards profit) was not well developed, or could not take off, small commercial enterprises emerged in waste disposal, education, dispensing medicine, etc. These included efforts such as petty waste disposal units with wheel barrows and baskets, water vending from buckets carried on heads and shoulders, and "lessons" teachers instructing groups of children in backyards or front sheds. Wherever the state failed or was absent and the formal private sector would not go or imposed user charges that were too high, the urban poor organized to fill the gap either through collective non-profit responses or through small enterprises that charged affordable fees and provided appropriate services. This provided the state and the international financial institutions with further ammunition in their drive to encourage privatization and commercialization of urban services. The poor were already paying anyway! Formal privatization of public sector service delivery and "appropriate pricing" followed.

But the hardships, along with the corruption and insensitivity of rulers and the wave of political liberalization worldwide, generated new consciousness. Even the middle classes, hard hit by economic hardships, began to organize, both within their professional associations and in newly established human rights groups, to protest against hardship, corruption, insensitivity, and resistance to change. For people who organized in their settlements for self-help or in professional associations and workplaces for better working conditions, and who had to deal with hardship and the arrogance of outmoded and often senile power on a daily basis, the leap to protest and resistance was a short one. All it needed in many cities was another increase in fuel, rice, or flour prices, or a leader rescinding on a previous agreement to hold elections or allow open opposition (examples are referred to in the chapters in this volume on Lagos and Cairo; see also Abouhani, 1996). With this, a new era of state-civil society relations emerged, which we will now examine.

State-society relations in urban Africa

The terrain of state-society relations obviously extends beyond that of civil society as strictly defined at the beginning of this paper. It includes sub-domains, which have been called political society, economic society, and the community (Cohen and Arato, 1990). Given that our investigation here is focused on cities and urban problems, it is only proper that the domain of the community as an identifiable field of social interaction and bonding be included. And indeed, in terms of urban politics, state-community relations tend to be important. Also, struggles over issues related to what was earlier called the "politics of want" tend to be organized and initiated from community and neighbourhood levels. Neighbourhood and community organizations are therefore important elements of urban settlements' politics. Under the broad state-society relations rubric, we shall therefore be looking at both state-civil society relations and state-community relations.

But, first, what general patterns do state-society relations take? Scholars concerned with analysis of the shifting nature of state-society relations have offered a wide range of more or less specific characterizations (see, for example, Ngunyi and Gathiaka, 1993). Their attempts have often been based on their understanding of the character of the modern state vis-à-vis society, particularly the peripheral capitalist state. In recent times, these characterizations have offered new labels rather than new explanatory insights.5 The key element of state-society relations is that the state is in constant and changing interaction with the various elements of society at any given time. This interaction depends on the balance of social forces involved in the institutional and class interactional nature of the state, but the state, in relation to them and to fulfil its functions, "seeks to dominate them, regulate their activities and set the rules by which conflict between them can be resolved" (Ngunyi and Gathiaka, 1993, p. 29).

Taking this as a major defining element, state-society relations can be classified in the broadest sense as threefold:

(1) cooperative/supportive;
(2) oppositional;
(3) neutral/indifferent.

These broad classes do not carry any evaluative connotation. They can be either positive or negative depending on the specific outcomes for democracy and/or sustainable and equitable urban management. Under cooperative/supportive relations we can have promotive, integrative, and co-optative interactions between the state and the institutions of society. Under oppositional relations we can include hostile, repressive, adversarial, extractive, competitive, and exploitative interaction, while the class of neutral and indifferent interactions includes deliberate or unconscious neglect, ignorance, or inadequate knowledge about the other party or sheer lack of capacity to do anything with or for the other party. Having specified the broad classes of state-society relations, the rest of this section will be devoted to an analysis of these broad patterns in post-colonial urban Africa, within the scope of the two earlier defined periods. For greater focus, the relations will be examined as they relate more clearly to (a) urban management questions, i.e. access to tenure, basic services, infrastructure, and livelihoods; and (b) larger democratic/social justice issues such as struggles for democratization and human rights or resistance to economic hardship.

State-community relations

Urban communities are by no means homogeneous entities. Within and between them, differentiation occurs along hierarchical and unequal lines of class, gender, race, and ethnicity. They therefore have multiple relations with the modern state depending on their composition or general characterization, for example as low-income communities and/or as illegal areas said to be predominantly inhabited by low-status aliens, women, and in-migrants. Perhaps the most obvious defining characteristics are those of poverty and class. Low-income communities are often distinct in form, organization, and composition from those of the middle and upper classes. State-community relations, therefore, often follow the structured inequality of the larger political economy.

Given the alien origin of the colonial state in Africa, state-community relations were inherited in the main in terms of legislation, town planning and building norms and rules, differential access to services and infrastructure, attitudes and policies, and legislation that reflected the specific form and needs of the colonial venture (Mabogunje, 1968; Home, 1983; Rakodi, 1986b). In many ways these relationships were unequal, alien, exploitative, extractive, and separatist. Colonial urbanization developed separate settlements for the colonialists, the foreign traders (Asians and Levantines), the different races, the immigrant and indigenous workers, and the natives of the environs of the city.

During the immediate post-independence period, some excluded groups were incorporated, mainly the élite groups and certain privileged communities. With the nation-building and development project, communities and community organizations were also mobilized and admonished to support and work with the state in attaining development. This was the era of self-help groups built along ethno-regional, gender, settlement, and other similar lines. In West Africa, voluntary associations operating as "Home Town Unions" and "Town Development Associations" with predominantly self-help and community development objectives linked urban and rural communities. The same applied in East Africa, with the "Harambee" movements of Kenya as an illustration (Barkan et al., 1991; Seppälä, 1992a).

Although there is a need to distinguish between urban-based, urban interest organizations and urban-based, rural interest organizations, both of these often organize under the broad category of Town Development Associations, which are more prevalent in West Africa. The Town Development Associations are more than likely to be based in the particular town that is their subject of concern, whereas the Home Town Unions, although often urban based, tend to refer to another settlement. These are quite often associations of migrants concerned with the development of their own places of origin ("home towns"), which could be rural or urban. Quite often, however, the concerns and strategies of these associations and unions are the same, i.e. provision of some basic services or facilities through self-financing, engaging in other wider fund-raising activities, or lobbying politicians and governments to provide these.

In terms of larger political issues, these organizations concerned themselves with struggling for resources to be allocated to their home towns, villages, or neighbourhoods. Communities and individuals built linkages with strong political barons through whom they could command resources, and protested against injustices at the level of the communal or collective denial of resources or rights to them by the state (Mabogunje, 1990b). These linkages, again a predominantly West African phenomenon, are amply documented in the case of Mushin, a suburb of Lagos, by Sandra Barnes. They take many forms and often operate as "interlocking dyadic ties" (Barnes, 1986, p. 213), with hierarchical structures in which a neighbourhood or local community or a whole town is linked to a strategic political or bureaucratic personality, either directly as his or her constituency, or through contacts established by a traditional chief, religious leader (malam or marabout), or minor politician. The strategic figure intercedes regularly with central or local government to ensure favourable consideration for the allocation of resources, such as basic services, employment-creating establishments, or even police stations, and plays a major role in ensuring that faults and breakdowns such as burst water mains or blown electricity transformers are promptly repaired.

Thus state-community relations contain different dimensions of the three broad elements stated above, with the result that they are often unclear and contradictory. As summarized by a local study of state-urban community relations in Lagos:

the post-colonial state is often felt and seen by the poor through the operations and manifestations of its laws, institutions, various apparatus and their personnel. All of these... often appear as alien, hostile and at times indifferent to the real activities and existence of ordinary people. They appear to the residents... as agencies that tax and levy them, that force them in some cases to carry out unpaid public works, that evict them from their land, demolish their homes and work places, and impose on them rules and regulations on which they were never consulted. On the other hand, these same institutions that harass them, provide amenities and services to the more privileged settlements of the elites... The urban poor therefore hold an ambivalent attitude to the state. It is obviously a source of great power capable of doing both good and evil. It can give a lot as much as it can destroy a lot. It can provide roads, jobs, schools, water and hospitals just as it can detain, demolish, harass and evict. (Aina, 1990b, pp. 70-71)

There have thus been simultaneous processes of accommodation and incorporation, indifference and neglect, exploitation and repression.

As post-colonial politics became consolidated, centralized, and monolithic, the main objective of the dominant political classes was to control all institutions and entities outside the state. However, the decline of the economy and the crisis came at the same time as the intensification of personal rule and reduced political accountability. Opposition began to grow, as well as repression. Increasingly, cases of human rights violations in settlement issues, such as mass evictions and demolition of the properties of the poor, occurred all over Africa, in places like Kenya, Senegal, Egypt, and Nigeria (Audefroy, 1994). These were often done with inadequate or no resettlement. Relations between state and urban communities deteriorated further, oscillating between oppositional or hostile and systematic indifference and deliberate neglect. Thus members of deprived urban communities have often constituted the foot soldiers of urban protests and riots against economic hardships, political oppression, etc. that are initiated by more organized groups in civil society, such as students, labour, market women, and professional associations.

State-civil society relations

Contemporary civil society in Africa consists of a large body of associations and civil institutions, most of which are modern, even though they take on traditional forms and symbols. They are mainly urban based and include labour unions, Christian and Islamic religious associations, ethnic associations, women's organizations, professional associations, employers' and occupational bodies, student and youth groups, cooperatives/mutual help associations, special interest groups such as human rights organizations, and a new range of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as community and neighbourhood groups and philanthropic and welfare associations. In terms of historical development, this wide range of associations and civil institutions can be broadly grouped into the conventional older groups (trade unions, community organizations, self-help groups, ethnic associations, women's organizations, professional bodies, religious groups) and the new groups, including some NGOs and human rights groups. It is the latter, with their new styles, global linkages, and heavily publicized advocacy, that have prompted the much-trumpeted "rediscovery" or "emergence" of civil society. In reality, civil society has long existed in Africa but became dormant or stifled, reverting to hidden and less obvious forms of resistance and struggles during the early post-colonial phase of neo-colonial élite consolidation and centralization. Indeed, what has occurred from the late 1980s on, with large numbers of political protests and massive coalitions for multi-partyism and democratization, is similar to the ferment of the 1950s and 1960s, when nationalist coalitions struggled to attain independence and constitutional decolonization (Ngunyi and Gathiaka, 1993).

Like that experience, contemporary civil society is urban based but not necessarily restricted to urban issues. Its effectiveness today is more or less tied up with the nature of the issues with which it is concerned; thus wider social justice or democratization issues have broader constituencies and tend to have a larger impact than narrower, spatially specific urban management issues, although their struggles may not be less intense. This larger impact has been seen particularly in recent times in the struggle for democratization and multi-partyism in a wide range of countries, such as Togo, Benin Republic, Kenya, Mali, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania. Concerned with broader struggles against monolithic state structures, dictatorships, and economic hardship, these associations, along with older movements such as labour and women's organizations, have formed broad-based coalitions that have led to changes in government or greater democratization of national politics. Other determinants of the effectiveness of activities of civil associations include the role of leaders, their linkages with both the grass roots and the élite, the extent of the threat they pose to established interests, their links with effective power blocs both locally and internationally, and their capacity to manage and sustain protests. Although the claims of the World Bank and international organizations that they support pluralism and participation are often challenged, solidarity and funds from international NGOs are generally welcomed.

For the rest of this section, we intend to examine the relationships between the state and women's organizations and the state and NGOs, as illustrations of our arguments. Each set of organizations illustrates one of the two broad components of civil society, i.e. the conventional older component exemplified by women's organizations and the advocacy type illustrated by the new NGOs. Consideration of these organizations and their relationships with the state will contribute to a better understanding of both the state and politics in general, and urban politics in particular.


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