Events

Live Webcast: Migration, Economic Development and Urban Inclusion

May 31, 2006 // 2:00pm5:00pm

On May 31st the Comparative Urban Studies Project hosted a seminar to examine the linkages between migration, economic development and urban poverty in African cities. Loren Landau, director of the Forced Migration Studies Program at University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa presented a research paper on the effects of urbanization and international migration on the socio-economic and political composition of cities. In his examination of the relationship between mobility and urban poverty, Landau highlighted four critical areas that need further attention: investment in job creation; health education and housing; human security; and, community and political accountability.

First, investment in job creation: while there is an assumption that people who migrate to the cities are stealing jobs, this does not happen on a large scale and the effects are neutral. The real problem, according to Landau, is that 95% of urban residents come from elsewhere in the country, or even the region. These migrants engage in work and send their profits back home to family members. Landau argued that migrants send remittances out of cities because they don't see the city as their home. Remittances are often seen as a panacea, bringing additional resources to the city but often this capital is drawn into private investment or is passed along to the wealthier classes.

In addition, out-migration has become a serious problem in Africa, robbing cities of key human resources, such as medical professionals. Without those people, there is little hope of development beyond poverty.

Second, health, education and housing: Because public housing programs in Africa assume a static population, recently urbanized populations have difficulty accessing these social services. Often migrants lack the social networks that can provide money to pay fees for health, education, etc. Furthermore, language, age, and various forms of legal and social discrimination keep people out of key social services. In response, people turn to informal channels or private resources for these services. Inability to access public resources marginalizes populations and brings socio-economic consequences.

Third, human security: migrants are particularly vulnerable to crime and extortion in the informal settlements where they live. In informal areas of the city, migrants are often exploited and are targeted by the police for trading goods without a license. Policies implemented to curb migration have driven the process underground, heightening informality and corruption.

Finally, community and political accountability: many migrants do not claim a sense of ownership or community in the cities where they live because they are transient. Most view the city as a place through which they are moving. Local authorities responsible for the promotion of collective involvement and creating a sense of a common future have failed to recognize that mobility will continue to challenge cities, resulting in policies that are reactive and reactionary.

In conclusion, negative or positive outcomes from the migration process depend on the reaction migrants receive once they arrive in the city. Landau called for the collection of better and more consistent data to understand the relationship between migration and poverty in African cities. In addition, there needs to be multi-level and intersectoral planning initiatives. As cities are increasingly responsible for addressing the needs of migrant populations, local government must assume an advocacy role. Finally, we need to recognize that in the African context, the lack of political will and incentives to retain the status quo combine with global forces and economic inequalities to place severe limits on the ability of local and national government to implement migration-oriented polices that address urban poverty.

Discussant Caroline Kihato, policy analyst at the Development Bank of Southern Africa in Johannesburg, noted that the urban question in Africa has been receiving unprecedented attention. Structural adjustment programs and the reduction of state expenditures have moved large numbers of the middle class into poverty. Peasants from rural areas migrated to the city to find jobs and ways of maintaining their livelihoods. These trends have placed tremendous pressure on Africa's cities. In spite of numerous anti-poverty strategies that have been implemented since the early 1990's, including social housing programs, efforts to improve quality of life and increase access to healthcare, water, etc., poverty in Africa continues to grow.

The problem, according to Kihato, lies within models of governance and intervention that assume a static population with incentives to invest in the city. Cities are extractive places where people make money that is invested elsewhere. Kihato argued that city governments are working with ideals that are inappropriate for the way people live.

According to Kihato, 60-70% of the population in African cities lives outside state regulated spaces. Their economic activities are invisible to the state, with tremendous implications for planning. In many cases, the urban poor are unable to access government services, however some urban residents exit the system, choosing informality and irregularity to avoid obligation or because of the transitory nature of their lives. More sustainable and realistic policies must incorporate the life strategies of urban populations and accept informality and unregulated space. To develop appropriate and relevant policy that addresses urban poverty, we need a better understanding of how cities work and how their population moves, concluded Kihato.

Referring to Landau's description of African cities being shaped by "increasingly mobile populations that do not see their city of residence as their home," discussant Ananya Roy, professor & chair, Urban Studies Department of City & Regional Planning; associate dean, Academic Affairs International & Area Studies, University of California at Berkeley, pointed out that the fundamental issues of mobility and citizenship constitute an aspiration that cities embody for a better future. Roy observed that Landau's paper raises some important questions for the debate around African cities and migration. First, she detailed the theme of crisis. How should we understand the figure of the migrant in a time of crisis," Roy asked. We must consider how migrants improvise, make do, and create a place for themselves in the city. Second, Roy observed that Landau's paper describes migration and mobility as two very different experiences. "When is mobility an avenue of accumulation and well-being and when is it a marker of vulnerability? Finally, she noted that Landau's paper is not only about internal migration, but more importantly about international migration, movements of people across national borders within Africa. Very little is known about South-South movements, an important feature of world-regions. In conclusion, Roy argued that the study of migration and immigration reveals the complicated relationship between mobility and immobility.

Experts & Staff

  • Blair A. Ruble // Vice President for Programs; Director, Urban Sustainability Laboratory; and Senior Advisor, Kennan Institute
  • Allison Garland // Program Associate, Urban Sustainability Laboratory
  • Thea Cooke // Program Assistant
  • Gabor Demszky // Global Fellow

Wilson Center Photo Gallery

Browse or share photos from the Wilson Center’s events.

To Attend an Event

Unless otherwise noted:

Meetings listed on this page are free and open to the public. Reservations are not required unless otherwise noted. All meetings take place at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Please see map and directions. Allow time for routine security procedures. A photo ID is required for entry.

To confirm time and place, contact Maria-Stella Gatzoulis on the day of the event: tel. (202) 691-4188. Check this page for the latest updates and notices.