Beyond Urban Socio-anthropology

The Management of Urban Development in Zambia
by Emmanuel Mutale
Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot, 2004, xv + 268 pp., ISBN 0 7546 3596 1

Zambia is said to be one of the most urbanized countries in Africa and is known in the social sciences as one of the main research sites for the study of urbanization. Anthropologists, for example, recognize the research conducted on the Copperbelt in the colonial period as being on par with that produced by the Chicago school of urban anthropology. Mutale's study however does not build on that colonial tradition directly. This book is not very sociological and pays little attention to the pioneering ethnographic studies of James Clyde Mitchell, A.L Epstein or any of the other anthropologists who worked on the Copperbelt. Mutale's field is classified as urban management and his book is one of Ashgate's International Land Management series. It provides a fresh way of looking at the urbanization process - one that encompasses "...a range of traditional disciplines, for example, town planning; civil engineering, architecture, surveying, economics, law, sociology, public administration, management and others." (p.3) But is it possible for one researcher to employ all these different analytic frameworks and disciplinary skills? Can urban policy ignore urban anthropology? Mutale's book suggests that the answer to both questions is possibly yes.
The main aim of the book is it to analyze the development of urban policy in Zambia with special focus on the mining town of Nkana-Kitwe on the Copperbelt but with comparative references to Lusaka and other cities. Although, as already noted, little mention is made of the pioneering work of the Rhodes-Livingstone school of urban anthropology, e.g. A.L Epstein and J.C Mitchell's work on urban politics and ethnicity in the neighboring Ndola and Luanshya, this study of urban management is much more comprehensive than urban sociology or urban anthropology as far as the daily workings of urban policy and governance are concerned. Mutale's predecessors in the study of Zambian urban development are thus not the RLI/Manchester school urban anthropologists but the Swedish architects Ann Schlyter and Thomas Schlyter whose studies of squatter upgrading in Lusaka in the 1970s are in the same genre. Urban development, it seems, is a branch of land management and not of sociology. Mutale thus draws from the work of architects, town planners, economists, surveyors (and legal experts like Melvin Mbao) rather than from political scientists or urban anthropologists. But since one cannot discuss land or housing without referring to the population inhabiting urban spaces, his work does inevitably overlap with sociology and anthropology. It is quite exciting to see that social studies are possible without the social sciences. Indeed compared to the theoretical mystifications that anthropologists have been producing in recent years, this simple and straightforward technical study of urban development in Zambia is a reminder that socially relevant and constructive scholarship is not a modernist dinosaur.
The book is divided into nine chapters, including the introduction and conclusions. The introduction spells out the challenges of urban growth today and outlines the author's main argument as well as the structure of his book. Mutale begins his analysis with a discussion of the problem of urbanization in global development and illustrates this with references to the World Bank's projections of rapid urbanization especially in the developing world. But what is the significance of Gabon's population being 80% urbanized or that 39.6 % of Zambians reside in urban areas? Are they involved in non-agricultural work? Do they have access to waterborne sanitation? Do they all consider themselves citizens of the towns they reside in and not members of say, villages or ethnic communities located elsewhere?Some Zambian cities, we might say, are just huge villages, complete with piggeries, pitlatrines, orchards and maize fields so how does one differentiate the rural from the urban? These are the sort of questions that preoccupy sociologists and anthropologists more than urban management experts and Mutale suggests simply that a town with a population exceeding 50,000 is urban if economic activity is largely industrial, commercial or services (p35).
The second chapter outlines a "structural conflict model of urban management" which is not quite the class or nationalist struggles that historians of the Copperbelt have highlighted in the past. In fact even when reference is made to Marxist theory, it is usually to secondary sources, the one exception being Engels's studies of urban poverty in Britain Although he analyses urban management mainly from administrative, political and demographic perspectives, governance issues seem to loom large in his study. Mutale highlights three key elements in his analysis of Zambia's urban management process: the financial, political and planning of urban growth and is thus doing what the old town planners would have done. In addition, he draws upon the work of the civil engineers and architects who built Zambian towns and cities situating all this in the context of competing economic and social interests that have to resolve the major social concerns of the day using the available and limited resources.
The third and fourth chapters review key theoretical issues in urban management questions and trace the evolution of urban management and settlement policies in Zambia. The author reviews over a century of urban development in Zambia, from the 1890’s to 2000. The British South Africa (BSA) Company that colonized Zambia for Britain operated out of South Africa and the same racist policies that Cecil Rhodes had implemented in South Africa formed a part of the urban management regime in colonial Zambia. Although there was rapid and revolutionary change after independence in 1964 when Zambians won the freedom to move and settle as they chose within the country, urban management retains a lot of the colonial traditions. Although the history of Zambian towns is quite well known, Mutale's review does pay more attention to the various local government structures that were in place. Between 1913 and 1927, BSA Company dominated Village Management Boards, which served the interests of property owners (i.e. white residents) of the larger mining towns and administrative settlements, controlled the process of urbanization. From South Africa they imported racial segregation as well as "the Durban system" which used beer sales to funding black townships development. From 1929 to 1965, The Municipal Corporations and Township Ordinance formed the basis for the management of urban areas under the control of the Governor and covered both black and white residents albeit unequally. The mining townships, especially during the war-time copper boom, developed independently of these and provided (generally better) housing and other services to employees without being encumbered by government bureaucracy. When neo-liberal policies were implemented in the late 1990’s and the copper mines privatized (which had been nationalized after independence), the new owners shed their township management and social service provision with disastrous consequences for the mine townships which had always been independent from government control.
Chapter Five is dedicated to the growth of Nkana-Kitwe and is one of the most important for it shows the structures that sought to determine the city's development path in the colonial and post independence period. Basically the mining town was designed for the white minority and today it is mainly occupied by people for whom it was not designed with a result that structures have broken down in many parts of the city. And so when the Zimbabwean or South African governments smash poor people's houses in order to prevent the mushrooming of illegal structures, they are enforcing colonial construction standards in a determined albeit futile bid to ensure that the city does not become African or "Third World". Mutale's word of advise to neocolonial politicians is that the success of urban planning, development and management depends on "balancing the needs of all power bases" (p.111), political, economic, and informal.
The next three chapters all show how the main power structures: mining companies, government and citizens have interacted to determine the nature of Nkana- Kitwe's development. The supply of land and property and the changing structure of rates, of revenues allocation to finance service provision and the supply of basic services such as water and housing form the core of the book. I found these last chapters very informative, and the description of the conflict-ridden relationship between the local authorities, the central government and the mining company is a major contribution to our knowledge of the Copperbelt. The form and agency of housing provision and the nature of the housing problem in Nkana-Kitwe respectively are both excellent studies of real life in Zambian cities and I would urge the sociologists and anthropologists to emulate Mutale's careful use of council records, government plans and his own fieldwork to construct a very complete picture of urban development, one that researchers have in the past declared difficult to do because African countries lack reliable data.
In the concluding chapter, Mutale makes a number of policy recommendations which governments and other agencies involved in urban renewal after the collapse of the copper industry will find very useful and useable, which cannot be said for the most recent examples of urban anthropology. One major lesson that we can draw from this study is that leaving out the people as the colonial and current town planners tend to do is a major reason for failed urbanization.
After independence in 1965, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) government under President Kaunda introduced local government reforms that did away with indirect rule structures like the Native Treasuries and Native Authorities in the rural areas and the urban structures that favored white property owners with "democratically" elected rural councils and local authorities. Whether seen as democratization or Zambianization, this process had two major weaknesses (1) the exclusion of the public from the planning and implementation of development issues and (2) the politicization of the councilors and committee members turning them into vehicles for party patronage. This corrupting legacy needs to be addressed.
As Mutale shows, with proper management, existing and emerging sectional interests in urban areas can help to provide conditions which foster the formulation of a more equitable urban policy. Although focused on Zambia, the proposed structural conflict approach has potential for wider application.
Although it is based on his PhD thesis and has a substantial appendix on water consumption data, numerous tables on municipal service provision, and illustrations of housing designs, maps depicting town expansion and even city council civic awareness posters, none of it are superfluous. This is probably the best book on Zambia to have been published in a long while and should be essential reading for everyone involved in the study of African urbanization or even in the formulation of urban policy.


​ Schlyter, A. and Schlyter, T. (1979), George - The Development of a Squatter Settlement in Lusaka, Zambia, The National Swedish Institute for Building Research, Gavle, Sweden.




Pages  10

Africa Review of Books / Revue Africaine des Livres

Volume 04 N° 01,​ Mars 2008

Platform created by : BAKIR Ilyes & DEKHIR Abdellah Merouan


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