A case for the relocation of the capital city
CENTRAL business districts (CBDs), by their very nature, attract intense competition from people seeking space for mainly retail, office or even residential use since they are essentially commercial hubs for towns and cities.
For that reason, properties in the CBDs naturally fetch attractive rentals and better clientele.
In Zimbabwe, this has been the case for many years across all towns, cities and even at rural business centres and growth points in far-flung locations.
But then the unpredictable happened. The country’s CBDs have now been invaded by hordes of vendors who are desperate to eke out a living in the face of massive economic contraction.
As unemployment zooms out of control, the informal sector has since replaced the formal economy.
The unprecedented informalisation of Zimbabwe’s economy has corrupted most CBDs, especially the capital city, Harare.
Trying to reverse the trend in the absence of workable economic revival strategies is proving to be a herculean task for the city fathers.
To all intents and purposes, the formal economy has since reached an advanced state of decay, which is beyond the capacity of the city fathers to deal with.
And the ensuing running battles between the Harare City Council (HCC) and vendors, as the former tries to restore order in the chaotic CBD, simply highlights the simple fact that the country’s economy and its people are under severe stress.
And instituting formal rules of doing business in an informalised economy is next to impossible.
The vendors invading the CBDs know no rules as they battle to survive the resultant cut-throat competition in an environment characterised by illiquidity, a non-performing economy and dangerously high levels of unemployment.
Complicating Harare’s vendor crisis is the political infighting among the protagonists in the Zimbabwe crisis.
This has given birth to a society deeply polarised along political lines, making it difficult for its divided citizens to find common ground on anything. But don’t they say for every dark cloud there is always a silver lining.
In the midst of all this vendor chaos, therein lies an opportunity for Zimbabwe to finally execute its long mooted intention to relocate its capital city.
Government and the HCC seem to have realised that vendors numbering about a million cannot be wished away.
Harare has long been experiencing serious urban planning challenges that have pointed to the city failing to justify its sunshine city status.
Its population has been doubling after every 14 years; the city’s water supply is increasingly becoming precarious as underground water supplies fast disappear amid rising pollution of the city’s surface raw water supplies.
To spice up the brew is the emergence of unplanned residential settlements that have transformed the city into a massive illegal settlement.
And to top it up is the apparent lackadaisical attitude by both politicians and city planners towards Harare’s fast mounting problems.
Many countries across the world have experienced similar challenges with their capital cities, which has necessitated the relocation of the seats of government.
Egypt, for instance, has had 29 capital cities for the past 5 000 years and is presently planning for yet another new capital that will sprawl over 700 square kilometres.
More than four decades ago Nigeria’s former capital city, Lagos, lost the capital city rank when its infrastructure began to curve in. A decision was subsequently reached in 1976 to transfer the capital city to Abuja because urban planning in Lagos had become a serious nightmare.
Lagos eventually lost the capital city status in 1991 and the city has since become a real living nightmare.
For Zimbabwe, it would not be the first time that the nation is forced to relocate its seat of government.
The Great Zimbabwe Ruins or Dzimbahwe are remnants of the country’s first capital city.
The awesomely beautiful 11th century stone monument, without any mortar to hold it together for the past over 900 years, is today not only a living testimony of brilliant ingenuity of a great people, but it is also living proof of the devastating effects poor and unsustainable planning of mega human settlements.
Archaeological evidence indicates that more than 18 000 last inhabitants of the iron-age era city were forced to abandon the settlement around the year 1500 when water ran out.
The debate on relocating the country’s capital city is not new, but has not been serious enough to make any difference.
It has been previously suggested that the capital city should move to Mount Hampden area, just north of Harare.
However, a closer scrutiny of the suggested new site might just be too close to the present chaos in Harare for comfort.
Mount Hampden will simply be an extension of the current urban planning chaos that characterises Harare and will create a conurbation, which is defined as a region comprising a number of cities, large towns, and other urban areas that, through population growth and physical expansion, have merged to form one continuous urban and industrially developed area.
According to the New Cities Foundation and the King Abdullah Economic City, hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested in new urban mega projects across the globe in countries like China, India, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, the Philippines, Palestine, Morocco, Afghanistan, Germany and more as countries boldly “response to the urbanisation challenge”.
Founder and chairman of the New Cities Foundation, John Rossant, has noted: “New cities are one of the most extraordinary phenomena of our time. Wise, forward thinking city leaders know they can be testing grounds for the solutions to the greatest urban challenges.
Yet they also recognise that dialogue and constant re-assessment are vital if their ambitious master plans are to stand the test of time. Getting a city right requires astute planning as well as openness to creativity, citizen feedback and disruptive innovations.”
Thus relocating the capital needs sober and rational thinking as well as astute planning.
The New Cities Foundation believes that the creation new master-planned cities “can offer the benefits and opportunities of city living without the pollution, traffic and inefficiencies of many existing cities.
New cities offer the unique possibility to learn from the wisdom and functionality of existing cities and to avoid mistakes of the past, while allowing us to re-invent the way we use cities…Starting from scratch means that new cities have the potential to address and improve upon problems of existing cities, be smarter and less wasteful, and more socially inclusive and creative.”
Thus, Zimbabwe, though way behind other economies because of its peculiar socio-economic disposition, should wise up because, the speed of global urbanisation is fast catching up with it.
More than half of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas and by 2050 the number is estimated to have grown to two thirds
“In China, 300 million people will move to cities in the next 15 years and the equivalent of the built infrastructure of the entire United States must be built by 2028 to keep pace. There will soon be 250 million new urban residents in India and 380 million in Africa,” says the New Cities Foundation.