Making Inclusion More Inclusive

Kate Meagher

This essay is part of the Developing Urban Futures publication, documenting new research on African cities carried out in the build-up to the 17th Urban Age conference in Addis Ababa.

Cities across Africa reveal a pressing need for more inclusive approaches to urban development. Despite growth rates averaging 5 per cent for much of the past 15 years, African cities are confronted by expanding slums, persistent poverty and expanding unemployment and informality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest rate of informal employment, accounting for 77 per cent of the non-agricultural labour force, and even in the era of ‘Africa Rising’, the International Labour Organization notes continued increases in working poverty. Underlying growth dynamics, based on natural resource dependence, dwindling access to land and decades of infrastructural neglect and deindustrialisation, fail to generate adequate levels of employment or basic services for rapidly expanding urban populations. ‘Jobless growth’ and urbanisation without industrialisation have forced policymakers to grapple with the challenge of how to ensure that economic growth and urbanisation generate viable livelihoods and adequate service provision for the vast urban populations living and working informally in African cities.

But what does ‘inclusive growth’ entail? How can Africa’s informally employed millions be constructively integrated into urban development strategies in ways that foster urban modernity while engaging the growth potential of Africa’s expanding young populations? Three models of informal economic inclusion have emerged in contemporary urban development thinking: global connection, formalisation and co-production. While economic inclusion sounds inherently positive, it is useful to remember that modern slavery and sweatshops are also forms of global economic inclusion. There is a need to look beyond the fact of inclusion to consider the extent to which inclusive strategies actually reduce informality, improve livelihoods and enhance social rights.

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