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The Shifting of Public Authority in the Provision of Public Goods at the Local Level:

By Kinuthia Macharia

American University
Department of Sociology
Washington DC





In this paper, I will explore the effects of the process of globalization on the African cities, specifically, the delivery of public goods in the local municipalities.

The main argument that I will emphasize is that globalization has overall weakened the economic welfare of most of the people living in African cities. It has also weakened the nation-states Gross National Product (GNP). The economic base of the cities themselves has also been subsequently weakened and this has had a direct impact on lack of, or poor provision of public goods. The weakening of the already weak nation-states in Africa in favor of transnational capital leading to the formation of the Transnational capitalist class (Robinson and Harris, 2000) directly reflects on the direction the governments have taken in the delivery of public goods. They have had to take directives from some of those transnational companies and donor agencies keener on protecting transnational capital than advancing the welfare of the local people. The public goods that I will focus on in this paper include the following: water and sanitation, education, housing and infrastructure. Globalization has brought about increased inequality between countries (Hoogvelt, 1997). Indeed, the gap between the western nations and the developing countries, especially in the African continent has grown wider in the last twenty years, and more so in the last five or ten when an emphasis of free trade, itself signature mark of globalization has been emphasized. Those growing inequalities have shifted from a competition between nations to a sorry state of the cities, especially the primate cities which have become over populated and without the resources to cater for the growing population. Poor governance both at the national level and at the local level (mayors offices and council chairmen) including and not limited to various kinds of corruption, nepotism and tribalism have also impacted negatively on the provision of public goods. The institutions of management and authority have been too weak to be reliable and this may explain why alternative provision facilities through the informal sector has taken up, albeit poorly some of the provision of public goods. The public sector has been a let down in almost all African cities for the last twenty years or more.


Globalization has just complicated things for these cities which in order to keep up with the global demands is almost analogous to walking before crawlingthe crawling stage having been overtaken by the demands of the globalization process. The process is directly or indirectly aimed at maximizing capital and this is why the rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer. This exacerbates the inequality not only between the cities of the first world and those of the Third world but also inequalities between the rich and the poor in the African cities. There are Africans (national bourgeoisie, mostly the political and economic elites) who have become members of the (international bourgeoisie) transnational capitalist class who will jump on the band wagon of neo-liberal ideas of privatizing public goods and services. They become beneficiaries and end up offering shoddy services and goods to the local communities while maximizing on their profits. The growth of informal settlements and the rising poverty comprising of more than three quarters of those in African cities tells vividly the story of the individual and the community of many that is not adequately provided for! They are not benefiting in any way from the popularized benefits of globalization popularized by the rich western nations. As Robinson and Harris (2000) argue, TCC (Transnational Capitalist Class) is a Class-in-itself and a Class-for-itself. The shifting from public delivery to private delivery of public goods like water and sanitation, infrastructure and housing in African cities should be analyzed from this theoretical perspective.

What is Globalization?

As seen and understood today, we describe it as interconnection of the world market. The globe (the world) is becoming one market place, once big consumer market, where everyone is consuming goods made (not nationally---even where labels so indicate, e.g. Made in USA as a label for a sneaker, for example. That label may not tell the consumer what different parts were made or produced in China, Indonesia or another part of the world. Another example is McDonalds hamburgerthe big Mac, that is so American, but yet the consumer may not realize the raising of the beef cattle in Costa Rica and other nations; or the Starbucks coffee which may have been started in Seattle, an American city but does not tell the story of the coffee farmers in South America or in East Africa and the processing in their capital cities before it is brought to the US and served in almost all middle class American neighborhoods. The famed Swiss chocolate with its roots in the African countries of Ghana and Courte DIvoire exemplifies another market consumerism that is so global!

The concept of globalization has also become common place and quite persuasive in academic, political, economic and cultural (social) debates especially because of the interconnection in communication in the current Information Age. The media (both print and television) showing almost similar programs as if they are being synchronized in one huge stationwhat is important as news being so standardized and with almost the same twists and emphasisthe recent coverage of the late Pope John Paul II is a case in point where all the media (large or small, in Africa or in the US) covered the event as the single leading news for about a week all over the world, same headlines, same pictures of the pope etc.. The internet (World Wide Web) has also brought the whole world together into the Global Communication network! This is indeed the information age, giving rise to the Network Society, (Castells, 1998).

The city, which has usually been the central market (Weber, 1907) has acquired new roles- to assemble and to distribute both locally and globally. The city in both developed and developing countries has also become the most conspicuous location where the growing inequalities brought about by the globalization process can be conspicuously identified. The city with its anonymous character amongst its dwellers has historically been the place where social stratification is clearly flouted. It has been the social laboratory where social stratification based in class, race, ethnicity, (tribalism) and gender among others can be studied.

The 1960s and 1970s were two decades of relative economic growth in a number of African nations. The cities were vibrant and the populations in there were manageable. The infrastructure, for example in the city of Nairobi was still in good working conditions and though poverty and poor sanitation were not the best, they have grown worse in the later decades. The development decades (1960s-1970s) were overtaken by the later decades of globalization (reorganization of global capital). The earlier development has not been sustained leading to many unemployed and rising levels of poverty and a wider gap between the haves and the have-nots. 80% of the global market and consumerism in cities is controlled by less than 20% of the worlds richest and the global market is aggressively increasing this mismatch at regional and national levels as well as in the cities.

The rich countries are doing better in the global market; the rich people in the cities, from New York to Cape Town are doing better than the poor and they enjoy a higher quality of life. Globalization in the new Millennium is therefore a call for the wealthy to do even better. To enable them achieve this, they are facilitated by the communication networks and major Regional Economic Agreements like North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), European Union (EU) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). While Regional Trade Agreement in Africa like the revival of the East African Community, COMESA , ECOWAS have been trying to emulate the Western organizations, they have not achieved as much as most of their products are still exported to the North (trade is still predominantly between the North and the South) with the North dominating! The poor countries will continue to perform poorly in the new markets and this divide will continue in various ways. The reality is that globalization will continue impoverishing the postcolonial world as the new political economy of development establishes itself (Hoogvelt, 1997). There will be a divide in education attainment leading to the digital divide; there will be a divide in the housing market leading to the rich living in ever larger mansions while the poor will be hounded in the inner cities or shanty towns and slums in the majority of the cities in the South; there will be a divide in the water consumed, the rich drinking bottled, processed water while the poor will drink dirty unprocessed water, there will also be a divide in employment, leading to the rich being profitably employed while the majority poor will be unemployed and misemployed. There will also be a divide in life expectation, leading to the rich living longer and the poor dying younger due to poor diet, water related diseases, stress and such diseases like HIV/AIDS as well as others that have been shown to be closely related to ones socio-economic status. These are some of the divides that the world is faced with as it encounters the globalization course and most of this will be played out in the cities (of the North and South) but the impact will be most felt in the cities of the South especially those in Africa. The rural areas will experience even a further divide and whereas they will be lesser participants of global issues, the real action of the global competition will be in the cities.

It is the cities that are more globally interconnected by the information Age; they are also the centers of the market economy (Habitat 2001) In the divided world of First and Third world, the cities have historically played different roles and apparently this will continue in the new millennium. The First World cities have been centers of accumulation and consumption as well as distributors to other parts of the world (in the past to the colonial outposts).The Third World cities on the other hand, historically acted as the Suction Pump (Frank, 1967) that was to suck up raw materials and cheap labor from the vast rural areas of the Third world colonies (Africa, Asia and South America). After temporary accumulation as a storage point, such goods (especially raw materials) were shipped to western cities (First World cities) for manufacturing and pricing. The best were consumed in the First World and the worst with higher price tags were shipped back to the Third World cities. This form of dependent urbanization has not changed and the globalization process is only making it more of the norm than the exception.

For the political and business elites, the two concepts, Development and Globalization have become synonymous. This is NOT necessarily the case especially in the developing nations, certainly not the case in Sub-Saharan Africa. The African countries involvement in the global market is equivalent to the child walking before crawling. The requirements of market monopoly, free trade, relaxation of import/ export restrictions will usually favor those already ahead of the business gamethe First World and this will mean a lot of catching up for the Third world countries and their cities. Most people in the Third World cities cannot participate in the consumer culture that is expected in the Globalization Age. This may explain why most of them have had to revert to economic strategies that best fit their basic needs rather than the material expectations associated with the consumer culture. Such basic needs relevant to this conference include housing, clean water and sanitation as well as basic infrastructure in the citiessome which are almost an extension of rural habitat yet being defined as living in the cities (as a geographic location). Globalization thus produces an uneven market system which hurts the Third World countries and specifically the quality of life in the cities. Indeed the quality of life and per capita earnings have gone down in those countries that have embraced globalization, which also implies entering the capitalist global economy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russias entry in to the Global capitalist economy, her GDP declined by 52% in 1995 once they had abandoned their socialist development strategy. There are many reasons that may explain this decline but suffice it to say that any country entering the established capitalist economy in the name of globalization will most likely perform below those already established. This is also the case in African countries. The quality of life, lower GDP, lower life expectancy, more diseases, more poverty, more unemployment and the growth of the informal economy as a pragmatic alternative has been the trend in the last twenty years and seems to be still what the future holds for many African countries. The cities are the center stages where low quality of life is pretty obvious. Indeed, our cities have been experiencing "urbanization with limited on no development" and they have yet to benefit from the process of globalization. With the exception of a few cities in South Africa (which were already to large extent active players in the global economy) most of the African cities have been inactive or exploited participants and this may explain why they have not "urbanized with development."

How has Globalization affected delivery of public goods at the local level?

We have already discussed the concept of globalization and how it has impacted the countries in the Third world and their cities. The historical formation of African cities and their role as supplier of raw materials, as colonial administrative centers with little development strategies for the majority Africans continues to be their Achilles heel. Globalization is only reinforcing such major disadvantages and in stead of the quality of life for most Africans in the cities improving, it has been deteriorating. The public (African governments) from colonialism felt more obligated to provide public goods (education, housing, water and sanitation, infrastructure) to the people. It was part of the political promises that the new governments were promising. They tried to show a difference in offering services to the African people who were denied such services. In many African countries where European presence was in high numbers like Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, for example, the African was seen as a sojourner in the city, (Soja, 1970) that he will eventually go back to his rural village hence no need to cater for him/her in the city. This may explain why historically the housing for Africans in the cities was considered secondary and services such as water, simple infrastructure was not a priority for the colonial administration. Thus, some new housing schemes for Africans were build in the cities. In Nairobi for example, a number of residential estates with modern infrastructure, clean water and functioning sewerage systems were started a few years after independence. Most of them were also given appropriate Africa names to reflect the political change. Such estates like Ngei, Otiende catering for then upper middle class and Buruburu catering for middle class Africans were commissioned. For the low income Africans, not much attention was given to them which may explain why the slum areas of Mathare and Kibera in Nairobi have been some of the biggest and fastest growing in Africa.

The promise of African governments was short lived. After the 1970s, the promises of the 1960s were no longer forthcoming. No new residential estates were being commissioned, streets went unpaved and gaping potholes became the daily expectation. Clean water and sanitation became secondary concerns of the government especially in the expanding informal settlements. Reliance on rain water, or dirty river water was the way most of the poor urbanites became accustomed to. As I will discuss below, there was an emerging informal sector entrepreneurs who started business of selling water. Some made connections to the clean city water pipes; they would make arrangements to have the meter that sometimes was not in working condition. They made corrupt deals with the city water officials and sold water to the poor slum dwellers. I witnessed this kind of arrangement during my research in Mathare and Kiandutu slums in the 1980s and among informal sector entrepreneurs in the 1990s (Macharia, 1997). When the government abandons its public responsibility, the majority of the poor city dwellers suffer. The quality of the public goods they receive is severely compromised while at the same time enriching those private suppliers who ideally are short-changing the public!

The rest of this paper will give a case study of Kenya, the capital city, Nairobi which really exemplifies the shift from the late 1970s where provision of public goods has substantially gone down. A visitor in Nairobi of the 1970s would today wonder whether the city is retrogressing in stead of advancing. The once proud city in the sun is today the s city in the dumps as garbage collection has been neglected, water shortages always being blamed on drought has become a common occurrence. The new high rises (themselves an evidence of transnational capital) could be deceiving. One needs to go outside the city center to the middle and low income residential areas where three quarters of Nairobians live. The visitor will be met by a common cry of how bad things have gone!

The paper will give a case study of how the water provision in the country and particularly in the cities was previously governed by CAP 372 (Laws of Kenya) which was criticized as being incoherent and giving a mixed bag between water policy makers and suppliers. The inefficiency of the water services was a main problem in the cities. The Service Provision under the Water Act 2002 will be discussed as it conforms to the shift addressed in this paperthe recommendation and implementation of privatization of public goods!. The establishment such new bodies as the Water resources Management, Water Appeals Board etc. to work under the umbrella of the Ministry of Water supposedly should improve delivery of clean water to the communities. We will analyze the experience so far in Nairobi and especially in the informal settlements with the intention of proposing better solutions if the current ones will be deemed as not working. The role of the informal sector entrepreneurs filling a gap left wide open by the public institutions charged with delivery will be discussed. As one of the WHO report of 2004 underlines, provision of clean water and sanitation is a key development intervention-without it, ill health dominates a life without dignity (Evans and Ciceri, 2004) hence the need to understand the impact of globalization on the shifting of the way such is handled in our cities.


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Evans, Barbara & Ciceri Karen, 2004. Sanitation Challenge: Turning Commitment into Reality. Geneva, WHO

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Macharia, Kinuthia, 1997. Social and Political Dynamics of the Urban Informal Economy in African Cities: Nairobi and Harare Lanham, MD. University Press of America.

Soja, Edward W, 1970. The African Experience. Evanston, Northwestern University press

Weber, Max, 1905. The City. Glencoe, IL, Free Press

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Globalization Research Center - Africa