Accepted paper:

Urban Transport and the Spatial Regulation of African Cities


Robert Heinze (University of Berne)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores and critiques recent Marxist theories of space in neoliberal global capitalism by looking at the history of regulation of traffic systems in post-colonial African cities.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores recent Marxist theories of space (Harvey 2001;2006; Candeias 2009) and discusses whether the development of traffic systems in post-colonial African cities substantiates the notion of a recent shift from "fordist" to "postfordist" capitalism. It argues that the real changes in African urban transport systems are not "neoliberal" shifts from public ownership to privatisation. Instead, since 1990, governments have established bodies for self-regulation. Rather than simply "deregulating" a formerly "regulated" urban transport system, these bodies tend to develop into corporatist institutions. This is most visible in Michael Sata's program in 1992 to reestablish public transport in Lusaka by enabling young men to acquire small buses and licences to operate, provided they were unionized. These policies significantly affect the working class in African cities. Governments prioritise certain parts of cities in service delivery while neglecting others. Also, drivers and sometimes owners of buses are part of the urban working class. Many studies praise how local creativity has helped bridging transport deficits as government funds are limited. I argue that while creative reactions have produced some benefits, businesses with more capital control the most important routes, influence fares and dominate regulatory bodies. In several instances (Nairobi, Lusaka), the latter have been accused of having mafia-style structures. Employing a historical perspective, I ask whether the said changes can be termed neoliberal and how regulation theory's diagnosis that a new accumulation regime has supplanted the old allows us to assess such urban transport projects.

panel PE39
Capitalism and global anthropology: Marxism resurgent