Monthly Archives: February 2015

Prosperity in a Rapidly Urbanising World; Where Do We Go From Here?

Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from UCL recently attended a talk entitled “Prosperity in a rapidly urbanising world; Where do we go from here?” given at UCL by Dr Julio Davlia from the Institute of Global Prosperity at UCL’s Development Planning Unit. The talk was focused around the challenge of improving prosperity and economic development in the developing world whilst facing the constraints, challenges and opportunities of a rapidly urbanising world.

The presentation began with an investigation of the causes of modern urbanisation in a sociological sense (in terms of modernisation theory), and also from the point of view of development economics, including the Harris-Todaro model of rural-urban migration, and examining the pull and push factors that affect developing countries (for example, greater employment opportunities and higher wages in cities compared to rural areas).

Dr Davila went on to highlight a number of correlations in the field of urbanisation and prosperity. Strong positive correlations exist between the proportion of population urbanised in an economy and GDP per capita in the country, as well as with life expectancy, rising with the urbanisation rate. Strong negative correlations also exist with child mortality and urbanisation. However, an interesting implication particularly for municipal governments is that tax revenue as a percentage of GDP offers no correlation with an increasing urbanised population. Instead, recovery rates are mostly flat as urbanisation increases. This has significant impacts for municipal governments: with rising urban populations and a flat tax revenue growth rate, the provision of urban services will become more difficult.

A common case study in urbanisation and development is that of Medellin, Colombia. The municipal government of Medellin pursued an innovative approach to the growing urbanisation and pressure on urban services in the city, pursuing formalisation activities contra to new builds and relocation. Space upgrades and the maintaining of the social fabric that had arisen in the cities contributed to a sustainable urbanisation for the city. Mass transit and public rapid transit have been focuses of the municipal government, for example in the construction of escalators between the hillside formerly-informal settlements and the central business district. The formalisation activities have also greatly helped with public buy-in, and public support for the government’s schemes is high.

Medellin, Colombia Escalators

Medellin, Colombia: Escalators from Communa 13 to the CBD – image:

Finally, Dr Davlia returned to the issue of municipal revenue streams and the problem of low taxation returns. Control over local levels of taxation for municipal governments is a key factor for sustainable urban development, and the issue of slipping taxation revenues leading to a downward spiral of non-payment and service degradation has been touched on before in this blog. With the ability to properly target taxation to achieve the municipal government’s social and developmental goals, this spiral can be avoided, and service delivery can improve.

Energy Efficiency in South Africa – Ineffective Strategy and Unpredictable Successes and Failures

Mark Borchers from SEA writes on the difficulties faced in and with energy efficiency programs and policies in South Africa. South Africa has had an official, approved energy efficiency strategy since 2004. Therein were sensible targets such as 15% industrial energy efficiency improvement by 2014 and 10% residential efficiency by 2014, with an overall efficiency target of 12% by 2014.  And our work in the area supported this potential for saving.  At the time we were hopeful that this would be the start of a more energy efficient, lower carbon trajectory for the country with corresponding economic benefits which are always mentioned in association with energy efficiency.  These were fairly naïve days for us however, as we believed that there was a necessary link between an official government strategy and something actually changing on the ground.  In 2008 the strategy was reviewed and updated partly because it was clear that the earlier strategy had been largely ineffectual. The revised strategy was done with due diligence and stakeholder participation, like the earlier one, and listed similar or higher targets as being reasonable and achievable.    My opinion is that, in spite of a reasonably sound efficiency programme run by the national utility Eskom,  the new strategy was headed along the same ineffectual trajectory as the earlier one… until South Africa hit a power crisis – but I’ll come back to that.

Here I feel it is worth emphasizing an often observed but still not widely internalized fact: that an official strategy is a useful and necessary step, but it is one small factor in creating an enabling environment in which a transition can take place.  How many officials, researchers, consultants and international development organisations are willing to rest on their laurels once the strategy is in place with the belief that the ship has now left the harbor and will arrive at its destination in due course?  The truth is that the strategy is the easy part – its just identifying that the ship should undertake a journey and the approximate route of that journey.  The crew, the skills, the supplies, the money, and the equipment have not been given much thought at this point typically.  Even if the strategy identifies where the money should come from (for example) that is a far cry from actually sourcing the money.   If the strategy development is undertaken in a participatory manner with proper background analysis, it has clear value in capacity building and alignment of stakeholders as well as plotting an appropriate journey, so it is certainly a prerequisite to progress, but my point is that it can very easily lead nowhere after this point unless we are aware that it is just one milestone on a journey of many miles, and should never be regarded as an endpoint of our work.  It is appropriate to pause and look upon the still-warm strategy document with pride, even to hold an official launch, but then to roll up your sleeves and start on the journey of embedding the strategy in the world.

…back to South Africa: Then along came South Africa’s power crisis and steep power price increases.  This caused a flurry of activity, including energy efficiency initiatives in all sectors of the economy, most of which had little or nothing to do with the official energy efficiency strategy!  National Treasury also put aside money for local government efficiency and allocated it to municipalities with binding reporting requirements and timeframes.  The main drivers for efficiency in the country have therefore been power failures, price increases and direct allocation of Treasury funds within a mandatory framework, not the existence of an Energy Efficiency Strategy. There are lessons here for policy development work, capacity building activities, knowledge exchange research and implementation support activities: constraints to transition are mostly not to do with the existence of appropriate policies and strategies, which are often sound and well founded, but rather the detailed and complicated dynamics of the space between policy and implementation, which is generally messy, under-capacitated, and full of conflicting interests and misalignment of priorities.  This fact is a central tenet around which the design of the SAMSET project was formulated.

Collaboration with Other Research Networks

David Mann from Uganda Martyrs University describes the recent Resilient Cities Roundtable in Kampala.

Recently, I had the opportunity to represent the SAMSET project at the Resilient Cities Roundtable organised at Makerere University by the Embassy of France in Kampala. The aim of the forum was to give a platform for the discussion of research around innovations to develop green infrastructure, to meet the growing demand for energy, and to reduce pollution in cities. Guests of honor included the Executive Director of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the French Ambassador to Uganda.

This was also an opportunity to introduce the RUBAFRIQUE network which features scholars from around Africa engaged in collaborative research, open debate, and other activities to advance the understanding of urban environments and their socio-ecological dynamics to promote better-informed decision making. An explicit goal is to bridge the gap between Anglophone and Francophone researchers – hence the membership of universities in Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, France, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

In the SAMSET presentation I included an overview of the project objectives, partners, and outputs as well as preliminary results from the energy model for Jinja. Other interesting panelist presentations included Master Planning to cope with floods in Dar Es Salaam, Conservation of urban forests in Nairobi, Non-motorised urban transport planning in Uganda, and Local industrial-scale production of charcoal briquettes as an alternative to traditional wood charcoal. KCCA has partnered with the French technical research agency ADETEF to carry out an energy audit of street lighting and administrative buildings in the capital, the results of which could be very interesting for the SAMSET team.

We learned also that the University of Nairobi is launching a new Master’s Programme on Urbanisation which will include a module on Energy in Cities for which they are currently seeking qualified lecturers. It seems that there is a renewed interest in urban energy transitions and that academia is just catching up to the demand.

Nuances of Collecting Data – A Uganda Experience?

Josephine Namukisa from UMU writes on the challenges and discoveries made during fieldwork for the SAMSET project.

At the heart of the process of generating a State of Energy Report is field surveys to garner an energy picture. Surveys may range from questionnaires and one-on-one interviews. The latter have been quite beneficial to the SAMSET research team in Uganda as a means of carrying out preliminary data collection. The experiences of carrying out interviews in Jinja and Kasese municipality were enriching in many cases sometimes far more than the data collected eventually and are therefore worth reminiscing about. We encountered lessons on formality versus informality and at times had to slow down and demystify energy concepts. Following are two encounters.

Formality Vs Informality
Clad in jeans, canvas shoes and rack sacks, we arrived at Jinja Municipality Offices ready for a day in the field, which because of our seven months experience so far, we approached with open-mindedness. We would be as flexible as need be and handle every interview as it came although with one constant; to walk away with the most credibly-possible data in keeping with the project ethos. In our estimation, the task would be even easier because an official from Jinja Municipality would be accompanying us into the field. Could we get more credible than that? In our minds, we saw our usually long verbal introductions highlighting organizations that our respondents hardly know about shortened and their responses lengthened simply because of the trust created from dealing with their own. We were in for a rude awakening.

At the municipality head quarters, we were ushered into a large office with leather sofas and a large mahogany desk behind which our soon-to-be “field assistant” was seated, his secretary was rapidly typing out a letter of introduction nearby. We sat quietly for an hour waiting for the official business to be completed before heading out into the field. Our first stop was the UMEME office and the moment our suit-clad field assistant handed over our introduction letter to the Manager and uttered a short “We are from the Town Clerk’s Office”, it was like a brass gate fell between us and the Manager because she visibly acquired an intensely formal stance, ushered us into her office and for the next fifteen minutes explained to us the procedure of carrying out research at UMEME field offices, inclusive formal letters to the Head Office, authorizations and other requirements that in her estimation would take no less than a month. Case closed. Yes our introduction was short, her answer long but both of them absolutely futile.

In Kasese a week later, we were the wiser. Again armed with field clothes, lengthy introductions and the attitude of researchers and not government officials, we made what we referred to as a “courtesy call” on the UMEME office. Again we were offered seats but not so that we could be briefed on protocol but rather on the goings on at the office. The Officer in charge then called his Area Manager informing him of our visit and even though the manager was skeptical at first, that being his first month in the position, on meeting us he relaxed and plunged into a lengthy and fruitful discourse about his work. When we told him about an earlier visit to HIMA cement and Mobuku Power Dam, all things he cares about as part of his work, he opened up about electricity service delivery in Kasese Municipality, the main consumers and strategies for distribution and future projects such as OBA – a project to connect homes for free. Yes, clearance from the Head Quarters in order to access more detailed information was talked about but we walked away information-richer than was the case in Jinja

Unpacking the Bill
One old lone figure on the verandah of an aging post-colonial house is watching the road, her maize cobs spread out in the sun to dry in the large compound of her daughter’s estate- the daughter who lives in Kampala but pays the bill monthly; utility and Dstv bills, the latter without fail so that her twin daughters, the old woman’s grand children can be entertained hourly, daily, weekly and monthly.

Our arrival is greeted with wariness; the team of two who could be anything from walkers who have lost their way, door-to-door evangelists or bill collectors but certainly not researchers into that which eludes her on a monthly basis; the green and white UMEME bill she cannot read because it has no Luganda or Lusoga translation. However, once we introduce ourselves as SAMSET researchers, enquirers into Long Range Energy Alternatives; planners with a vested interest in her energy future, the bill becomes a prop that sets us on common ground. The twosome is the old woman’s dream come true; a magnifying glass to help her make sense of what is eating up the largest chunk of the allowance her daughter sends monthly. She, on the other hand is the bane of the research’s existence; a single micro entry with no records to enter into a statistical sheet. But we take the chairs she excitedly offers, retrieve our pens, magnifying glasses and Luganda vocabulary because for the next hour we shall translate Kilowatt hours, amps and appliance types.

“Aaaah!” it finally dawns on her after no less than an hour; the revelation that the electricity bill has been accurate all along. “But what can I do to keep it down?” The old woman enquires, not sure which would be wiser; switching off the fridge and forfeiting ice-cold water or denying her adorable granddaughters two hours of Cartoon Network a day. That, we leave to her discretion and armed with a table of calculations and statistics; the copy we quickly made after she requested an original she couldn’t read, we head off into the sunset in search of more homes to survey.