Complex Challenges in an Urban World (Workshop Series-1)

  • Date:
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    21:00-22:30 JST
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    Online seminar (Zoom Webinar)
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  • Title::

    Complex Challenges in an Urban World (Workshop Series-1)

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  • Host:

    SDGs Collaborative Research Unit, Institute for Future Initiatives, The University of Tokyo

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From the Chicago School to the LA School to the argument of cities serving as nodes within global networks to postcolonial perspectives, urban theories critically interrogate notions of what constitutes the ‘urban’. Or, what one means when referring to a ‘city’. These discussions enrich understanding of the dynamic nature of social spaces that continue to evolve over time in varied ways.

Building on these debates, we explore how urban spaces serve not only as a lens but also as arenas of change. Antecedent social, political, and economic processes are interacting with climate-related risks, internal and external migration, pandemics, and transnational crime-terror networks, etc., shaping complex challenges in an increasingly urban world.

Please join us in this first of the two-part workshop to understand these challenges from the vantage point of four scholars. Please read the concept of the workshop in the Flyer.


Dr. Kazuyo Hanai (Assistant Professor Institute for Future Initiatives, University of Tokyo, Japan)
‘Push Factors of “Urbanization without Growth” in Africa Great Lakes Region’

Dr. Danilo Mandic (Lecturer on Sociology, Harvard University, USA)
‘Impact of Refugee Dynamics in Cities’

Dr. Markus Schultze-Kraft (Arnhold Associate Fellow, Georg Eckert Institute, Brunswick, Germany)
‘Covid-19 and the City: Exploring the Linkages between a Global Biological Stressor and Urban Security Governance in Latin America’

Mr. Guillaume Soto-Mayor (Lead Research Engineer Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, Paris, France)
‘The Washington Consensus and the Rise of Organized Crime in Urban Areas’

Dr. Nazia Hussain (Project Assistant Professor, IFI, University of Tokyo)

In the first meeting of the two-part research workshop on “Complex Challenges in an Urban World” at IFI, Univ. of Tokyo, scholars discussed a range of daunting crises confronting societies and governments around the world in general.

In his opening comments, Prof. Fujiwara noted that urbanization trends have been a topic of intense discussion among scholars and policymakers for some time. Yet, in the turbulence caused by existential challenges of today and tomorrow, the basic question of who governs cities takes center stage. Who exercises actual power? The seemingly simple questions illustrate the blurring of borders between traditional notions of state and society, and national and transnational among others. Where does one end and where does the other begin? These boundaries are challenged on a number of issues including security (for instance, terror and criminal networks in cities), power and governance, health policy (a contested terrain further challenged by the current COVID crisis), as well as environmental issues and concerns about sustainability.

Dr. Hussain briefly explained the central theme of the workshop. In a deeply interconnected world, the coming together of multiple stresses (be it environmental degradation, flows of people across and within borders, or a pandemic) ensures that crises do not remain localized. Urban spaces serve not only as sites of change but also offer a lens to make sense of these dynamic phenomena. Urban spaces are places of dynamism, where ordinary people are surviving and coping in their own ways, and governments have enormous power, yet governance includes various players. This means that ground realities for a large number of people are challenging and ever-changing. Unless we take a deep dive into analyzing experiences of governing and the governed to make sense of complexity in urban spaces, policy responses may keep falling short. Understanding interactions of stresses with urban realities is thus necessary. Lastly, that multiple approaches and interdisciplinary research are needed to map multiple futures beyond the usual dichotomy of dismal/resilient views.

The Washington Consensus and the Rise of Organized Crime in Urban Areas

Mr. Soto-Mayor’s presentation traced the genesis of the rise of organized crime and corruption in governance in countries in Africa to the subversive role played by neoliberal policies. The destructive effects of criminality range from indirect and direct violence, economic distortions, predatory public administration, judicial impunity, and even cultural norm production in rural and urban areas. Organized crime serves as a reliable resource for politicians and officials, which in certain circumstances can trigger mass public discontent and political instability.

He contended that the neo-liberal regulatory, political and socio-economic framework imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank fostered the rise of systemic violence and organized crime in Africa, especially in urban spaces. Following the commodity prices crisis and the debt crisis, the World Bank and the IMF expanded their roles into the development sector, notably launching the High-Impoverished Poor Countries Initiatives which fell in an ideological framework called the “Washington Consensus”. The rationale behind this policy choice is that enhancing a country’s economic development is dependent on the “stabilisation” of its internal commercial balance through tight monetary and fiscal policies. To grant their loans, the IMF and the World Bank impose a strong budgetary discipline, a reduction of public deficits thanks to the “rationalization” of government spending in key infrastructure, primary health and education projects. These “cost recovery” measures supposedly guarantee the future repayment of the loan and therefore condition its attribution. This shift manifested in measures such as tight fiscal and monetary policies, limited government spending on the public sector including health and education, multiple privatisations, lowering of corporate taxes, and loosening of property rights and legal frameworks related to the environment as well as consumer rights. These policies rely on the alleged benefits of market liberalisation, supposedly attracting more foreign direct investments.

While having high failure rates, these policies had lasting negative effects on social, economic, and political systems. They contributed to poor quality of public services and dismal living conditions for the majority of the population, control of the extraction of natural resources by private actors, fall in agricultural production and the adoption of monoculture systems, rising unemployment in rural areas, illegal expropriation of land and environmental degradation. Structural adjustment policies (SAPs) therefore all led to rural to urban areas where problems (housing, sanitation, education, security) accumulated. In states solely focused on attributing public contracts and granting access to rarefied and news privatized public goods (education, health etc.), the scarcity of available resources and positions of power encouraged corruption, often associated with ethnic, geographical and religious cleavages and discrimination It is within this context that kleptocratic rule and corruption became endemic, and ethnic, religious, and geographical divisions deepened, thereby creating space for all sorts of actors covering for the States’ inability to respond to their populations’ primary needs, especially in capitals and large cities. It has also increased dependence on alternative providers of education and health (e.g. Islamic and evangelical humanitarian aid) and has created a breeding ground for criminal actors to take root in these societies.

Since the early 1990s, criminal organisations have benefited from the ideal sociopolitical, political and legislative situation to impose their will on other members of society without appearing to break the law. The mafias take advantage of the difference existing between rules de jure and rules de facto and provide security in overcrowded neighborhoods, as well as jobs, housing and other social services. Moreover, the establishment of property rights over specific resources allows criminal control of these resources, sustaining the presence of criminal behaviours in local governments and/or an alliance between criminal networks and officials. These criminal behaviours can notably be seen in the perpetuation of the misappropriation of international aid and public funds by elected officials across Africa, leading to an annual $200 billion of illicit financial flows leaving the continent according to Judith Cavanagh.

It is within this broad context that we need to situate the thriving of criminal activities in Africa that ranges from heroin and cocaine trafficking to environmental crimes (including trafficking of toxic waste, and illegal exploitation of mines and forests etc.). The latter is particularly relevant as both criminal networks and criminal entrepreneurs benefit from neoliberal policies implemented by SAPs as they have fostered ambiguities in legal regulations, allowing them to make significant economic and political gains. As well, the receding footprint of public funding has led to deregulated and understaffed police and justice sector, and flawed systems of banking and financial regulation. NGOs such as the Committee for the Cancellation of Third World Debt (CADTM) estimate that 120,000 tons of toxic waste have been stored in Africa from 2002 to 2016. The NGO Robin Hood reports that Italian mafias have entrusted the management of the illicit storage of thousands of containers of toxic waste to Nigerian crime syndicates who dump them in residential areas under their control in return for the payment of “cheaper” rents. A similar story can be told with the rise of illicit fishing and the destruction of traditional fisheries, or illicit sand exploitation taking place from Morocco to South Africa to Somalia. These vicious circles generating poverty and inequalities gravely affect the instability of cities across the continent. Together, these developments continue to sterilize entrepreneurial potential as well as contribute to urban violence.

Urbanizing Refugees

Dr. Mandic followed this presentation with his discussion of refugees and urbanization within the context of sub-Saharan Africa. Refugees are not only agents but also objects of urbanization. He highlighted the tremendous landslide of urbanization in Africa. Of this move to cities, the ratio of urban refugees also seems to be on the rise. In a given year, around 6.6 million people are on the move, mostly to neighboring countries. Those that arrive in Europe or North Africa, or a third country (not a neighboring country) constitute a small subset of the refugee population.

The challenges of understanding the dynamics of refugee flows to cities are manifold. For one, urban refugees remain understudied and attract less research funding. Second, it is difficult o categorize refugees under neat labels such as eco-migrants, tribal stateless nomadic people, internally displaced persons (IDPs) etc. Third, most people are internally displaced; they constitute the main driving force behind urbanization in Africa.

Refugee stories are significant but receive less attention than the diverse conflicts and armed actors in Africa. E.g., the conflict between South Sudan and Sudan remains part of the news. The creation of South Sudan was supposed to stem the flow of refugees. Instead, entire new urban landscapes around Sudan and South Susan have emerged. Another example is that of Goma in the DRC, where hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing violence have created the city. In addition, international humanitarian organizations from the US, Europe as well as UNHCR have also contributed to the urban landscape as infrastructures of luxury housing and sanitation have sprung up. These waves of people have created urban realities out of thin air. Similarly, IDPs can significantly alter the urban landscape of host communities. Their presence in large numbers may generate tensions between newcomers and local populations. Indigeneity may become a significant weapon for elites against the refugee populations. On the other hand, the latter may be able to organize against this phenomenon.

These trends overlap with those of urbanization. For instance, more people are moving from inside of the African continent to the coast. People are moving from extreme to temperate climates. It is important to note that the huge influx of young populations may contribute to potential political upheaval. Similarly, people moving to urban areas may no longer accept sub-optimal living conditions that they tolerated in rural settings. Insights about urban marginality become important here. These sociological and political questions, however, remain under-discussed.

Debates around integration of refugees in local societies and political economies tend to fall in either instrumentalist (“integrate, because refugees are good for you”) or principalist (“integrate, regardless of whether it’s good for you”) arguments. Little Mogadishu in Nairobi, Kenya is a notable example. Although the government imposes a policy of criminalizing refugees, who are neither allowed to leave the camps nor allowed political representation. Even though they are forbidden by the law, these Somali and Ugandan refugees have become integrated in local society and labor markets. This example highlights the dilemma of refugees and host societies.

When ecological catastrophe feeds into ethnic violence and pre-existing cleavages, we may expect tens of millions of migrants on the move. Anticipating such scenarios and also that
more people including refugees are moving to cities, these debates become equally relevant for urbanization.

Push Factors of “Urbanization without Growth” in African Great Lakes Region

Dr. Hanai followed this presentation with her case study of urbanization in the African Great Lakes Region. She contended that unlike traditional accounts of people moving to thriving cities in search for economic opportunities, urbanization was resulting from people fleeing conflict. This is especially evident in the case of massive refugee movement from rural to urban areas in the DRC. There are more than 100 armed groups in the Eastern Region (in the DRC) alone. Armed groups acting like mafia or criminal actors control mines and engage in battles and violence against civilians, pushing people to cities.

The DRC is one of the most urbanizing countries in Africa. Kinshasa is the third-largest city in Africa with 12 million inhabitants. Despite this increasing move to cities (45% in 2019), 70% of the Congolese population is engaged in agriculture. This discrepancy in terms of employment opportunities and percentage of population living in cities is highlighted in living conditions. 75percent of the urban population lives in slums in the entire country, while only 66% have access to piped water in Kinshasa.

The dynamics of urbanization in the eastern part of the DRC need to be understood in relation to conflict histories, competition between legal management of land with traditional and customary tenure of community lands, and formation of ethnic enclaves in cities contributing to tensions among groups. Moreover, hybridity of authority as well as land management obstructs urban planning in cities. Bukavu, a city in the eastern part of the DRC presents a microcosm of these patterns.

Dr. Hanai contended that while customary tenure is not problematic, on the other hand, corrupt government institutions are ill-equipped to address the needs of urban residents.
Understanding the effects of conflict, inter-ethnic tensions, and land management issues is necessary when studying urbanization in the Great Lakes region.

“King Covid” and the City: Exploring the Implications of a Global Biological Stressor for Urban Security Governance in Latin America

In the final presentation, Dr. Schultze-Kraft explored the implications of the global biological stressor of COVID-19 for urban security governance in Latin American settings where (violent) organised crime abounds. He noted that the emerging literature on the effects of the pandemic on cities is divided between a sense of doom and exhilaration (“Nothing will ever be the same as before” vs “now we have the chance to build back better”). Yet instead of adopting an either/or perspective, a more propitious outlook would be on assessing the implications of the pandemic for governance in urban environments.

Discussing a wide range of external stressors, Schultze-Kraft differentiated COVID from other such stressors based on the fact that it is zoonotic, not human-made but human-transmitted. Transcending international borders, the pandemic affects states in the Global North as well as in the Global South, although in different manners. This sets COVID apart from human-made external stressors, such as price shocks, neoliberal adjustment policies and cross-border conflict spill-overs, that are of particular concern to less resilient and more vulnerable southern states.

In investigating whether COVID has distinct implications for security in Latin America, Schultze-Kraft suggested that the surge of a new discourse on “biosecurity” is redefining (state) claims to political and social ordering and people’s entitlement to protection from existential risks. In terms of which social groups are affected by this pandemic, especially regarding the delivery of public goods like security, it appears that groups across the social spectrum are subject to COVID-related stresses. Yet lower-income/poor sectors in urban areas are particularly affected.

In respect to security-related stresses generated by COVID, it is useful to define security as a set of processes of political and social ordering through authoritative discourses and practices of power, including but not confined to organized force (supply-side). From the demand-side, security could be understood as the entitlement of citizens and more widely human beings to protection from violence and other existential risks, including their capacity to exercise this entitlement (Luckham and Kirk 2013). COVID as a global biological stressor has effects on both the supply and demand-side of security.

Premised on these conceptualizations, security governance denotes the exercise of political authority by both state and non-state actors through the making and implementation of collectively binding rules and norms for the creation and maintenance of order and guaranteeing people’s entitlement to protection from violence and existential risks. In Latin America, where Schultze-Kraft has analysed the existence of hybrid crimilegal orders in which the social and moral-normative boundaries between legality and illegality/criminality are blurred, both legal and illegal-criminal state and non-state actors interact and coordinate in the exercise of political authority. In the resulting processes of crimilegal governance, resources, including public goods like security, are appropriated and order is produced through fluid combinations of legal and illegal and/or criminal means, including violence.

The takeaways from this preliminary analysis indicate that states in Latin America are quite overwhelmed by COVID (or simply ignoring and/or downplaying the threat), but illegal-criminal non-state actors are less so. While there is a surge of government discourse on “biosecurity”, especially in densely populated urban environments, in practice urban security governance under conditions of the pandemic is witnessing an enhanced role of non-state actors, including illegal-criminal ones. Perhaps somewhat different to the effects of other, human-made external stressors on urban security governance, the maintenance of order and guarantee of entitlement to protection from violence and existential risks like COVID is increasingly regulated by (illegal-criminal) non-state actors through crimilegal interaction and coordination with governmental and state entities.
These developments lead to the question of whether urban security orders in contemporary Latin America are being redrawn. Are we witnessing a deeper entrenchment of crimilegality? How should we respond?

The presentations were followed by a rich discussion between panelists and the audience.