Urban governance through personal connections: Kinshasa and its unlawful constructions

Kristof Titeca and Albert Malukisa Nkuku

Type: DRC

Organisation: Institute of Development Policy (IOB, University of Antwerp)

Country: DRC

Full summary

Kinshasa has been growing rapidly in the past few decades, not only in terms of population, but also spatially, as it has expanded in a largely, unplanned manner. This paper addresses how urban governance takes place where the state is only weakly present. It does so by focusing on constructions anarchiques, or unlawful constructions, which are present all over the city. Although they are in breach of government regulations (e.g. building in areas where they are not supposed to) and carry with them a range of negative consequences (such as vulnerability to erosion or floods), they continue to take place and are often protected against state measures.


The paper shows how urban governance is a multi-actor and multi-policy affair – the way in which the city is governed, planned and regulated is not the monopoly of the state regulatory framework, but enacted, contested and protested through a variety of other actors. Connections and interpersonal relations are central to the way in which urban governance unfolds in Kinshasa. This is seen within the urban administration, and in the way in which state actors relate with the wider population. While this is the case worldwide, it is particularly prominent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and its capital. Here, these personal connections have a profound effect on the expansion of the city and the continued existence of unlawful constructions.


The paper presents three key lessons for policy-makers:


  1. Formal policies are often not adhered to. We recommend looking beyond formal policy measures, such as policies to destroy unlawful constructions or other urban planning instruments. Our research show that formal policies are secondary to existing power-relations and the economic and political incentives.
  2. Economic and political incentives are crucial. We suggest looking at the economic and political incentives in place both within the public administration, and in relation to the general population. Financial profit and electoral gain play central roles in the way in which urban governance takes place and continuing in unlawful constructions.
  3. Different scales are interconnected. We recommend focusing on the ways in which the various levels and scales of government –actors and institutions – are interconnected, instead of focusing on one level in itself. For example, the behaviour of street-level bureaucrats – who are largely focused on revenue extraction – in relation to unlawful constructions can only be understood by looking at the economic pressures they face from higher administrative levels, where bureaucrats are expected to feed revenue upwards.