Access to Urban Land and the Claim to the City in Africa: Constructing Urban Citizenship in Lusaka’s Unplanned Settlements


  • Horman Chitonge


The rapidly growing urban population in most African cities has highlighted the issue of access to urban land, particularly for housing. Access to urban land is ultimately embedded in the political question of who has a legitimate claim to the city.  This article focuses on access to urban land and how this validates and invalidates people’s claim to the city or town—urban citizenship. It uses the concept of a “claim” rather than a “right” to provide a broader angle from which to discuss urban citizenship and the issues around access to urban land. Drawing from a case study of two unplanned settlements in Lusaka, the article demonstrates that as the demand for urban land grows, low-income households’ claim to the city is rendered precarious when business enterprises buy residential plots and convert them into commercial property. Data were collected through face-to-face interviews conducted in two unplanned settlements in Lusaka. The study contributes to the broader debates on urban citizenship and the New Urban Agenda articulated by Habitat III. It focuses primarily on how low-income urban residents construct, negotiate, and assert their claim to the city through their struggles for access to urban land. In the case of Lusaka City, this situation is compounded by a complete withdrawal of the state from providing access to land for low-income urban households.