New Politics of the Urban Poor


A NEW book entitled “Reducing Urban Poverty in the Global South” reveals how the strategy of patient approach instead of protests by poor urban communities to issues of poverty and injustice have proved beneficial in the long run

A new book, Reducing Urban Poverty in the Global South, has shown how poor urban communities across Africa and Asia have developed powerful new approaches that have enabled millions of people to get better housing and services, and -beyond this – social justice and inclusion in political processes. Their efforts and experiences stand in stark contrast to the images of popular protests that have erupted in large cities – as in Egypt and Brazil – in recent months. And as David Satterthwaite and Diana Mitlin, the book’s authors, note, these quieter, more patient approaches to the problems of poverty and injustice appear more likely to bring benefits in the 23long-term.

According to the authors, unlike the street protests that capture media attention, the people living in the “slums” of Africa and Asia realised that their realties required a different way of doing politics. “Social movement leaders observed the lack of progress in the post-independence period and decided that they had to re-design their strategies to increase the likelihood that equitable and inclusive cities were to be part of the political agenda. They rejected demonstrations and public protest because they knew that such a critical mass could not be held on the streets for long – but had to return to livelihood struggles,” says Mitlin.

David Satterthwaite

According to her, “They rejected revolutionary change – and contesting the seat of government – because they recognised that history shows that those who secure such seats rapidly join the political elites. And they recognised that there was little point in making claims and defining entitlements to a set of urban development policies which have delivered little in terms of pro-poor development.”

Instead, an alternative approach has emerged simultaneously in diverse countries over the past 20 years as groups of low-income urban citizens from informal settlements have joined forces to develop their own solutions to previously intractable urban development problems. Through less confrontational tactics than mass protests, these groups have ensured that governments recognise the urban poor for what they are – legitimate citizens able to sit around the table with mayors and ministers alike to determine new development options and help implement them.

As a result, millions of urban residents are now organised in neighbourhood associations that come together in city federations to negotiate with local government for financial redistribution and investment capital, alongside pledging their own time and effort in improving their localities. The book begins by discussing the most widely-used conventional approaches to urban development, and explores the ways in which these have been used by a range of development agencies including national and local government, and civil society.

The authors then describe the alternative approach that has emerged, illustrating this with five case studies of programme interventions that have adopted similar strategies to address urban poverty and advance the cause of the urban poor. These include international funds that support their priorities and are accountable to them.

The final two chapters analyse the approach and its underlying politics – and look forward to what this means for action to address urban poverty in towns and cities of the global south in the 21st century.

The new book, published by Routledge, is sequel to one Mitlin and Satterthwaite wrote in 2012. The previous volume argued that governments and aid agencies have failed to tackle urban poverty because they have failed to understand it.

Mitlin is an economist and social development specialist working at the International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED, and a professor at the University of Manchester, UK, working at the Global Urban Research Centre, the Institute for Development Policy and Management and the Brooks World Poverty Institute.

Satterthwaite is a Senior Fellow at IIED and a visiting professor at the Development Planning Unit, University College, London, UK. He is also editor of the international journal Environment and Urbanization.

The International Institute for Environment and Development is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development.

— Sep. 2, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

Contact Us