Sub-Saharan Africa’s urban planning systems

6.1 Introduction

Evidence shows that no planning system is perfect and that all planning systems are prone to failure. Chapter 3 of this book highlights how urban planning as has been practised over the years is ineffective in the face of twenty-first-century challenges, such as rapid urbanisation and reurbanisation and the effects of climate change on urban infrastructure. More specifically, non-compliance with planning regulation in the UK (McKay, 2003; Lai et al., 2007), the sprawling of US cities (Schmidt and Buehler, 2007; Ihlanfeldt, 2009), and problems with the implementation of smart growth policies in Canada (Filion and McSppurren, 2007) are some of the failings of planning systems across the world. However, this chapter discusses planning systems and their specific weaknesses in SSA. The chapter commences with a discussion of the nature of SSA planning regimes, their state, and their determinants/causes, situating it within the context of the human action theoretic framework and the current efforts being made by re-engineering planning regimes in the region to produce optimum outcomes.

Nature of SSA planning systems

Evidence of spatial developments in Africa shows that some form of settlement planning existed in parts of SSA prior to Western Europe’s colonisation of Africa at the turn of the nineteenth century. Some parts of SSA, particularly West Africa, had a rich urban tradition prior to colonialism (Mabogunje, 1968, 1990; Wekwete, 1995; Konadu-Agyemang, 1998; Njoh, 2004; Rakodi, 2006a). Urban centres such as Timbuktu in Mali and Zanzibar in Tanzania were already major trading centres with their own spatial configuration (Mabogunje, 1990; Wekwete, 1995; Njoh, 2004). For example, findings from archaeological and other in- depth studies suggest that settlement planning among the Akans, the largest tribe in Ghana, dates to about 3,500 years ago or more (Farrar, 1996).

Although rudimentary at this early stage, planning was implemented by traditional leaders in concert with their people and based on their customs with regard to socio-economic development. Planning in Ghana during this period was, for example, used by traditional leaders as a land management tool to achieve overall socio-economic development (Barbot, 1732; Domfeh, 2001). Barbot (1732) notes that coastal Akan settlements during this period were crooked and irregular, and ended up as wide-open spaces, which were used as markets and meeting grounds for deliberation on the well-being of the settlements. Furthermore, developments were clustered and occupied by related lineages with small lanes and streets in between them. These spatial arrangements were strictly followed by members of these settlements. The rationale was to reduce cost in terms of travel time to pursue economic and related activities at the centre and defend communities against external aggression (Barbot, 1732; Farrar, 1996).

The spatial arrangements in pre-colonial Yuroba settlements in Nigeria (Arimah and Adeagbo, 2000), which were akin to those of the Akan Bonos and Asantes in Ghana (Wilks, 1959; Effah-Gyamfi, 1975), conformed to the same goals as the coastal Akan settlements. These Yuroba, Bono, and Asante settlements, strictly adhering to norms, situated the palaces of their traditional leaders at the centre of their settlements with a vast open space in front for markets and durbars. Besides, one main road, which led to the palaces of the traditional leaders at the centre, divided these settlements into two parts. Contributing to the subject, Keeton and Nijhuis (2019) further provide a litany of examples of planned settlements in Africa prior to colonisation. The city of El-Lahun in Egypt otherwise referred to as Kahun or Ro-hent, which is sometimes regarded as the oldest master planned urban settlement currently known in Africa, is one of them. According to the authors, the gridded street patterns of the city suggest authoritative planning rather than spontaneous occurrence. Another example of a medieval planned African city is Songo Mnara in Tanzania, a fifteenth-century Swahili stone town, which had a highly developed social welfare systems, craftsmanship, and political organisations. The authors also cite pre-colonial Senegalese cities, such as Diakhao (sixteenth century), Kahone (mid-sixteenth century), and Мака, (eighteenth century), which were clearly organised along orthogonal grids, as well as the eleventh- century Edo Benin City in Edo State, Nigeria, which is believed to have been designed, down to its underground drainage, based on fractals and had a centralised and sophisticated bureaucracy, and Harlaa in Ethiopia, which was designed with geometric precision and programmatic spatial divisions that suggest coordinated planning during that period. From the standpoint of SSA evolutionary land tenure thesis (Atwood, 1990; Plat- teau, 1992; Yngstrom, 2002; Hammond, 2006), since planning is a feature of land markets, it is conceivable that these indigenous planning practices would have evolved over time. Nonetheless, with the advent of colonialism, indigenous planning arrangements were truncated.

 
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