Urban land access in Sub-Saharan Africa: the right to the city in post-war Angola

Harry Smith, Paul Jenkins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

Abstract / Description of output

The notion of the “right to the city” emerged in the Western world, or the Global North, mainly developing from Lefebvre’s formulation of the idea in 1968 through other theoretical writings, advocacy action, and even policy-making, in both the Global North and the Global South. However, the transference of this concept to different socio-political environments is not direct, and has to take account of local contexts and institutional frameworks – institutions being understood here as both organizations and the mental models that underpin these1.

The idea of the “right to the city” was formulated in one of the parts of the world that first underwent rapid urbanization, and which became (and still is) one of the most highly urbanized – Western Europe. Where this notion has been most conspicuously enshrined in policy and in the institutional framework of government is also one of the most highly urbanized parts of the world, though in this case in the Global South – Brazil 2. But the experience of urbanization is different around the world, and the paths followed by different societies in the shift from rural to urban have an impact on how the idea of the “right to the city” may be articulated in such different contexts, and what the key issues in such articulation may be. A key issue is the notion of “rights” and the legal underpinning of these – whether from a conceptual or operational point of view. This differs enormously across the world. This paper focuses on the case of Sub-Saharan Africa, one of the least urbanized parts of the world – now rapidly urbanizing – where the colonial experience of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had a profound effect on the nature of cities and of the claims from different social groups on the city. A key claim in this context is the right to residence and associated right to access land for shelter.

The paper first briefly explores the original meaning of the concept of the “right to the city” as formulated by Lefebvre and considers how recent reinterpretations of this may apply to the cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the policies of the different colonial powers and of post-colonial regimes have created different urban legacies and conditions. The paper then provides an exploration of the particular case of Angola, where attitudes to the city from the colonial period endured after 25 years of post-independence civil war and provided the background for the formulation of new urban planning and land legislation. Drawing on research undertaken in peri-urban areas in Angola in the years following the end of its post-colonial civil war in 2002, the paper describes a situation where urban dwellers claim their right to inhabit the city on a day-to-day basis using socially legitimate forms of land access which are largely not recognized or formalized by the state. It then focuses on some experiments in the introduction of incremental rights to urban land undertaken in Angola in recent years, and contrasts such approaches with the mass evictions that have taken place in the same period. The paper concludes reflecting on the relevance of the notion of the “right to the city” in a macro-region of the Global South where the very idea of the “city” is being redefined on the ground.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLe droit à la ville comme bien commun
Place of PublicationBrussels
PublisherLa Cambre-Horta (ULB) & La Lettre Volee
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9782873173951
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013

Publication series

NameLes Cahiers d’Architecture La Cambre-Horta ; 9


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