Tag Archives: Postcolonial condition

Zimbabwe’s localised, restructured economy of the 2010s: Harare/Bulawayo vs Zimbabwean secondary cities

Smaller cities across Africa are projected to double/triple in population over the next 15-25 years.

Ways to classify Zimbabwean urban areas

Given the structural adjustment policies, decline in off-farm opportunities and remittance flows, access to productive land is a major factor in ensuring balanced growth and effective service delivery in Zimbabwe’s 7-tier hierarchy of urban areas:

consolidated villages,

business centers,

rural service centers,

district service centers,

growth points,


and cities.

While in the drier parts of Zimbabwe, many people have taken to mining/mineral extraction as a source of livelihoods. Several million of them. On a regular basis.

As a result, over 70% of small-scale miners have some level of mercury poisoning.

In the colonial era, towns grew where there was economic activity.

Apart from the likes of Harare and Bulawayo, there were:

Mining towns: Zvishavane, Mashava, Hwange, Shurugwi, Kadoma and Kwekwe

Estate towns: Chiredzi and Triangle

White farming towns: Chinoyi, Bindura or West Nicholson

Consider setting up your second home in a smaller town of Zimbabwe

Land reform in Zimbabwe localised the economy. Increasingly, benefits are generated in towns like Mvurwi — home to 7,500 — in Mashonaland Central. Whereas Zimbabwean megalopolises — like the capital city Harare — suffer from unregulated construction, overpopulation, power and water cuts, underemployment and strained sanitation and waste management systems.

As of October 2016, some 1,100 tonnes of garbage were generated daily in Harare.  Twice as much as that found in Johannesburg. This is partly due to slack in managing the packaging of food stuffs. Over 70 % of  domestic waste in Harare is biodegradable. But who will lead the way in the hectic city of over 1,600,000 people.

Can you keep it clean with just two automated sweepers operated by the city council?

Bulawayo is a different story. But similar in many ways.

Now let’s look at what is happening outside Zimbabwe’s mega cities.

Growth point Maphisa in Matobo district, Matabeleland South had 6 supermarkets as of October 2016 (when before 2000 there were none), 8 butcheries (from 4), 5 hardware stores (from 1) and over 30 kombi operators.

The occupied high-density stands have shot up from 223 to 1,118, while the medium-density ones have increased from 121 to 498.

Of course you can say that Harare, Masvingo and Bulawayo have all of that and much more. But the question here is comparative growth potential and harmonizing the community. In the restructured, unequally distributed economy that Zimbabwe is, managing smaller communities with their localized economies is potentially more doable than the bigger, more diverse ones.

And in terms of quality of living — with fast (even though still relatively expensive) internet, plus off-grid power from renewables like solar — we vote for smaller towns as the engines of growth in Zimbabwe.

This is what makes Zimbabwe’s provincial urban areas tick

In Chatsworth, a small town between Masvingo and Gutu-Mpandawanda, high-density stands cost USD900, medium-density USD1,400 and low-density USD4,000.

To operate a butchery and food outlet another businessman pays monthly rent of USD350. Buying two-three beasts per week, he pays USD400 – USD500 per each  and sells meat to customers at USD5 per kg.

Yet another local entrepreneur opened a large supermarket in 2012 that gets up to 200 customers cross its doors every day. She employs 34 people.

Earned in a day in Zimbabwe’s secondary towns 

I used proceeds from the hardware store to educate my children and to build my house. I built another house at my parents’ home nearby, — a businesswoman from Gutu.

Two hardware shops generate about USD300 per day each selling ploughs, harrows, cultivators as well as building materials to residents developing their stands in Chatsworth.

A cattle owner in Maphisa gets around USD800 per beast in Bulawayo. And USD50 per goat.

A brick loader in Mvurwi can get USD8. A transporter can get USD80 after accounting for fuels. Open market vendors in Chatsworth, a growth point of over 1,000 residents (and one hair salon) in Gutu district, Masvingo province, generate about USD10.

Resettled farmers start to compete with the vendors for customers: selling door to door to residents and schools.

Value supply chain in/between Zimbabwe’s secondary cities

Agro-vendors in Chatsworth — mostly women without land — have amplified the economic effect. Making use of the good transport connection to Masvingo they have made significant profits, and are the new landlords in the town: now investing intensively in new building projects.

Open market vendor in Maphisa pays USD10 for the bus to and from Bulawayo, sometimes venturing into the City of Kings three times a week.

Whereas to ship cattle from Maphisa to Bulawayo, private transporters charge USD40 per animal.

About 90% of houses built in Mvurwi used common farm bricks. Bricks sell at USD30 per thousand plus add USD15 to transport them.

A three-tonne truck owner each quarter has to pay USD87 for the truck license.

Kombis plying the Chatsworth – Mpandawana route pay USD15-20 every day at the police road blocks for operating illegally. Gutu Council requires them to enter the Mupandawana Terminus to offload passengers. They pay USD2 for each entry.

I am forced to pick and offload customers door to door or at farm gate [using dirt roads] to remain popular and sustain business.

“It is expensive for people without own transport to buy building materials from Masvingo town and load it on the train [the train to Masvingo costs USD1] or public transport. Expenses of buying from afar forces them to buy from us,” shares a Chatsworth salesman.

Special thanks to Ian Scoones and his https://zimbabweland.wordpress.com/ blog


Watch smaller smart cities as they emerge in Africa

this survey by Andy Kozlov was first published on Smart City Africa site

“Creating decentralized strategies”

Some 75 % of global population live in urban settlements of fewer than 500,000 people. The figure will only get higher with time. Smaller cities, especially across Africa, are projected to double/triple in population over the next 15-25 years. Secondary cities vary considerably in size. In China, some have populations of over five million, while in Ethiopia they have fewer than 200,000.

“Job Opportunities”

Creating decentralized strategies to provide basic services to smaller “intermediate” cities and towns can facilitate the transition between rural and non-rural activities and take pressure off Africa’s megacities.


“Taking pressure off Africa’s megacities”

“This is where most investment and urban planning need to take place: equipping [Intermediate cities] with proper infrastructure, helping deliver basic services and enabling them for the generation of job opportunities,” argues Edgar Pieterse of the African Centre for Cities.
In West Africa, Ghana works to relieve pressure on Accra and Kumasi by building the capacity of local government, training planners and local councillors in smaller cities. On the other side of the continent, in Uganda, a partnership between Belgium-based Cities Alliance and the British Department for International Development focuses on 14 secondary cities, to boost the long-term planning capacities of local governments and assit slum dwellers.

“Rolling out broadband”

“In most African cities, planning is done short term, in five-year or maybe ten-year plans. It’s important for these cities to increase their planning horizons to 30 years,” explains Samuel Mabala of Cities Alliance.

Connect smaller cities to the world outside the national borders

Smart city analysts from across the Atlantic argue that broadband has become the great economic leveler of our time. Any small place that is home to an industrial or post-industrial economy, that is “robustly connected” can be a global competitor.

“Cities where  we live for the sake of the place”

If small cities in the middle of nowhere become hotbeds of company formation in the United States, can’t their African peers follow, follow fast? How significant is the number of places in Africa where people want to live for the sake of the place, not just a paycheck?

Create positive change by tapping into the land market

One thing is certain: land in Mohammedia, a port city on the west coast of Morocco between Casablanca and Rabat, can be cheaper for its population of 188,619 than in Nairobi, Kenya, home to some 3 million people. And all these African cities mentioned above have one enormous advantage over tech hubs like Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston or New York.  Land is cheap.
Mohammedia, a port city on the west coast of Morocco between Casablanca and Rabat
Mohammedia, a port city on the west coast of Morocco between Casablanca and Rabat
As James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, puts it “‘Every calculation – the cash flow you must maintain, the life balance you can work toward – is different when a nice family house costs a few hundred thousand dollars rather than a few million.” Again, in smaller African cities that family house can cost you well south of USD100,000.

“Cheaper rental prices, and a higher growth potential”

Take Koforidua, Eastern Region in south Ghana (some 130,000 people). An almost completed two-bedroom house with double garage and a large plot surrounding it trades in Koforidua for GH₵ 249,600 (Fixed USD price: $ 64,000).


By investing in smaller cities, real estate developers and industry professionals benefit from lower operating costs, greater space and scenery for construction, lower costs for resources and building materials. While bigger economic capitals have the advantage over smaller, lesser known cities — due to greater recognition around the world — cheaper rental prices, less competition, and a higher growth potential is enabling smaller emerging cities in Africa to rise to the challenge.

Coupled with reliable broadband and state-of-the-art medical services, smaller African cities — oftentimes a step away from breathtaking natural beauty — are to become your idea of a city of the 21st century.
University of Kikwit in DRC. Intermediary city of Kikwit  is home to some 400,000 people in the southwestern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Source: lighteningkongo.wordpress.com
University of Kikwit in DRC. Intermediary city of Kikwit is home to some 400,000 people in the southwestern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Source: lighteningkongo.wordpress.com

Get smart about attracting investors

The picture is not without pitfalls of course. Laura Mann, International Development department at London School of Economics (LSE), observes that on the national level African policy-makers should think much more strategically about how African nations can capture value within their economies through the proliferation of information technologies and the deepening of the digital economy.

“National policies that fund local R&D and training programmes”

Recent reports by institutions like UNECA, UNCTAD and UNIDO suggest that African governments need to be extremely strategic in their dealings with foreign companies; to make sure those investments and activities contribute to raising the skill level in African countries, providing outsourcing and procurement opportunities for local businesses and paying taxes that can fund local R&D and training programmes.

But it is a two-way road. National government in Kenya tried to promote Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) by subsidising the cost of bandwidth to all BPO companies that wanted to try to engage in the sector. Some unskilled local companies received that support, and harmed the overall reputation of Kenyan firms in the eyes of international clients.

“Making African economies more predictable”

As more African governments shift to e-governance and more city dwellers use mobiles, internet connections and smartcards, massive amounts of transactional data is generated. This makes African economies more predictable, smaller cities in Africa more visible to foreign investors. Back to LSE wisdom on smart cities in Africa:


Behind the widely circulated images of slum dwellers using mobile technologies to improve daily lives, the dominance of large ICT companies, a splintered urban landscape, land dispossession and the securitisation of urban space reveal a more complicated potential smart urban future.

Smaller African cities will have to be smart about opening markets and opportunities, a policy that should primarily contribute to development of their own communities — rather than large corporations or the local elites.

La Cite du Fleuve, in DR Congo is creating a series of overlapping sources of tension in Kinshasa including struggles around land ownership and issues of dispossession that begin to lay bare the rhetoric of smart urban developments across Africa.

There are two core problems with housing urban populations in smaller cities as they grow: land is not made available for new settlements and people aren’t able to afford the type of houses that are built.

Empower your city residents

Beyond the narrative that tends to put smart city Africa into the realm of technology, smaller African cities should guard against becoming exclusive enclaves or archipelagos of high technology. Smart African communities should prioritize people and avoid withdrawing from the wider city.

“Getting beyong exclusive enclaves and archipelagos of high technology”

Function and role – as opposed to population size – are now defining an intermediary city’s status within the global network of cities. In this context, talent attraction and retention become factors that differentiate Gondar, a secondary city of 358,257 in the north of Ethiopia from Kikwit  (home to some 400,000 people)  in the southwestern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
 Gondar, a secondary city of 358,257 in the north of Ethiopia
Gondar, a secondary city of 358,257 in the north of Ethiopia
Research and technology development are particularly important assets that help to differentiate city economies from each other, resulting in an emphasis on industrial specialization and the role of universities.


Smart specialization strategies promoted by the European Union are designed to encourage each region to identify transformation priorities that reflect and amplify existing local structures and competencies, and thus produce original and unique competitive advantages.

A Nigerian app targets inter-city transportation professionals to transform mass transit experience across West Africa

This interview was originally conducted for Smart City Africa

Steppes in Sync spoke with Abuja-based software developer Ishiaku Gwamna, @benberz about inter-city transit challenges in West Africa and how his smartphone app is set to tackle them.

Steppes in Sync: You pitch MyQ app — a Seedstars World Nigeria winner — as “Uber for inter-city travel”. Are inter-city mobility apps similar to yours already deployed somewhere in Africa? Any success stories that you can point to to substantiate the value of your app?

IG: No, there is no presence of tech whatever in this sector. The only competition is the traditional way of doing it.
Success stories? Not for now. The venture is at the “build stage”now. The value proposition is twofold as the business model is B2B2C, namely:

1. To the transporter: fleet and vehicle queuing management, automatic passenger loading and manifest, e-ticketing.
2. To the passenger: access to multiple transport companies on a single platform, On-spot Real-time Trip Planning (ORTP), travel record history.

Steppes in Sync: What is a a typical inter-city traveler’s behavior in Nigeria?
IG: The system is such that the passenger will have to go to the station (motor park) and inquire for the available vehicle going to his/her intended destination. If there is one, he/she pays for a seat and waits for other passengers to arrive and do the same. If and only if the vehicle fills up does it depart.

Steppes in Sync: How does your app alter that default behavior?
IG: MyQ is an Android application that lets you check out all the transporters, their stations, destinations and ticket prices, number of vehicles currently loading and available seats — real-time, on-the-spot — then get a ticket. Then you complete the process by going to the station, getting scanned. You pay and get boarded on a vehicle for travel.

Steppes in Sync: Do many Nigerians miss inter-city buses/trains currently?

IG: There is no schedule, it is just that everyday in the morning there are — let’s say — 2, 3 or 4 vehicles traveling to your destination. They leave when the vehicles are filled up — it doesn’t matter how long it takes, they just queue up at these stations. And there are no trains, at all.

Smart city needs pyramid
Smart city needs pyramid

Steppes in Sync: What is the average waiting time in a ticket queue?

IG: Typically, when you show up at the station, you pay for a seat and wait for other passengers to arrive and do the same until the vehicle is full before the travel starts. So it could be 5 minutes. 30 minutes. Or even 2 hours. it depends on how busy passenger traffic is.

Steppes in Sync: Are inter-city mass transit companies (MTCs) privatized in Nigeria or are they mostly run by the federal government? Which form of ownership is better for the consumer in terms of quality of service?

IG: There are three kinds of operators in the inter-city mass transit sector:

1. Private operators.

2. Government-owned mass transit companies.

3. Union-run stations (aka motor parks).

In terms of quality of service, the organized private operators are the ones to go for — but are usually a bit more expensive. The government owned transporters are mostly subsidized for the average citizen, while the union-run ones are in between.

Steppes in Sync: What about inter-city trains, airlines?

IG: The inter-city trains are non-existent, dilapidated from the colonial ages. The airlines are really expensive for the average citizens so only the top 5% — well-off, middle- and high-class — choose to travel by air. The rest 95% use commercial road mass-transit.

Smart City AfricaSteppes in Sync: What convinces Nigerian MTCs to subscribe to your service?

IG: The means (technology) to documents: they can now record and capture each and every bit of transaction (real-time) taking place at the stations, at all destinations they travel to.

Steppes in Sync: Which other African countries can we expect to use your app in by early 2017?

IG: West Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, the island of Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, the island of Saint Helena, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo

Steppes in Sync: Why are those countries in particular on your priority list?

IG: Because it is the same inter-city travel scenario and typical passenger behavior.


Kramatorsk passengers get a timely glimpse of fulfilled promises via the newly laid trolleybus Route #6

updated on January 20, 2016

Ever since Donetsk oblast administration was moved to Kramatorsk as a result of war in Donbass, Eastern Ukraine (2014-) hopes have been higher on the side of probable as opposed to possible for a new trolleybus line to connect the Old City (including railway station) with central Kramatorsk.

Yesterday, local media followed one of Eastern Ukrainian town’s public transportation vehicles on its test ride along the newly laid trolleybus route #6.

With free fare for the pensioners and US5 cents (0,1% of minimum wage) per ride for the rest of the passangers, many Kramatorsk residents are happy with the prospect of saving a bit more as they travel to the railway station-adjacent market that offers cheaper food items than the other two major food marketplaces in the newer part of the Eastern-Ukrainian town of of this 150,000+.

Kramatorsk-brewed beer label from the second half of the 20th century. The plant that used to produce this brand of beer -- reportedly popular as far as Soviet Moscow , some 1,000 km to the north -- is now out of operation, same as the municipal bakery and milk plant. Courtesy of Kramatorsk Historical Club
Kramatorsk-brewed beer label from the second half of the 20th century. The plant that used to produce this brand of beer — reportedly popular as far as Soviet Moscow , some 1,000 km to the north — is now out of operation, same as the municipal bakery and milk plant. Courtesy of Kramatorsk Historical Club

Kramatorsk residents both in online and offline discussions express their surprise at the speed and efficiency with which a project with concrete, positive implications for the everyday life of the town dwellers was completed. Some experts reportedly estimated that it would take the municipal services up to a year to bring the project to completion.

They did it in 25 days, having reportedly saved 16 million hryvnia (USD 672,280) from the budgeted 35 million (USD 1,470,614). Almost like the proverbial Stakhanovites. Though, hopefully without the bad quality implications of the term.

250 coulmns were set up along the route. A power substation brought back to life. It used to cater for the Old City tram  connection. That line was discontinued some 20 years back for fear of the Torets River bridge deterioration as an alleged result of trams crossing it.

17 kilometers of power cable laid in the same period. Ten passenger stops refurbished and two high-voltage towers erected instead of the previous ones that posed public safety risk.

Kramatorsk municipal transportation authority people testing the new trolleybus line to the old city. December 28, 2015. Photo: Vitaliy Vyholov, Obshchezhytiye
Kramatorsk municipal transportation authority people testing the new trolleybus line linking the Old City with downtown Kramatorsk. December 28, 2015. Photo: Vitaliy Vyholov, Obshchezhytiye

Back in the day, plans to lay this trolleybus line were voiced by the local city authorities as a subsistitute for the tram line that used to serve local passengers up till 1990s.

In the early years of Ukraine’s independence, the tram line to the Old City was discontinued and — as per local gossip — the rails dismantled, sold and the proceeds of the deal pocketed by local bonzos.

Privately owned — and some argue, Kramatorsk elite-linked — marshrutkas have been serving the old tram route all the way till today, at current price per ride 3+ times higher than the municipality-subsidized trams and trolleybuses.

Out of 40-45 trolleybuses that Kramatorsk needs for an adequate mass transit service, only 25 are currently operational. In the 1980s (last Soviet decade), the trolleybus park consisted of 60 vehicles.

Some local residents say that throughout all these years post-independance the trolleybus line did not really interest those in power because — unlike, say, road construction — one can’t steal much public money from a trolleybus line — all the key construction costs are there on the surface.

So why did the city council eventually deliver what it clearly owed to the people of the Eastern Ukrainian town for all these years post independence?

Some cite the post-Euromaidan climate of greater public responsibility and transparency.

In 2014 Ukrainian municipalities purchased 117 trolleybuses. Only half of them are new units. The rest are second-hand vehicles from the EU.

As Ukraine moves into its third year as a nation that insisted on its EU course, it remains to be seen what other timely social infrastructure improvements the national trend towards decentralization will bring to the Eastern Ukrainian communities.