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City-to-city learning in urban strategic planning in Southern Africa: unearthing an underground knowledge economy.

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Despite international evidence strongly suggesting the need for urban strategic planning, most African governments still continue to under-invest in the establishment of bottom-up strategic planning frameworks. The seriousness of the consequences of such inadequate urban strategic planning responses and ineffective governance in developing economies has been flagged by the World Economic Forum (WEF), identifying it as a key global risk in 2015. What is of particular interest in their analysis however is the observation that governments of rapidly growing cities make very little time for learning from other cities to improve their own planning processes. Whilst the above assertion may be true, targeted research on city-to-city learning conducted predominantly in the global North is showing that cities are in fact quietly forming an international web-work of learning representing an almost invisible, underground knowledge economy. Given the highly conspicuous void in empirical research into city-to-city learning in urban strategic planning processes in the (southern) African context, this doctoral study focuses on a United Cities and Local Government (UCLG) case study using the experience of three African cities, Durban in South Africa, Otjiwarongo in Namibia and Mzuzu in Malawi, to shed light on the phenomenon of city-to-city learning. In particular, the research explores what insights are offered by the eThekwini Municipality’s mentorship program with these selected Namibian and Malawian municipalities that begin to inform contemporary learning theory in southern Africa. Rejecting a grand meta-narrative in favor of a more pragmatist, hands-on and bottom-up, context specific interpretation of social reality; the research adopts a multi-conceptual lens by drawing from the urban planning and organizational learning disciplines. The study utilized a mixed methods approach with both qualitative (key informant interviews, focus group discussions and observation) as well as quantitative (census survey of a total of 34 respondents) data integrated into the study. The study yields a set of illuminating results which begins to challenge currently held definitions and learning terminology. More importantly, a learning model is developed with five clearly delineated stages in the city-to-city learning process. In addition, the research is able to distil the valuable lessons emerging from the in-depth case study to propose a broad, but coherent learning framework, with a set of strategic recommendations to guide future city-to-city learning processes. These recommendations which have been shared with the international learning stakeholders are already beginning to transform the learning landscape in southern Africa and beyond.


Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Sciences. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2016.


Theses - Environmental Science.