Urbanisation and Modernisation on the peripheries: Nouakchott, Mauritania

Within globalisation what part is played by the rapid urbanisation in ‘peripheral’ regions? How is identity formed for large volumes of urban migrants and how does Nouakchott align itself to globalised development models?

The population growth of Nouakchott – more than thirtyfold in fifty years – is a key force driving urban planning and anti-poverty measures in the city.  The French colonial administration had never envisioned Nouakchott as a capital city and during the colonial era it was primarily a settlement grown around a fishing port. The infrastructural growth of Nouakchott did not follow a plan for such a large population and in 1958 it was inhabited by less than 1000 people.  Repeated droughts led to great waves of migration, which mushroomed during the 1980s due to the complete destruction of pastoralist livelihoods for different Sahalian groups.  Even post-independence Nouakchott had not prepared to maintain well over a million inhabitants.

As a result of mass in-migration without the requisite growth of infrastructure, services and access to resources, Nouakchott developed a number of slum neighbourhoods. These areas are made up of tracts of land which have been squatted by urban poor as a response to necessity.  Often these were originally intended to be temporary encampments, but with many of the inhabitants now in place as established urban dwellers, livelihood strategies have developed which centre on habitation in these settlements.  Here the issues of traditional and modernising identities coincide.  Within this context improvements to infrastructure and increased social cohesion are primary objectives to reducing poverty and renovating the city of Nouakchott.

Mauritania has a history of exporting iron ore and offshore oil reserves now signal a new revenue source which will undoubtedly increase modernisation in Nouakchott, but what will this mean for the urban poor?  The further pertinent question is what part do ‘third-tier’ cities play in global urban development and can they hope to modernise without being dependent on aid or government resource revenues?

Joseph Bergson

African Studies BA





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