The Journal of Modern African Studies

Research Article

In the shadow of the city: Africa's urban poor in opposition strongholds*

Danielle Resnicka1 c1

a1 United Nations University-World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER), Katajanokanlaituri 6B, FI-00160 Helsinki, Finland


Sub-Saharan Africa is the fastest urbanising region of the world. This demographic transformation has occurred in concert with two other trends in the region, nascent democratisation and stalled decentralisation. Using the case of Lusaka, Zambia, this study argues that in the context of multi-party competition and limited fiscal decentralisation, the challenges posed by rapid urbanisation are exacerbated for the urban poor living in cities controlled by opposition parties. Semi-structured interviews conducted with local political actors are combined with a survey of 200 informal sector workers in Lusaka. This data reveals the tactics employed by the central government to weaken the popularity of the opposition in Lusaka and shows that from the viewpoint of the urban poor, such tactics ultimately prove counterproductive. The presence of similar dynamics in other African cities has important implications for aid modalities, such as budget support, that are currently used by international donors to fund development projects, including those in the urban sector.

(Online publication February 11 2011)


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* This study draws on fieldwork conducted by the author in Lusaka, Zambia from January–May 2009, which was generously funded by the Social Science Research Council and the Council of American Overseas Research Centers. The author thanks Christopher Williams, participants at the World Urban Forum Five, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on previous drafts.