Where Slums Come From


C.W. connects slumlord practices to their colonial roots:

new paper by Sean Fox of Bristol University focuses on absentee landlords in Kibera [a slum in Nairobi]. Well-connected types, Mr Fox finds, can acquire control over swathes of land thanks to their political connections. One survey found that 41% of Kibera’s landlords were in fact government officials: 16% were politicians. These landlords can exploit their privileged position. Research from MIT, again in Kibera, finds that when the chief of the local area and the landlord come from the same tribe (but the tenant does not), renters end up paying 6-11% more. Chiefs and landlords collude to extract higher rents. … Mr Fox reckons that these arrangements are partially a legacy of colonial rule. He argues:

Colonial administrative structures were weak and highly centralised, and municipal authorities were granted very limited authority over development and regulation … In a context of rapid population expansion, such structures have proven cumbersome and have contributed to the proliferation of unplanned settlements.

In other words, clumsy colonial governments were bad at controlling urban development. Mr Fox demonstrates this empirically. Legal fragmentation in the colonial era, a proxy for indirect rule, is strongly correlated with contemporary slum incidence (measured [in the above chart] as the percentage of a country’s urban population living in slums)….