Political economy

The evidence base on urban governance in the developing world is growing but remains limited. It consists largely of literature reviews and case studies with limited conceptual or empirical basis. Whilst a substantial body of literature addresses the issues in this Topic Guide, the evidence base needs to be better harnessed to inform policy and practice.

The literature reviewed in this Topic Guide identifies some knowledge gaps, outlined in this section. Two recommendations are made: (i) it is necessary to fill these knowledge gaps and improve the quality and quantity of urban data that can be used to support policy interventions; and (ii) urban stakeholders need to make better use of existing knowledge to improve urban governance. A number of innovative approaches are identified that can help fill knowledge gaps.

The available studies drawn on in this Topic Guide conclude there is a general paucity of evidence on the political economy drivers of urban challenges in developing countries and how these can be overcome (Desai, 2010; Muggah, 2012).

More generally, Muggah (2012) critiques donor policies and research for ignoring the complex social, political, economic, spatial and cultural relations that shape and are shaped by the experiences of urban dwellers. In their mapping of the literature on political economy factors and governance challenges of urban service delivery, Jones et al. (2014a) find a limited number of studies that link governance and service delivery effectiveness. Studies tend to exclude output and outcome measures and fail to analyse the causal relationship between governance dynamics and service delivery.

Nieto (2014) suggests there is a lack of clarity on how different contextual factors affect the forms and intensity of political and social participation in poor urban neighbourhoods. He highlights the lack of a clear causal framework that explains differences in participation levels of the urban poor and its connection to welfare.

Chinsinga (2015) presents one example of the application of political economy analysis to the study of urban governance in his analysis of urban governance and management in four Malawian cities. He concludes that these cities have faced considerable challenges in exercising their development control, planning and infrastructure development functions effectively. Additionally the structures for community level social organisation and collective action have been in a state of flux that has inhibited community mobilisation. These cities have therefore been unable to plan for, provide and maintain infrastructure and services. This study also finds that formal and informal institutions have interacted to create hybrid governance structures. In the absence of elected local officials, these have involved urban chiefs acting as intermediaries between urban communities and city councils.

Current research facilitated by the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research on urban governance and turning African cities around includes a focus on the political economy of urban governance. It includes an empirical comparative analysis of Lagos, Johannesburg and Luanda, and looks at preconditions for the turnaround, the process and prospects for other cities.