Advice to the mayor of Harare

LONDON - I have followed with keen interest the measures that have been taken by the City of Harare to appoint a new Town Clerk. In this article, I weigh in on the debate on whether the city needs an urban planning expert for the post of town clerk.

The legal process of the appointment of the town clerk is straight forward but in Zimbabwe the adage, law follows politics means that there will be several interpretations and in the end politics will prevail.

That is a messier part of the argument and I will avoid it.

Firstly, Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni must be commended for making an effort at collaborative planning through opening up the process to some stakeholder input.

However, there are other serious considerations that the mayor should have made or should make when considering a person for the role of town clerk.

One of these issues is the requisite qualifications for one to be an effective town clerk and the background that they must have in order to succeed at this task.

The mayor is right that Harare needs a "game changer" given the nature of the problems bedevilling the city, here I try to address what that means in real terms, reflecting on qualifications and background necessary for a game changing town clerk for the city of Harare.

The Herald of March 23, 2016 carried an interesting article, by Happison Zengeni, which argued that, "Harare in its current form does not need anyone with Urban planning experience" but rather needed a "professional manager who can fix the financial mess that the council is in".

While Zengeni's piece is accurate that Harare is in a financial mess and that a professional is needed to fix this, I find the proposed solutions to be narrow and ahistorical.

Narrow in terms of its perceptions around the role of the town clerk, and ahistorical because it fails to appreciate that a big part of the reason for the City's financial mess is that it is a largely unplanned City.

Given the historical antecedents to the "mess" at city council, I suggest that the first step to getting the city to function properly and efficiently is rather than dealing with the symptoms seen through accounting problems, is to ensure that Harare ceases to be an unplanned city.

The best type of person to do this is an urban planner rather than a businessman, and that can be a complicated task.

A planner will be able to anticipate the sustainability challenges that come with the continued urbanisation which is characteristic of Africa today, and understand that building a sustainable city is not just about the financial bottomline in the typical capitalist and business sense, but also about sound and sustainable urban planning.

In any case David Harvey cautions in his paper, From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism against this kind of thinking. The world has slowly moved away from mundane managerialism characteristic of cities of the 60`s where the city is merely seen as a provider of basic services to its population to a new form of urban entrepreneurialism.

Africa is rapidly urbanising and the City will soon face massive challenges of sustainability. Many of the decisions that may be "business" sound today are incompatible with sound urban and sustainable planning.

The above is not meant to suggest that only urban planners are good city managers, but it is also meant to argue against the summary dismissal of planners that was carried in the Herald piece.

At the end of the day, a successful businessman or famed urban planner will succeed or fail on the strength of the institutional framework of the City and the construct validity of its Strategy or Plan.

The City of Harare suffers heavy deficits in both institutional framework validity and strategic and planning construct validity.

The town clerks department has five divisions and yet curiously planning is not part of these. What is worse, is that City of Harare does not have a fully fledged planning department save for some obscure office in the department of works that deals with land use management and anywhere else in the world would be a poor excuse for a planning department.

In South Africa, the City of Johannesburg does not only have a department of planning and a comprehensive spatial plan but, it has set up a planning and development agency, the Johannesburg Development Agency, which does comprehensive place making and planning initiatives.

The City of Harare does not have a comprehensive plan to guide its operations, never mind the slogans about, "Vision 2025", which at best just some mumbo jumbo which mean nothing in the broader scheme of city planning.

A plan is a statutory spatial development strategy, which encapsulates the character and content of the urban area. It proposes the vision and the path to achieve it.

The urban sprawl and massive consolidation of suburbanisation in Harare`s character, which must be reversed as a matter of urgency are indicative of poor if not lack of planning.

Reading the state of the city address by the mayor, one can tell that the city is clutching at strolls and seems to have no idea whether it is coming or going.

The catalogue of problems being faced and projects being undertaken, which constituted the state of city address, can hardly pass for that and only serve to show that the City of Harare has unique problems that require a return to comprehensive city planning.

Given the discussions above, the City of Harare needs to make some serious considerations about who subsequently becomes a town clerk. Employing a businessperson with no known expertise around effective place making and spatial planning, or the value of a planned city, will most certainly worsen the situation of Harare.

The crisis of the city is not just about money or running the city like a business as has been suggested. The city needs a comprehensive local economic development and spatial strategy born out of deep considerations on new thinking in regional and urban planning.

If the City of Harare wants to achieve global city status and compete with other rising African cities, its agenda has to match the 2009 World Bank report entitled, Reshaping Economic Geography.

The best way to fulfil such an agenda is for Harare to employ a regional and urban planning expert as its town clerk, and reintroduce pride of place for planning in the city.

Reshaping economic geography, which by the way is great for business, is about increasing density in the City (economic concentration), shortening distances through transport investments and managing issues of equity.

The town clerk must drive the city towards comprehensive planning and urban entrepreneurialism and build the internal institutional infrastructure that goes beyond the city merely as a service provider, but a centre and driver for growth and change.

This is a planning function, something that trained experts in the mold of urban and town planners can manage and handle better than presumably successful businessman, who might have succeeded at selling one thing or the other.

* Mfundo Mlilo is the Chief Executive Officer of the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) but currently a Regional and Urban Scholar at the London School of Economics (U.K)

Comments (1)

What a pathetic article. And Daily NEws prints that crap? CHRA seemingly disagrees with this guy, and so do we, the residents.

Sibango - 19 April 2016

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.