Urban politics

I recently attended a conference on South Asia at the London School of Economics where two chief economists from the World Bank delivered short presentations to a packed room, the number of attendees dwarfing the number the previous panellists (a Pakistani theatre director and an artist) had managed to convene. The subject of the talk was on sustainable growth in the South Asian Region and therefore they couldn’t not talk about climate change because the region is so vulnerable but they’re also economists and economic development and sustainable development is basically a contradiction. I asked them why adaptation strategies in the region hadn’t been implemented successfully even though climate change would go far to undo much of the progress they’d spent the last twenty minutes discussing.

It was a bit unfair getting them to solve climate change on the spot, but it felt appropriate to challenge this notion of growth when such a critical facet, the environment, is often ignored.

A greater priority is usually poverty reduction, job creation, the delivery of public services, which will be made harder still amidst rapid urbanisation in the region.

Indeed, the world is rapidly urbanising. In our seminar, in groups, we discussed why the population in urban areas was increasing and this discussion was intricately bound to all the benefits that urbanisation brings.

The one facet I’ll turn to is that of numbers.

Urban areas are more populated,

Congested, and compact.

There’s more than one way to travel; people, like information, travel fast.

Numbers let you mobilise (remember the Arab Spring?) and in the case of Uganda, what we see is the ‘politics of the marketplace’ superseding the ‘politics of patronage’ . In Uganda, the Mayor’s plans to  lease the public marketplace to his cronies was thwarted and this was mainly possible because of the external pressure that multiparty politics had (Goodfellow, 2012).

This makes me wonder whether the externalities of urbanisation will induce democratization, that the result of people being close to each other and the resultant ability to access information quickly and learn about opportunities will make it more difficult for authoritarian leaders have absolute control over their people.

Adama, O. (2017), ‘Urban Imaginaries: Funding Mega Infrastructure Projects in Lagos, Nigeria’, GeoJournal. 1–18.

Cheeseman, N., & de Gramont, D. (2017). Managing a mega-city: learning the lessons from Lagos. Oxford Review of Economic Policy33(3), 457-477.

Goodfellow, T., & Titeca, K. (2012). Presidential intervention and the changing ‘politics of survival’ in Kampala’s informal economy. Cities29(4), 264-270.

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