Society of African Journal Editors

South African Journal of Sociology

The role of planning law in evictions in sub-Saharan Africa

Authors: Stephen Berrisford &Michael Kihato

Journal: South African Journal of Sociology

Recently some African cities have been scenes of high profile eviction campaigns. These campaigns have elicited heavy criticism from various quarters, domestic and international. Through an examination of examples of recent eviction campaigns in a number of African countries, this paper explores the pivotal role planning law plays in justifying these campaigns. By scrutinizing the ostensibly legal grounds for the evictions the paper attempts to explain these evictions from a perspective other than that of mere contravention of planning laws. Instead, it seeks to show that there are underlying attitudes, which extend more deeply than the enforcement of planning laws alone, that have motivated these campaigns. These three attitudes, firstly, perceive African urban dwellers rightfully belonging to rural areas; secondly, that urban planning in Africa is weak because there is ‘no implementation’ and a show of force demonstrates a commitment to ‘implementation’, which is a sign of ‘good governance’; and thirdly that a good city is a clean city, without any visible signs of poor people. The paper shows that these attitudes have colonial origins, and have persisted among post independent urban managers. The paper also shows that these attitudes render eviction action, even in the face of weak legal standing and heavy criticism, justifiable in the eyes of its proponents. The paper concludes by recommending priorities for planning law reform programmes in Africa. It proposes reform that recognises the underlying political processes that shape such attitudes in governance. This will enable more effective law-making, grounded on principles and led by a concern for human rights.