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date: 21 February 2019

Urbanization in East Africa, circa 900–2010 CE

Summary and Keywords

East Africa’s urban past is broken down into five historical periods. The first (c. 900–1500 ce) saw the emergence of an urban Swahili culture on the East African coast that flourished thanks to its role as economic and cultural arbiter between the African interior and the Indian Ocean world. Between 1500 and 1800, as in other parts of the world, the intrusion of Europeans (and other outsiders) appears to have had a detrimental impact on “classical” Swahili civilization, although several important urban centers continued to flourish. Inland there is negligible evidence of urbanization before 1800. From around this time, however, important settlements did arise in the interior, thanks largely to the region’s growing integration in an international economy that emerged in the course of the 19th century—with various coastal (Swahili) cities prospering once again through their intermediary role. The situation was transformed with the onset of European colonial rule (c. 1890–1960), which prompted historically unprecedented rates of urban growth and witnessed the emergence of what would become a number of important world cities. Toward the end of the colonial period, from the 1940s, East Africa’s urban centers experienced another upward jolt in their rates of growth; however, the full repercussions of this demographic revolution, which resulted in a substantial (and growing) proportion of the population claiming urban residence for the first time, did not become fully apparent until after independence; with rapid urbanization proving one of the most important features of postcolonial East Africa.

Keywords: urbanization, urbanism, demography, towns, cities, Swahili, colonialism

Until the recent past, East Africa was a sparsely populated region containing few towns or cities. Indeed, even at the turn of the second millennium, it remains relatively lightly urbanized. Nevertheless, after a significant expansion of population since the 1940s, major urban centers have emerged whose growth rates in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have been among the highest in the world. What is more, the impact of these urban centers has been profound. Although by world standards the rural orientation of East African societies remains marked, rural life has been transformed through contact with urban centers that have been at the heart of a sociocultural, economic, and demographic revolution since the early 20th century. Moreover, despite this primarily rural orientation, the history of urban settlements in the region extends back to at least the 900s ce. In this discussion, the process of urbanization is/has been broken down into five distinct periods: the Swahili “golden” age, from about 900 to 1500; the Swahili period after the arrival of the Portuguese, from about 1500 to 1800; Zanzibari-influenced urbanization in the 19th century; the town in colonial East Africa, from the 1890s to the early 1960s; and postcolonial urbanization since the 1960s.

East African urbanization has distinct characteristics, in the patterns both of settlement and of social change associated with the process. While one may define East African urban centers by the size of their population—say, a couple of thousand inhabitants or more—the degree to which a concentration of population constitutes a true town is a moot point, especially in the precolonial period. The density of population might be pertinent, for example, or the permanence or longevity of a settlement. In East Africa, several Swahili “towns” of a negligible size—by international or contemporary standards—assume a disproportionate role in the region’s early urban history due to what was, by regional standards, their unusually urbanized character. In other parts of precolonial East Africa, quite substantial concentrations of population appear to have arisen that retained an overwhelmingly agricultural focus, and failed to develop the complex and diversified structures and institutions associated with urbanism. By contrast, sprawling, postindustrial, contemporary East African cities display a dynamic and constantly evolving social and cultural complexity on a scale that separates them from any of their precolonial, or even colonial, precursors.

Over the period surveyed, the degree to which urban dwellers identified as townsmen or townswomen varied substantially, and was not necessarily influenced either by the size of the settlement or by the existing complexity or scale of urban society. A twelfth-century resident of a relatively small and undeveloped urban center on the East African coast could well have had stronger affiliations to the town in which they resided than, say, a contemporary resident of the burgeoning metropolis of Nairobi, who even if town-born, often retains strong sociocultural associations with ancestral homelands. Indeed, the enduring links between East African urban centers and their (often extensive) rural hinterlands form a noteworthy characteristic of regional urbanization, in comparison to the more familiar patterns associated with industrialization in Western societies. The most important role that East Africa’s towns have historically performed has been as social, economic, and cultural—even political—arbiter between local, primarily rural, societies and the wider world. Despite shifts in the pattern and scale of urbanization, this is as true of twelfth-century Kilwa as it is of contemporary Nairobi.

Historical factors promoting urbanization in East Africa were diverse. Towns’ economic roles proved the most enduring influence on urban growth throughout the period under discussion. Before colonial rule, other factors included the defensive role of urban concentrations in a context of wider instability, as well as the important symbolic value evident in royal capitals of precolonial East Africa, such as those of Buganda and Shambaa. By the early colonial period, political and administrative requirements, alongside those of a modernizing economy, promoted urban growth. As a result, in the early twentieth century, a geographically extensive network of interconnected urban centers arose throughout the region for the first time. By the 1940s, larger urban centers had taken on a life of their own and were expanding at an accelerating rate due to a complicated mix of social, economic and demographic factors. At independence a number of true cities had emerged on a scale that was both unprecedented and largely unanticipated. They were to develop into the major cities that have come to dominate cultural and economic life in 21st-century East Africa.

The Swahili Golden Age, circa 900–1500

Evidence of concentrated settlements on the East African coast dates back to the 9th and 10th centuries ce in the Lamu Archipelago, located in what is now northeastern Kenya (anachronistic references to contemporary nations are utilized herein for the convenience of the reader).1 From this area occurred a dispersal of Swahili-speaking peoples, who over the succeeding centuries were to establish a string of maritime communities from present-day Somalia in the north to Mozambique in the south.

In addition to a common language (though with different dialects), these urban centers shared a number of attributes that came to distinguish Swahili towns over the following millennium. First was their Muslim identity. Evidence points to the growing importance of Islam in these settlements as international trade began to expand in the 10th century. Second was their role as commercial and cultural arbiters between Africa and the wider (in particular the Islamic) world, exemplified best by the monsoon trade that developed with Arabia and India and by Kiswahili itself, an African Bantu language that incorporated words from various local and foreign tongues. Third was the development of particular forms of urban settlement that incorporated whitewashed stone houses, comprising substantial dwellings connected by narrow streets, and more simple dwellings constructed from wood, mud, and thatch. Coastal towns flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries, by which time trading links with the Persian Gulf and Red Sea were well established. This has been termed the “Shirazi” period in reference to the probably fictive claims of origin from the Persian town of Shiraz by prominent families in order to set themselves apart from immigrant Arabs and mainland Africans. (It should be stressed that coastal identities have been influenced by a number of contingent local factors, and that the term “Swahili” has rarely been used by coastal Africans as a principal form of self-identification.)

Towns such as Mogadishu, Baraawe, Shanga, Ungwana, Malindi, Gedi, Mombasa, Unguja Ukuu, Kilwa (Kisiwani), and Sofala emerged, engaging in trade with Arabia and Asia, with the interior, and with neighboring coastal villages. The trade with Arabia and Asia was organized around the Indian Ocean monsoon winds, which between December and March enabled sea voyages from the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and northwestern India to as far south as northern Madagascar. A shift in wind direction between April and November allowed traders to make the return journey in the same year.

The principal commodities attracting merchants to East Africa were animal products, notably ivory, but also ambergris (derived from whales and used in perfumes), rhino horn, and leopard skins. In addition, there was a thriving trade in mangrove poles (used for construction in Arabia), while in the southern ports (principally Kilwa and Sofala), mineral imports such as copper from central Africa and gold from Zimbabwe were pre-eminent (the latter stoked by an increasing demand for gold in medieval Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East). Slaves were also exported to the Middle East, though never on the scale that occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries. Imported items included such luxury goods as Islamic glazed pottery wares and Chinese porcelains, glass beads, and probably high-quality cloths (due to decomposition, the latter have left no traces). Cloth was also imported to use in exchange for goods from the interior. In addition, locally produced goods, such as simple cloths, cowrie shells, salt, and the agricultural surplus of coastal settlements, formed important exchange goods. Trade in these and other items also occurred among the coastal towns themselves, with the larger towns, notably Kilwa, acting as collecting points for the major exports and imports.

Although the growth of coastal towns was characterized in the earlier historiography as the product of Arab emigration, recent archaeological, linguistic, and historical research has emphasized indigenous factors.2 Urban centers of considerable size and sophistication developed amid a coastal strip which–enjoying environmentally favorable conditions–was by regional standards relatively densely populated. Substantial ruins from this period remain at numerous sites, indicating both functional specialization and social differentiation. While urban architecture was influenced by Islamic styles, regionally distinctive forms developed alongside local building techniques that utilized coral masonry. Impressive remains of apparently palatial dwellings incorporating multiple courtyards and fountains still survive such as those at Gedi, Songo Mnara, and most notably at Kilwa’s Husuni Kubwa. The scale of these structures indicates the substantial wealth and status of certain individuals, alongside the considerable local surplus available for them to draw on: In 11th- to 14th-century Kilwa, coins were even issued by local “rulers.” More typical urban dwellings included simple mud and thatch houses, small stone houses, and substantial multiroomed houses with an enclosed courtyard. These apparently provided homes for households occupying various social strata, from servants or slaves up to affluent merchants whose houses were graced by imported ceramics.

It is difficult to reconstruct the social organization of these settlements with any precision from the archaeological remains and the limited written records that survive. However, both Islam and urbanism appear to have been central components of their social life. The earliest mosques so far discovered, in Shanga, date as far back as the late 8th century: Small structures were apparently built to accommodate sections of the local population (and/or visiting merchants), possibly indicating that early converts were drawn from a socioeconomic elite. Until the 12th century, East African ports retained a substantial non-Muslim component, possibly a majority. Remains of more substantial mosques have been unearthed at Shanga, Kizimkazi on Unguja (Zanzibar island), and Kilwa, among other places, dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. In the boom years between the 14th and 16th centuries, grand structures were developed, such as the substantial mosque at Kilwa, which in the course of the 14th century increased by more than four times in size through the addition of an arched, domed, and barrel-vaulted extension (most of which is still intact). These main “Friday” mosques soon evolved into the major focal point of the Swahili towns, with the towns’ citizens congregating there at the end of each week. Smaller stone mosques were scattered throughout the towns, serving either particular communities or even prominent families. From the 9th to 11th centuries, there is evidence of adherents to various branches of Islam along the coast, though by the 12th century, the “orthodox” Sunni school was dominant.

The other principal component of cultural identity was urbanism. This was shaped both by the competitive element in the coastal towns’ relationship with one another and by the perceived superiority of “Swahili” civilization to that of the rural communities of the African interior, regarded by urbane townsmen as shenzi, or uncivilized The corporate identities associated with the various towns were probably significantly complicated by social stratification. Detailed accounts of more recent Swahili cultural history have identified the division of towns into moieties and wards. Moreover, judging from the highly differentiated building remains, from surviving monumental tombs that pepper the coast, and from the use of imported ceramics, it appears likely that an elite emerged not dissimilar to the waungwana citizens of 19th-century Swahili urban centers: wealthy citizens of a town who prided themselves on their piety and sophistication. Elite families often claimed descent from Middle Eastern ancestors; however, while intermarriage between immigrant merchants and locals no doubt occurred, this was probably a more accurate reflection of an individual’s perceived social status than his actual ethnic origin. Alongside this elite there was probably a substantial population of commoners or slaves, though reconstructing their exact status and activities is complicated by the negligible traces they have left in either the archaeological or written record.

Contact with the wider world is evident from the earliest years of these Swahili settlements. Indeed, written accounts of the East African coast date back as far as the 1st century ce in the shape of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, authored by a Greek Egyptian merchant about 40–55 ce. A hiatus in extensive mercantile links appears to have occurred between the 2nd and 8th centuries, initially caused by shifts in the Mediterranean economy. When substantive contact was reestablished, it occurred initially from the ports of Oman and the Persian Gulf between the 9th and 11th centuries, though from around this time, as Fatimid Cairo eclipsed Abbasid Baghdad as the principal city of the Muslim world, East African trade was reoriented toward the Red Sea and southern Arabia in particular.

By the 14th century, links between East Africa and Asia were well established. Ibn Batuta, a North African Muslim who traveled extensively throughout the Islamic world, noted at Kilwa’s court “many sharifs from Iraq and the region of Mecca.” Visitors to the East African Coast came from as far away as China, including the famed visit to Malindi circa 1420 that resulted in the transportation of a giraffe to the Chinese emperor’s court, though the trade with other parts of Asia was still dominated by Arab middlemen. The East African towns formed part of a dynamic Indian Ocean system that incorporated manufactured goods from the Middle East, India, China, and Southeast Asia: Indian financiers; Muslim traders, scholars and pilgrims; East African coastal intermediaries; and the peoples of the African interior who produced the gold and ivory that fueled the trade. The Portuguese sailors, who in 1498 became the latest arrivals on the East African coast, encountered a thriving Swahili civilization probably at its historical apogee (although some scholars claim it was in fact already in decline). Their arrival was to have dramatic consequences for the prosperity and power of the coastal towns.

The Swahili Coast, circa 1500–1800

Until the 16th century, it is thought that generally harmonious relations prevailed among the towns themselves, as well as with neighbors in the costal hinterland.3 Around this time, however, various forms of conflict appear to have arisen from competition over trade and resources. The position was possibly exacerbated by an extended period of drought, provoking instability in the hinterland in particular, with profound consequences for coast–hinterland relations and, more generally, with a negative impact upon regional trade. The arrival of the Portuguese, eager to assert control over Indian Ocean commerce, further complicated matters. Whatever the causes, the 16th century was characterized by conflict, with Pate and Lamu clashing over trade in the fertile Tana Delta; Malindi and Mombasa contesting trade in the Mijikenda hinterland; and Kilwa and Sofala competing over ivory and gold from Central Africa. In addition, the internal governance of the city-states was destabilized by succession disputes and coups d’etat.

Internal and interpolity rivalries undermined any coordinated response to Portuguese expansionism. The Portuguese aimed at establishing a tributary relationship with local rulers, erecting strict controls over regional trade, notably through the monopolization of commerce in the most valuable items such as gold and ivory. In the course of the 16th century, they built a string of factories (to tax local trade) along the Swahili coast, many of which were fortified, including those at Pate, Malindi, and Zanzibar, and established their administrative base at the southerly Mozambique Island. Various towns that refused compliance with the new terms of trade suffered the ignominy of Portuguese attacks. However, the Portuguese, were hard pressed to exert effective control over such a large area.

Towns that had flourished during the Swahili “golden” age suffered varying fortunes, due to both Portuguese intervention and worsening relations with the coastal hinterland, where more aggressive peoples like the Galla and Zimba appeared on the scene. Formerly thriving centers such as Gedi and Kilwa suffered a swift decline. The substantial ruins at Gedi indicate a town of considerable wealth and importance around 1500. It was abandoned in the course of the following century, as a result of raids from the interior by Oromo or Galla peoples, and/or because of the drying up of local water sources. Gedi’s demise was apparently unrelated to the contemporaneous arrival of the Portuguese. Curiously, despite their presence at nearby Malindi, no record of Gedi has survived in Portuguese sources.

By contrast, Portuguese intervention in the trade of the southern coast was responsible for Kilwa’s dramatic decline. Although Kilwa’s preeminence on the Swahili coast had subsided in the course of the 15th century, in 1500 it remained, alongside Pate, Malindi, and Mombasa, one of the foremost Swahili ports. However, Portuguese efforts to establish control over commerce with Central Africa through its bases in Mozambique resulted in a rapid decline in Kilwa’s economic fortunes. An attempt to resist the Portuguese was met with an attack by the Indian viceroy, Francisco de Almeida, in 1505, with the town suffering considerable damage. A puppet ruler was subsequently installed and a Portuguese garrison stationed at a newly built fort. Kilwa’s strategic demise was swift, however, and the garrison was removed just two years later. As an outlet for exports from the Zambesi region, it was eclipsed by Sofala and the new Portuguese administrative center of Mozambique Island. A further sacking in 1588 by marauding Zimba (a mysterious group purportedly originating from the Zambesi region, who were reported to have harassed towns as far north as Malindi over succeeding decades) in 1588 appears to have sealed Kilwa’s fate, as the town faded to become a Swahili backwater for the next two centuries.

The main northern ports fared somewhat better, although here, too, the towns’ prosperity and prestige were to suffer at the hands of the Portuguese. This was the case regardless of whether a policy of accommodation or resistance was pursued in response to the European interlopers. Malindi’s long-term fortunes, for instance, declined despite the fact that its rulers from the outset collaborated with the Portuguese, not least to gain the upper hand over their rivals in Mombasa. Indeed, in 1512, the Portuguese adopted the town as their headquarters on the northern coast. Despite their presence, local merchants continued to flout the strict regulations that officials attempted to place on trade. Levels of commerce were more or less sustained throughout the 16th century, but when the Portuguese shifted their base to Mombasa in the 1590s, Malindi entered a period of terminal decline. By 1606, according to a visiting Catholic priest, Malindi’s inhabitants had descended into “utter poverty,” though the town remained occupied until the late 18th century, when Galla raiders finally forced all of its inhabitants to flee (though the site was reoccupied in the early 19th century).

Pate’s policy toward the Portuguese intruders appears to have been more evasive. A Portuguese factor was based there in the 16th century, though, as in Malindi, he appeared to have limited success in taxing and regulating local commerce. Moreover, the Nahabani rulers of Pate were entirely pragmatic in their relations with the Portuguese, and when circumstances favored resistance, such as the arrival of a Turkish fleet via the Red Sea in the late 16th century, Pate was quick to challenge Portuguese ascendancy. Indeed, by the middle of the following century, the town led the resistance to Portuguese rule, with revolts recorded in 1637, 1660, 1678, 1686, and 1687 that were suppressed with increasing difficulty.

As the principal port on the Swahili coast in 1500, Mombasa had most to lose from the arrival of the Portuguese. It is, therefore, not surprising that it put up the sternest resistance. In response, the town was sacked on a number of occasions in the 16th century by Portuguese fleets. Nevertheless, it was able to retain its wealth and independence up to the 1580s. At this point, the arrival from the north of a potential Turkish ally, in Mir Ali Bey, prompted Portuguese concern; in order to reassert control over the northern coast, they attacked and plundered Mombasa in 1585 and 1589, with a group identified as Zimba collaborating in the town’s sacking on the latter occasion. Hostilities continued between Mombasa and Malindi in subsequent years, with the Portuguese assisting their more northerly ally. Around 1593, they succeeded in ousting the last Shirazi ruler of Mombasa, Shah ibn Msham, appointing Sheikh Ahmad of Malindi in his place. A substantial fort was constructed at Mombasa, and Portugal’s northern headquarters were shifted to the town, thereby confirming its preeminence on this stretch of coast. Relations between Ahmad’s descendants and the high-handed Captain of Mombasa were fraught, with the latter eventually assuming full responsibility for the town in 1637. Judging by remains unearthed from the 1700s, the town maintained its political prominence as well as its prosperity. However, in the latter half of the century, it came under growing pressure from the ascendant Omanis, and in 1698 the Portuguese were ejected from the town.

Due to domestic troubles in the Gulf, Omani occupation of Mombasa was short-lived, though it did result in the emergence of the Mazrui, a local dynasty but of Omani origin, under whom the town was to enjoy its historical zenith as the foremost Swahili power in the 18th century. Swahili towns along the coast resisted Omani attempts to subject them to a tributary relationship similar to that which they had just escaped under the Portuguese. Indeed, such was the local dissatisfaction with Omani rule in Mombasa that the Portuguese were invited to return, and did so between 1728 and 1729, before being evicted themselves for once again attempting to assert too-close control. Power passed to the Mazrui, who declared independence from Oman circa 1735. Rule by the Mazrui was accepted locally because, as outsiders, they rose above the entrenched factions within Mombasa. They acted as mediators between these factions and also coordinated a united response to local rivals, such as the Nahabani rulers of Pate (Mombasa’s only real source of competition at this time on the Swahili coast), and to Oman, whose rulers continued to harbor regional ambitions.

Mombasa’s factions seem to have arisen from a history of in-migration from the north over the previous two centuries. This was at least partly caused by raiding activities of such inland peoples as the Galla, who harassed coastal settlements during this period. Mombasa was used as a place of refuge and reintegration for immigrants from the north displaced by this instability. A complex relationship evolved between the Mombasa Swahili and the peoples of the immediate coastal vicinity, collectively known by the 18th century as the Mijikenda, from whose communities many urban inhabitants had originally come, and with whom strong links were maintained. Within Mombasa, immigrant groups organized themselves into the Thenashara Taifa, or “Twelve Tribes,” which were divided between two main factions, the Thelatha Taifa (“The Three”) and the Tisa Taifa (“The Nine”), who forged close links with their respective Mijikenda clients.

During the 17th and particularly the 18th centuries, Mombasa’s standing as a local power was unrivaled. While trading centers survived in Malindi and Kilwa, their size and status were much reduced from their heyday. The Lamu archipelago remained the only other real source of economic dynamism north of Mozambique. Pate, the major town in the archipelago, appears to have retained its political and economic status—sufficient to have occasionally posed a challenge to Mombasa’s supremacy. However, in the course of the 18th century, it was riven by civil strife that eventually led to its eclipse by its close neighbor Lamu in the early 19th century. South of Mombasa, Zanzibar, which had fallen under Omani influence in the 1690s, began its gradual ascent from a minor center to regional hegemon in the early 18th century. “King” Hassan, the local ruler from around 1728, was responsible for the clearance and early development of the peninsula on which the modern town stands. However, it was not until the end of the century that Zanzibar posed any real challenge to Mombasa.

Mombasa’s economic ascendancy was assisted by the strong links established between the town and the peoples occupying its hinterland; these facilitated local commerce with the interior. Here, and elsewhere along the coast, local merchants continued to perform an intermediary role. Indeed, post-1500, imported goods seem to have formed a more substantial component in the trade with the interior, as such local industries as the cotton manufacture in Pate and Kilwa collapsed in the wake of the Portuguese arrival. As we have seen, trade at the more southerly ports was seriously affected by Portuguese intervention, with goods to and from India and Central Africa passing through Sofala, and, increasingly, Mozambique and Quelimane. Nevertheless, many of these ports maintained a role in the local coastal trade, as well as with ports of the northern coast that were coping better with political and economic change from the 16th century. These northerly towns maintained strong mercantile links with India and especially Arabia. The main exports were still natural products, such as ivory and mangrove timber; however, there is also evidence of a fairly substantial trade in slaves originating initially from Madagascar, and later from the Cape Delgado area in Mozambique and from southern Tanzania. Most of the slaves were destined for Arabia, though some found their way to India, and others were retained in East African towns, where they could be employed as servants, concubines, sailors, or agricultural laborers.

The economic fortunes of the coast had fluctuated since the arrival of the Portuguese. Although this initially had an overwhelmingly negative impact on local commerce, trade recovered sufficiently for such places as Pate and especially Mombasa to prosper and for other towns to get by, albeit on a reduced scale. By the middle of the 18th century, the coast was entering a new era of prosperity, partly stimulated by international demand for its products, which was to have dramatic consequences for all of East Africa, coast and interior alike.

Urbanization in the Interior before 1800

While inland East African societies appear to have been characterized by their dispersed residential patterns and rural orientation up to 1800, some evidence does survive of concentrated settlement and accompanying specialization in production and exchange. The incidence of urbanization in this period is probably poorly reflected in surviving evidence, due to the (decomposition of) organic materials used in the construction of urban centers at the time.4 The most compelling evidence comes from the fertile and relatively densely populated interlacustrine area (between Lakes Tanganyika and Victoria, in contemporary Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda), which was the location of a succession of substantial state formations in the course of the second millennium ce.

The earliest surviving remains are to be found at Bigo and Ntusi, western Uganda.5 Those at Ntusiindicate the presence of a substantial settlement where iron smelting occurred, dating from between the 11th and 16th centuries, and there is evidence of some forms of municipal organization in a system of refuse disposal. However, it is clear that Ntusi maintained a predominantly agricultural (specifically pastoral) orientation, and the extent to which it might be termed a town is uncertain. Given the long traditions of state formation in the interlacustrine zone, it seems likely that similar settlements also occurred in this region over the proceeding centuries, though evidence has yet to be located and/or excavated. In Central Africa, there is clear evidence of long-established urban settlements in comparable precolonial states, such as those of the Lozi and, most notably, at Great Zimbabwe, from which physical remains and European eyewitness accounts survive.6 However, no written records survive from the interlacustrine area at this time, and stone was not used in building construction there. Meanwhile, away from the great lakes there is little evidence of any form of urbanization in East Africa, the vast majority of the region apparently having, as in the more recent past, an agricultural, village-centered character (though there is some evidence of 18th-century urbanization in the Usambara mountains of northeast Tanzania, at Vugha, the royal capital of the Shambaa).7

Zanzibari Hegemony in 19th-Century East Africa

Two phenomena occurring from around 1800 were to have a dramatic impact on both the Swahili coast and the East African interior. The first was political change as a result of the rise to power in Oman of the Busaidi dynasty in 1749, who, above all, represented the maritime and mercantile interests of the Gulf kingdom. Although nominal Omani suzerainty existed over the East African coast since they had ejected the Portuguese in the late 17th century, and the dominant city of Mombasa was under dynastic rule originating from (though independent of) Oman, it was not until the end of the late 18th century that growing Omani awareness of the potential wealth of East African trade caused increasing Busaidi intervention in the region. The second, connected, phenomenon was the emergence of an international economy, stimulated by the Industrial Revolution, whereby demand for tropical commodities resulted in the incorporation of large parts of the Indian Ocean world into exchange relations with Europe and North America, in the case of East Africa through Omani intermediaries.8

The first indication that Oman’s rulers were interested in making their claims to coastal overlordship more concrete came in 1785, when they took control of Kilwa, building a fort there and reducing the local sultan to vassal status. Kilwa had once again become the main coastal outlet for a reinvigorated trade in slaves, ivory, and other natural products from the interior. However, the Omanis’ regional base was soon shifted to Zanzibar town circa 1800, due to its more favorable location, adjacent to both more northerly routes into the interior and within easy reach of Kilwa and other towns to the south. Over the next century, Zanzibar emerged as the dominant regional power largely through its role as an entrepot. The extent of Zanzibari influence was unprecedented, even if it was predominantly mercantile in form. While Omani control was politically effective only along the Swahili coast, and even there was relatively loose, Busaidi initiatives encouraged the emergence of a regional trading system that had considerable impact on societies as far west as present-day Zambia and eastern Congo.9

Among other things, the Busaidi “revolution” had profound consequences for settlement patterns in the region. Most notably, Zanzibar itself grew to become the largest and most important town in East Africa, with strong mercantile links with the Swahili coast and the interior, and with ports not only in India and the Middle East but also in Europe and North America. A substantial “Stonetown” of large whitewashed houses connected by a labyrinthine network of roads and alleyways emerged by the middle of the century, containing a population of several tens of thousands. These houses were built and/or occupied by an immigrant Omani plantocracy, a wealthy local mercantile class of Waungwana citizens (urban–and self-consciously urbane—Africans, adopting a “Swahili” identity), alongside growing numbers of wealthy Indian traders. In order to reflect the wealth and status of the occupants, elaborately carved doors and windows were added to the houses’ otherwise plain facades. Interspersed between the grander houses, the more lowly Indian traders constructed buildings that doubled as both home and shop. Surrounding the Stonetown, African suburbs of baked mud and thatch “Swahili” houses emerged for the growing population of slaves, as well as Swahili, Comorian, and poor Arab laborers, in addition to less wealthy Indians.

Zanzibar was a boom town, its economy buoyed by income generated from clove and coconut plantations established by Omani Arabs in the surrounding countryside, and by its role as regional entrepot. Its port was the main outlet not only for plantation products from Zanzibar and from its sister island Pemba, but also for the diverse products of the mainland, including ivory, gum copal, hides, and, most notoriously, slaves. By midcentury, around 15,000 slaves were annually brought to the town either for export or to work on Zanzibar itself; indeed, slaves themselves constituted a significant proportion of the urban population, numbering around 16,000 in 1860.10

The emergence of a Zanzibari commercial empire in East Africa also had a significant impact on settlement patterns on the mainland, where unprecedented urban growth began to occur. This took different forms. First, trading centers emerged on the caravan routes leading into the interior. At one end, along the coast itself, a string of towns developed that funneled the products of the interior to Zanzibar. The most important were Mombasa (which lost its political independence in 1837 and became economically integrated into the regional network that fed Zanzibar), Pangani, Bagamoyo, and Kilwa Kivinje. (Around 1800, the location of Kilwa town was moved from the island, Kisiwani, to the mainland, where a booming port emerged to supply natural products and, notably, slaves for the Zanzibari market.) Comparable trading centers also developed farther inland along the caravan routes, notably at Tabora and Ujiji. The former, located in the heartland of the Nyamwezi, who themselves became heavily involved in the trade with the coast, had grown to a size of around 20,000 by the late 19th century; a sizable community of Arabs and of waungwana lived there as well. Ujiji, toward the far western end of one of the main caravan routes on Lake Tanganyika, had a comparable demographic makeup and performed a similar economic role as a base station for trading caravans and as a magnet for produce and slaves from the surrounding countryside.11

The second type of urbanization that appears to have arisen as a by-product of Zanzibari commercial expansion was defensive in form. Increasing demand for slaves at the coast had a deeply destabilizing effect on societies in the interior–in present-day Tanzania in particular—which fell victim to raids by local and coastal slavers. The position was exacerbated by the arrival on the scene of aggressive newcomers such as the Ngoni (from southern Africa), and by local empire builders such as Mirambo and Nyungu ya Mawe. In response to heightened risks, formerly dispersed societies began to gather into fortified settlements. Concentrations of population that may be technically defined as urban centers emerged, such as Merere near contemporary Mbeya, Kalenga near Iringa, and at various places in Nyamwezi country. However, while they could reach quite substantial proportions, the extent to which these centers fostered a culture of urbanism is unclear. They retained an agricultural focus, and in most cases appear to have dispersed once the dangers posed by local instability had subsided.12

The Shambaa town at Vugha performed a similarly defensive role from the early 18th century at least; it also retained a predominantly agricultural focus. However, it is perhaps best included in a third type of settlement in 19th-century East Africa, influenced only incidentally by the reverberations of Zanzibari expansionism, which displayed more truly urban traits and functions—that of the royal capital. In addition to being a defensive haven, Vugha provided refuge for some of the more marginalized members of Shambaa society, such as witches or destitute persons, and most significantly constituted an important spiritual and political center in both the 18th and 19th centuries.13

A more substantial, and enduring, example of the royal capital can be found in the Bugandan Kibuga. European visitors in the 1860s observed a town of considerable expanse, covering up to twenty square miles. At its heart was the ruling kabaka’s royal enclosure, which alone was around a half mile squared. Up till circa 1850 the Kibuga had been peripatetic, though from this date it settled in the Mengo area, overlooking Lake Victoria. Like Vugha, it was an important location of political and spiritual power; moreover, its substantial size also indicates that it was a site of economic specialization. With the onset of colonial rule its permanent character was confirmed, along with its sister settlement of Kampala (by which intime it would be subsumed), as the principal city of both British Uganda and its subprotectorate Buganda.14

The City in Colonial East Africa, circa 1890–1960

East Africa’s gradual incorporation into an international economy from the late 18th century continued with the onset of European colonial rule, with incoming British and German rulers taking over from Zanzibar in promoting a regional process that had growing urbanization as an important side effect. Administrative centers of varying sizes emerged throughout the new mainland colonies, performing economic and political functions at the heart of the colonial project. The towns—from the more substantial capitals to modest trading centers that barely deserve to be designated urban—performed a central role in the penetration of a monetized economy, thereby encouraging the exchange of manufactured goods with local commodities or labor. Many of the most important settlements were located at key transport junctions, including substantial ports that provided a more direct outlet for East Africa’s exports, thereby undermining formerly thriving precolonial coastal towns, such as Bagamoyo, Kilwa, and even Zanzibar, whose role as regional entrepot went into sharp decline. Towns also formed the primary locus of colonial power, where the main institutions of the regalian state were based, and from which colonial officials planned and implemented the reorganization of African societies.15

With the swift establishment of colonial capitals around 1900, these urban centers in particular came to attract both more resources and—not coincidentally—people, a phenomenon that was reinforced in the late colonial and postcolonial periods, and which came to be known as primary urbanization. They grew apace. Dar es Salaam, originally a small settlement established by the sultan of Zanzibar in 1862, expanded from just a few thousand in the late 1880s to around 20,000 at the turn of the century.16 Nairobi’s growth was even swifter. Just eight years after its foundation as a railway construction camp in 1899, it contained a population approaching 15,000.17 Kampala was substantially smaller, numbering perhaps just a few thousand in the 1900s. As a concentration of population, it was overshadowed by its sister town, the adjoining Bugandan capital, the Kibuga, whose population was more than 30,000 at this time (though compared to other towns in the region, according to official statistics it grew slowly over the next half century).18 From the late colonial period, these cities grew at rates that significantly outpaced those of other urban centers, though a number of secondary towns of some significance also emerged. Mombasa and Tanga, for example, were important ports, terminii of rail lines along which the commodities of the interior (now dominated by plantation crops such as tea, coffee, cotton, and sisal, in contrast to the pre-20th-century trade in natural products) were transported. They were also, respectively, Kenya’s and Tanzania’s second-largest cities by some distance. The railway town of Jinja, though of negligible importance up to World War II, occupied a similar position in Uganda’s political economy by the late colonial period, when it was developed as a center of industrialization. Meanwhile, a network of more minor towns emerged in the course of colonial rule, serving as transport hubs, administrative centers, and/or market towns.

The concentration of substantial settler populations from Europe and Asia was a distinctive feature of colonial urban centers. Thanks to their political and economic ascendancy, these communities often exercised a disproportionate influence over the evolution of East Africa’s towns. As British colonies, the European populations in larger towns tended to be dominated by British officials, settlers, and traders, though they could be surprisingly cosmopolitan. In 1930, the 1,340-strong European community in Dar es Salaam (out of a total population of approximately 23,000) included Germans, Greeks, Swiss, French, Belgians, and Italians in groups of thirty or more, alongside smaller numbers of Dutch, Portuguese, Czechs, Danes, Swedes, Austrians, and Russians.19 Non-British could gain ascendancy in smaller urban centers. Interwar Tanga, for example, was home to an influential Greek community, connected to the sisal industry (part of a significant, though little studied, diaspora spread throughout eastern and central Africa). In addition to officials, missionaries, and those associated with the plantation sector, European populations of East African towns included small numbers of merchants, businessmen, and even urban professionals (notably lawyers/solicitors, accountants, doctors, and architects).

While Europeans formed a noteworthy presence in colonial urban centers, they were outnumbered by the larger numbers of settlers originating from the Indian subcontinent. These communities actually predated colonial rule. In the 19th century, many merchants relocated from India to the major East African coastal centers, attracted by the commercial opportunities of long-distance trade. Zanzibar’s Indian population was enumerated at 219 in 1819, and by 1870 had grown to more than 3,000 (out of an urban population of 70,000). With the onset of colonial rule, the Indian diaspora spread throughout the region, playing key roles in all types of urban settlements, from tiny trading stations in the interior to the major urban centers. These Indian communities were also highly diverse. In 1930, the 7,000-strong Indian population in Dar es Salaam, which constituted as much as a third of the total, included Christian Goans, Sinhalese (from Ceylon), Sikhs, and Hindus, alongside the majority Muslims, who were subdivided into Ismaili and Ithnasheri Khoja, Bohora Shia, Sunni, and Ahmaddiya sects. Throughout the colonial period and beyond, Indians dominated urban petty commerce throughout East Africa, though they were active in any number of other pursuits, from journalism to education, civil service to industry, and the property sector to banking. They played a key role in socioeconomic processes associated with urbanization in the region. However, the physical space that they occupied in urban centers tended to match their marginal social and economic position in colonial society: perched between the rulers and the ruled. Lacking political power, interacting more often with and living closer to the African population, they formed the readiest target for African resentment.20 Intercommunal tensions between urban African and Indian populations often descended into riot, and resulted in a postcolonial legacy of distrust that culminated in appropriations of property in Tanzania and Kenya, and expulsion from Uganda.21

The attempt to assert colonial order was nowhere more ambitious than in East Africa’s urban centers, which were long perceived to be strictly “non-native” spaces. European communities demanded the civic comforts and conveniences they had become accustomed to in Europe. In order to protect European well-being, colonial legislative and planning interventions often involved ruthless and ambitious attempts to organize space. These were motivated by anxieties about contact between the races, arising from both sexual contact and crime, though the perceived threat of disease had the greatest impact on urban planning. Municipal laws enforced strict segregation between races. Europeans occupied the most favorable locations, often elevated above densely populated “native” areas in which desperate living conditions contributed to widespread ill health and disease, thereby fueling fears of contagion that Europeans used to legitimize segregation.22

Africans were subject to a wide array of urban laws and bylaws aimed at controlling their movements and behavior. Although these often far outreached the capacity of the colonial state to enforce them, Africans in towns were subject to more direct supervision by colonial agents of enforcement than in the countryside. In the later colonial period, they were also subject to the transforming impulse of the state. In both colonial ideology and early postcolonial scholarship, urbanization and modernization were held to be coterminous. The lack of traditions of urbanism in most of East Africa—and the development of social, economic, and political complexity associated with it—was one colonial yardstick of African backwardness. Towns were considered to be places in which traditional authority and customs were eroded and new (often bad) habits formed.23 European administrations were initially anxious to restrict African urbanization as much as possible. However, from the 1930s in the Belgian Congo, and a little later in British and French Africa, the towns became “laboratories of modernity,” in which the African townsman (and townswoman)—something of a contradiction in terms to European officials up to that point—was to be socially engineered.24 The manner in which the late colonial state attempted to transform African labor from what it viewed as an ill-disciplined, unproductive mass into differentiated, efficient, time-keeping workers, whose links with the premodern countryside were severed, is the best documented example of this trend.

African labor was not the sole focus of colonial action, though, even if it did occupy a central position in the evolution of urban policy.25 Attempts to nurture model urban Africans also took political, administrative, educational, and cultural forms. However, the late colonial project of modernizing African society (partly) by incrementally raising the status and role of a limited number of Africans to that of urban citizens, with political rights and responsibilities, was undone by spiraling urban growth rates. Concern over the behavioral consequences of urbanization among the rapidly expanding urban poor remained prevalent. Contact with “modernity” in the towns resulted not only in the advancement of “progressive” goals associated with late colonial (and postcolonial) developmentalism, but also in the fashioning of new identities and behavior (among young men and women in particular) that complicated and/or undermined state initiatives.26

Not only was the town an arena in which the transforming and regulatory impulse of the colonial state was most in evidence; it also provided space in which Africans developed mechanisms to evade and contest colonial assertions and eventually to pose a successful challenge to British rule. In the East, as elsewhere in colonial Africa, it was in the urban centers in particular where European control was challenged, beginning in the 1940s. Experience of urban work, and resistance to the demands of colonial employers, formed a crucible for the emergence of African political consciousness. This consciousness emerged not only because the town was an arena of struggle between capital and the state and African labor, but equally because it was a site of consumption. Unequal allocation of scarce resources in the urban context—between the races in particular—led not only to the racialization of politics and identity but also among urban Africans to a consciousness of entitlements that could be demanded from the state, and to a determination to overturn existing political and economic inequalities. The colonial administration’s resulting failure to meet rising African expectations contributed to the growth of nationalism.27

In addition to its political impact, urbanization had significant social, cultural, and economic consequences. While European anxiety over so-called detribalization, involving the loss of tribal identity and customary restraints on African behavior, was overdone, the urban centers formed the locus for new patterns of identity and behavior. Interaction among members of different races and ethnic groups had a significant impact on African worldviews. This could result in the expression of broader collective identities, such as those associated with Pan-Africanism, nationalism, race, or class. Seemingly paradoxically, however, interaction could also lead to the entrenchment, or even the invention of, “tribal” identities, with ethnic groups becoming more conscious of their particularities through contact with others.28

In a regional context of societies organized along age and gender lines, towns also allowed women and young Africans to escape the control of husbands and elders. Indeed, urban women often thrived as a result of the opportunities present in towns that were overwhelmingly male, with services provided by women—from cooking to traditional beer brewing, companionship, and sex—in high demand.29 Young Africans likewise grasped the opportunities for economic independence offered by the towns (if often only as migrants). Meanwhile, distinctive urban cultures emerged whose youthfulness presented a challenge to rattled rural and urban elders, accustomed to deference from their juniors.30 The urban centers also formed a prime locus for socioeconomic differentiation. Although the intensely social—often reciprocal—links that tended to characterize “traditional” rural African societies were not completely displaced, novel social relations emerged, notably between the urban poor and a more affluent elite. Self-consciously respectable urban bourgeoisies emerged, who, thanks to education, wealth, and/or position, disdained what were from their point of view the unruly and unkempt urban masses.31

Such social change was intensified by accelerating urbanization rates from around 1940. While colonial towns had grown rapidly in the early 1900s, after their initial founding, their expansion slowed in the interwar period. Although East Africa’s incorporation into an international economy had as one by-product the growth of towns as commercial and administrative centers, the penetration of monetized exchange relations was insufficient to promote more deep and lasting urbanization at this time. With the onset of the Depression in the early 1930s, many of the region’s major urban centers, including Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, actually suffered a decline in population, as people resorted to a more dependable rural subsistence. Toward the end of the same decade, however, change in African societies had begun to promote high levels of urbanization (initially sustained principally through rural–urban migration) that have continued up to the present. Given that conditions in towns at this time were generally grim for African inhabitants, with low wages, poor housing, and the heightened threat of disease all prevalent, it is hard to account for this shift.32

A number of factors appear to have promoted urbanization, though apportioning the exact significance of each is difficult. These included accelerating population growth, the limited opportunities to generate cash in the countryside, poor conditions generally in the rural areas, improved transport infrastructure and services, more educated populations opting for waged over agricultural work, and, more generally, the deepening penetration of a monetized economy.33 Whatever the causes, towns throughout the region underwent unprecedented urban growth in the final decades of colonial rule. Dar es Salaam’s population more than doubled between 1937 and 1948, from 23,550 to 51,231, and by 1960 it stood at around 160,000. In Kenya, Nairobi grew by 17 percent in the 1940s, and tripled in the 1950s, from 119,000 to 344,000; Mombasa’s population more than doubled between 1950 and 1960, from 85,000 to 180,000. In Uganda, Kampala township grew from just 22,000 in 1948 to 47,000 in 1959.

Rapid urbanization transformed East African towns. In the primary urban centers, recognizable cities were emerging by the 1950s from what, despite their administrative and economic significance as colonial capitals, had been relatively insignificant towns until the 1940s. Besides population growth, increasing postwar industrialization and a substantial increase in monies spent on urban development (in the shape of infrastructure and housing) transformed the urban landscape. Colonial officials for the first time acknowledged the permanence of the African urban presence and adopted policies aimed at guiding the process of African urbanization.34 However, such schemes were thwarted by the unanticipated pace and scale of urban growth. Incoming migrants overwhelmed colonial attempts to provide planned housing and amenities for urban populations; at the same time, formal economies failed to create sufficient jobs for the spiraling number of rural–urban migrants.

In the mid to late 1950s, as in other parts of Africa, mass unemployment became a characteristic feature of East Africa’s urban centers.35 As a result, African urbanites turned to the informal economy in growing numbers, both as a source of income and cheap services, and for housing. Neat and manageable colonial towns, whose form and function bore the heavy imprint of European expectations and desires, were reshaped by the increasingly visible presence of street traders and beggars, and by burgeoning urban shanty settlements. By the 1950s, colonial governments had lost control of the towns.36 They bequeathed the increasingly complicated problems of urban governance to their African successors.

Rapid Urbanization and Its Consequences in Postcolonial East Africa

Demographic trends resulting in the dramatic increase of both national and urban populations continued into the postcolonial era. Within the cities themselves, while rural–urban migration continued to represent an important factor in their expansion, as time passed the natural increase of urban populations assumed a growing significance. More recognizably urbanized societies emerged, in which a substantial proportion of territorial populations were now resident in towns and cities. Nevertheless, urbanization rates remained low by international standards, that is, below the 50 percent that may be taken to represent truly urbanized societies. Indeed, links with rural areas remained important to most urban residents. These might simply take the form of ethnic identification or closer economic and social links involving regular visits back to areas of origin. For instance, the population of Nairobi, East Africa’s largest urban center into the 1990s (when it was probably overtaken by Dar es Salaam), displayed a greater predilection for the maintenance of rural roots than commitment to a permanent urban existence (even if most inhabitants spent much of their working lives in the city).37 While these linkages were more marked in Nairobi than in the region’s other major cities, rural ties in urban East Africa remained a distinctive feature of local urbanization. However, as time went on, the impact of urban lifestyles came to exert an increasingly significant influence on rural societies that was evident in, among other things, income and capital generation, consumption patterns, and popular culture.

In the early postcolonial period demographic, political and economic trends continued to promote primary urbanization. Economic and communications infrastructure remained disproportionately located in the national capitals. Meanwhile, as the principal administrative centers, they also generated significant employment opportunities; after independence, local workforces became dominated by the public sector. As a result, the capitals experienced exceptionally high growth rates, which jumped markedly after independence and remained high in the following decades. Between 1960 and 1980, Dar es Salaam grew at an annual average rate of 9 percent, Kampala at 7 percent, and Nairobi at 5 percent.

At the same time, though, secondary urban centers also grew apace. Major centers arose from what in the colonial period had been just small towns. The northern Tanzanian port of Mwanza expanded from a minor settlement of 11,000 in 1948 to a major regional center of more than 200,000 by the end of the century. During the same period, Mwanza’s Kenyan counterpart, Kisumu, on the adjacent shore of Lake Victoria, experienced even more dramatic growth, from 11,000 in 1948 to 322,734 in 1999, while the Rift Valley town of Nakuru expanded from 18,000 to 220,000. Indeed, while the populations of the East African capitals were expanding more substantially by volume, the actual growth rates of secondary urban centers were often higher. In Kenya, for example, although in the 1960s Nairobi’s and Mombasa’s growth was higher than in the next seven largest urban centers, in the following decade the position was reversed, with Nakuru, Kisumu, Thika, Eldoret, Nanyuki, Kitale, and Nyeri experiencing significantly higher growth rates than the two main cities. By the 1980s, major regional centers had emerged that attracted migrants who earlier might have opted to go to the capital to seek their fortune.38

Nevertheless the rapid growth of East Africa’s primary urban centers has remained noteworthy. Dar es Salaam in particular sustained high growth rates—almost 6% in the first decade of the 21st century. In 2002, it was home to around 2.5 million people, and by 2014 to almost 5 million. The pace of its transformation into a major world city has been remarkable—at independence in 1961 its population numbered less than 180,000. While Nairobi and Kampala grew more slowly, they too are unrecognizable from the relative backwaters of the 1960s. In the most recent censuses, Nairobi had expanded to more than 3 million inhabitants and Kampala to 1.5 million.

With the transfer of political power at independence (which East African countries attained between 1961 and 1964) came significant changes to the social composition of the region’s urban centers, though these generally represented the extension of trends that had commenced in the late colonial period. Most significantly perhaps was a dramatic alteration in the gender balance of urban populations. While colonial towns were overwhelmingly male up to the 1950s, growing numbers of women began to make their way to the urban centers at this time, and more particularly after independence. Male to female ratios in Kenyan towns, for example, declined from as much as 4–8 men39 to every woman in the 1930s to 1.21:1 in the 1970s. In Dar es Salaam, where the female presence was historically more substantial, it declined from around 2:1 to 1.07:1 over the same period. By 1971, women constituted a majority (54 percent) of new arrivals to Dar es Salaam, and in 1988, parity between the sexes was achieved.40 Tensions between the sexes arose in urban centers that were crucibles of social change, where simultaneously “modern” women could pursue lives of unprecedented independence, and growing populations of male youth struggled in a context of growing unemployment.41 However, although women made some progress in urban formal economies, they tended to remain marginalized and often resorted to informal sector activities in order to get by, and/or they assumed the role of urban housewife (though the wives and families of many male migrants remained in the rural areas).42

Changes in the physical organization of urban space were also apparent in the postcolonial city. Perhaps the most marked feature in this regard was a shift from segregation along racial lines to more class-based segregation. The emergence of government-planned “middle class” or “respectable working class” housing schemes had been one of the more prominent developments in late colonial urban centers.43 After independence, the more affluent occupants of these estates moved into areas that till then had been officially (or in practice) designated for European (and, to a lesser extent, Indian) residence.44

Perhaps the most dramatic transformation of urban space arose from the informalization of the city. The wave of rural–urban migration that occurred after independence derailed state initiatives aimed at job creation and the provision of housing, infrastructure, and amenities to growing urban populations. Officials often adopted highly coercive measures, including roundups of the unemployed, underemployed, and informally employed, in an attempt to exert some control over the process of urbanization.45 However, they were unable to shape the modern, orderly towns envisaged in official plans. Instead, the informal sector came to dominate the urban landscape, with a massive proliferation of both informal economic activity and of squatter housing.46

Petty traders, who sprang up throughout the postcolonial city—from shanty slums to highway kiosks to the lines of traffic in central business districts—were one of the most visible manifestations of the demographic revolution that occurred in the second half of the 20th century. Less obvious but equally important for the entrepreneurs to whom they provided an income, as well as for urban residents to whom they provided inexpensive services, were the numerous informal “businesses” engaged in everything from the production and sale of alcohol to the manufacture of simple tools.47 The number of itinerant hawkers alone in Nairobi—which in 1941 stood at 500—was in 1984 officially estimated at 30,000, and unofficially at 45,000. Official rates put the number of people employed in the city’s informal sector at 41,415 in 1973 and at 172, 414 just a decade later. By 1987, it generated employment three times faster than the urban formal economy.48 The Economic Survey of Kenya in 1996 enumerated the number of people engaged in Nairobi’s informal sector at 623,924, and those engaged in waged employment at just 405,900.49 The phenomenon was equally evident in urban centers throughout East Africa—if not more so, as Nairobi’s formal sector was actually better developed than those elsewhere in the region. In East Africa’s other major metropolis, Dar es Salaam, the dramatic collapse of the territorial economy in the late 1970s and early 1980s resulted in a significant expansion in what was already a substantial urban informal sector.50

The growth of informal economies was matched by a dramatic expansion in informal housing. In Nairobi, while illegal squatters in the early 1950s numbered in the hundreds, by 1962 an estimated 15,000 lived in the Kariobangi slum alone. In 1971, a third of the population—167,000—were living in shanty settlements. At the end of the century, Kibera, the largest shanty settlement in both city and region, housed a massive population of around 800,000. Once again, similar phenomena were observable elsewhere: in the substantial unplanned settlement of Kisenyi in Kampala, and in Dar es Salaam’s numerous shanties, which by the late 1970s were providing homes for the majority of the urban population.51

The informal sector has been primarily associated with the urban poor. However, it could be the site of significant accumulation. Moreover, alongside East Africa’s urban shanties, often substantial unplanned middle-class communities emerged, notably in Dar es Salaam (the bulk of whose housing was unplanned). By the turn of the millennium, the heart of the East African city lay in its informal—economic and social and cultural—networks. The informal city not only provided townspeople with sorely needed housing, incomes, and services but was also the site of a vibrant urban culture. From illegal bars to unlicensed minibuses, and from a flourishing trade in informally produced and marketed music cassettes to unlicensed newssheets distributed by illegal vendors, the informal city has provided entertainment, transport, information, and even intellectual stimulation to East Africa’s urban residents. It is the site of a distinctive and ever-evolving African urbanism.

Discussion of the Literature

Although urbanization has been one of, if not the, most significant socioeconomic phenomena in East Africa’s recent past, the historiography of the subject remains curiously undeveloped. Its neglect in the early historical scholarship on Africa up to the 1980s, aside from a Swahili civilization marked by its urban nature, is striking. In the 1980s, greater attention began to be paid to urban history, though East Africa’s towns tended to remain a backdrop to discussion of other issues, notably labor history, as opposed to focal points in themselves. Since the late-1990s, greater attention has been paid to the social history in and of East Africa’s urban centers in particular, though the focus has rarely concentrated on urbanization itself.

There is a substantial archaeological literature on the early Swahili coast. Pioneering fieldwork in the 1940s–1960s by James Kirkman in Gedi and Neville Chittick in Kilwa and Manda (1960s–1970s) has provided the foundation for a still-evolving scholarship on Swahili urban centers, with important contributions from Felix Chami, Mark Horton, Chapurukha Kusimba, Adria LaViolette, Jeffrey Fleisher, and Stephanie Wynne-Jones.52 Primary records of East African towns date back as far as the 14th century, when Arab and later European travelers visited the region.53 This provided the basis for a modern Swahili historiography dating as far back as 1899.54 In the 1920s and 1930s, L. B. W. Hollingsworth and Reginald Coupland produced colonial histories that emphasized the role of Middle Eastern immigrants (“Shirazi”) in the evolution of “medieval” coastal cities and civilizations.55 This view has been substantially revised with the indigenous origin of Swahili culture and settlement now well established in the scholarship.56 Although they rarely represent the main focus, Swahili towns are well covered in an established historiography on the East African coast up to the 18th century.57 The period of Zanzibari dominance is also well covered. Abdul Sheriff’s work on Zanzibar town is particularly useful for the urban historian; work on other urban centers under Zanzibari hegemony is emerging.58 A number of primary published sources also provide information on 19th-century towns—both on the coast and inland.59

For colonial and postcolonial urban East Africa, several widely available primary sources from the late colonial period provide a useful introduction. As elsewhere in British Africa, little attention was paid to East African towns by either officials or scholars until after 1945. A number of important government reports and pioneering social surveys published mostly in the 1950s sought to address this neglect, and these provide a good starting point for those interested in the emerging towns and official policy aimed at their populations.60 In the first wave of postcolonial historical scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s, urban East Africa was overlooked. As David Anderson and Richard Rathbone point out in their introduction to an important edited volume on the urban history of Africa, urban centers were seen as “the epitome of modernization” a theme which at this time was of greater interest to sociologists and geographers than to historians.61 Towns first attracted the interest of historians primarily as a locus for the struggle between capital and labor, and of emerging labor movements and their attendant sociopolitical repercussions.62 The labor question also provided the principal focus for Frederick Cooper, though in his work it was explicitly connected to issues of urbanization and urban policy. In On the African Waterfront, Cooper demonstrated how the colonial response to the demands of African labor were to have long-term, and unforeseen, repercussions for emerging postcolonial states, not least in the evolution and administration of urban centers.

In the wake of On the African Waterfront, a more developed regional urban historiography has gradually emerged.63 Cooper’s urban themes have been pursued and developed most explicitly by Andrew Burton, who has focused on socioeconomic processes associated with urbanization and their administrative repercussions in colonial and early postcolonial Dar es Salaam and the wider region.64 William Bissell’s book on urban policy in Zanzibar provides a useful account of the historical evolution of town space arising from, and in spite of, a colonial urban administration marked by both its ambition and incapacity.65 In other historiographical work, urbanization and urban policy per se have generally not been foregrounded. Instead, a number of social-historical themes have emerged that have been explored in an urban context. Towns have attracted attention as crucibles of social and political identity, notably in the work of Justin Willis, Laura Fair, and James Brennan on Mombasa, Zanzibar, and Dar es Salaam.66 The historical role of women in East African urban centers is the subject of a number of important studies by, among others, Margaret Strobel, Luise White, Claire Robertson, and, most recently, Andrew Ivaska.67 Urban centers have also been identified as important arenas for African youth, where serious intergenerational tensions have often arisen.68 Young Africans have been significant participants in the many popular cultural phenomena that have emerged in East African towns and cities, which have also provided a focus for recent historiographical work.69

Despite this efflorescence of interest in towns among historians of the region, East African urban historiography is in its infancy. Significant geographical, thematic, and temporal gaps exist. Although there is a growing body of work on Zanzibar, Mombasa, and Nairobi, and on Dar es Salaam in particular, other urban centers remain neglected. Temporally, the colonial and postcolonial periods are overrepresented, with precolonial urbanization attracting little attention. It is curious that despite the well-developed archaeological literature on Swahili urban origins, and a relatively mature historiography of the East African coast, we are lacking historical works dedicated to Swahili urbanization in the 16th to 19th centuries.70

There are also gaping thematic holes in our understanding of East Africa’s urban past. A number of prominent themes in wider East African historiography require examination in the urban setting. Monographs on the religious, intellectual, environmental, and comparative histories of African towns, for example, have yet to be published; and, surprisingly, examinations of oral history and memory are not well represented in the existing urban historiography. Most notably, in a region that has experienced rapid and unprecedented urban growth for close to a century, scholarship with a primary focus on the historical process of urbanization, and on emerging forms of urbanism, remains underdeveloped.

Primary Sources

Written sources for the period up to the 19th century are restricted to the handful of Arab and later European travelers who left accounts of their experience of East African coastal towns. The number of Europeans visiting the region grew steadily from the late 18th century onward, many of whom produced publications that include suggestive information on the nature of urban settlements, both on the coast and, for the first time, in the interior. However, outside of a few major coastal centers, evidence on precolonial urbanization is limited.

For the colonial, and to a lesser extent postcolonial, periods—though their urban coverage can be patchy—national archives in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, and Nairobi contain the most extensive documentation relating to East African towns. Documentation of Ugandan towns in the national archive at Entebbe is sketchier, though for Kampala, Lukiiko (Buganda parliament) files may offer a useful additional source. In line with initial policy that tended to ignore African urbanization, official records from the early (pre-1940) colonial period are somewhat scarce. The last two decades of colonial rule are better represented. Alongside accessions explicitly documenting official activity in specific towns (including annual district reports), those relating to labor issues, housing, social welfare, health, courts, and policing all contain valuable data relating to urban centers. These colonial documents are both duplicated and embellished in surviving metropolitan records held at the Public Records Office in London—particularly illuminating for the official view on urbanization, but also containing valuable detailed information on East African towns arising from breakdowns of urban order, such as strikes or riots. Rhodes House at Oxford, and to a lesser extent the Cambridge Studies Centre at Cambridge, also house useful colonial documentation.

Newspapers—both English medium and vernacular—represent an important source for historians of urban East Africa, and are accessible in collections in Europe and North America, as well as in East Africa. This is especially true for the postcolonial period when an expansion and diversification of publications (colonial papers, English and vernacular, overwhelmingly reflected official or settler viewpoints, though there were some exceptions) help compensate, at least partially, for a concurrent decline in surviving official documentation held in national archives. Gray literature produced by nongovernmental organizations active in urban centers, in addition to research conducted at local universities and other academic institutions (most notably the Makerere Institute of Social Research, which had a pioneering interest in urbanization dating back to the late colonial period) are also a rich source of data for early postcolonial urban East Africa.

Further Reading

Bissell, William Cunningham. Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Brennan, James R. Taifa: Making Nation and Race in Urban Tanzania. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Brennan, James R., Andrew Burton, and Yusuf Q. Lawi, eds. Dar es Salaam: Histories from an Emerging African Metropolis. Oxford and Dar es Salaam: Africa Books Collective/Mkuki na Nyota, 2007.Find this resource:

Burton, Andrew. African underclass: Urbanisation, Crime and Colonial Order in Dar es Salaam. Oxford: James Currey, 2005.Find this resource:

Burton, Andrew. “The Haven of Peace Purged: Tackling the ‘Undesirable’ and ‘Unproductive’ Poor in Dar es Salaam, ca. 1950s–1980s.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 40.1 (2007): 119–151.Find this resource:

Burton, Andrew, ed. The Urban Experience in Eastern Africa c. 1750–2000. Nairobi; BIEA, 2002. – also published as a special issue of Azania XXXVI–XXXVII (2001–2) [Note: Information on the Azania edition should be left in as it may be more accessible for people consulting the encyclopedia. The book edition was more widely distributed in East Africa than in Europe or North America]Find this resource:

Cooper, Frederick. On the African Waterfront: Urban Disorder and the Transformation of Work in Colonial Mombasa, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.Find this resource:

Cooper, Frederick. “Urban Space, Industrial Time and Wage Labor in Africa.” In Struggle for the City. Edited by Frederick Cooper, 7–50. Beverley Hills, CA: SAGE, 1983.Find this resource:

Fair, Laura. Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community and Identity in Post-abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890–1945. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Gutkind, P. C. W. The Royal Capital of Buganda: A Study of Internal Conflict and External Ambiguity. The Hague: Mouton, 1963.Find this resource:

Hake, Andrew. African Metropolis: Nairobi’s Self-Help City. London: Chatto & Windus, 1977.Find this resource:

Horton, Mark, and John Middleton. The Swahili: The Social Landscape of a Mercantile Society. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.Find this resource:

Ivaska, Andrew. Cultured States: Youth, Gender and Modern Style in 1960s Dar es Salaam. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Kusimba, C. M. The Rise and Fall of the Swahili States. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira, 1999.Find this resource:

Robertson, Claire C. Trouble Showed the Way: Women, Men and Trade in the Nairobi Area, 1890–1990. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Sabot, R. H. Economic Development and Urban Migration: Tanzania 1900–1971. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978.Find this resource:

Sheriff, Abdul. Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770–1873. London: James Currey, 1987.Find this resource:

Sheriff, Abdul, ed. The History and Conservation of Zanzibar Stonetown. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Southall, Aidan, and P. C. W. Gutkind. Townsmen in the Making: Kampala and Its Suburbs. Kampala: EAISR, 1957.Find this resource:

Stren, Richard E. Housing the Urban Poor in Africa: Policy, Politics and Bureaucracy in Africa. Berkeley, CA: Institute of International Studies, 1978.Find this resource:

Tripp, Aili Marie. Changing the Rules: The Politics of Liberalization and the Urban Informal Economy in Tanzania. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.Find this resource:

White, Luise. The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Willis, Justin. Mombasa, the Swahili, and the Making of the Mijikenda. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Wynne-Jones, Stephanie, and Jeffrey Fleisher. “Swahili Urban Spaces of the Eastern African Coast.” In Making Ancient Cities: Space and Place in Early Urban Societies. Edited by Andrew T. Creekmore and Kevin D. Fisher, 111–144. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014.Find this resource:


(1.) This section draws on an important body of archaeological work on early Swahili civilization that includes Neville Chittick, Kilwa: An Islamic Trading City on the East African Coast, 2 vols (London and Nairobi: BIEA, 1974); Chittick, Manda: Excavations at an Island Port on the Kenyan Coast (London and Nairobi: BIEA, 1984); Felix Chami, The Tanzanian Coast in the First Millennium AD (Uppsala: Societas Archaeological Upsaliensis, 1994); and Mark Horton, Shanga: The Archaeology of a Muslim Trading Community on the Coast of East Africa (London and Nairobi: BIEA, 1996). Useful surveys can be found in C. M. Kusimba, The Rise and Fall of the Swahili States (Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira, 1999); and chapter 6 of Graham Connah, African Civilizations: An Archaeological Perspective (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 181–222. See also John Middleton, The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilisation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994); Mark Horton and John Middleton, The Swahili: The Social Landscape of a Mercantile Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000); Randall L. Pouwels, Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast 800–1900 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987); and James De Vere Allen, Swahili Origins (London: James Currey, 1993).

(2.) See, e.g., Horton, Shanga; Derek Nurse and Thomas Spear, The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and Language of an African Society, 800–1500 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985); and Thomas Spear, “Early Swahili history Reconsidered,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 33.2 (2000): 257–290.

(3.) The following section is based on Kusimba, Rise and Fall of the Swahili States; Middleton, World of the Swahili; Pouwels, Horn and Crescent; De Vere Allen, Swahili Origins; Justus Strandes, The Portuguese Period in East Africa (Nairobi: Kenya Literature Bureau, 1961), which is a reprint of the 1899 book; G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, The Medieval History of the Coast of Tanganyika (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962); and Michael N. Pearson, Ports, Cities, Intruders: The Swahili Coast, India, and Portugal in the Early Modern Era (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).

(4.) Connah, African Civilizations, 214.

(5.) J. E. G. Sutton, Archaeological Sites of East Africa: Four Studies (Nairobi: British Institute in Eastern Africa,1998), 51.

(6.) See Connah, African Civilizations, chapter 7, 223–262; and Thomas N. Huffman, Snakes and Crocodiles: Power and Symbolism in Ancient Zimbabwe (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1996), 20.

(7.) Steven Feierman, Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 51 ff.

(8.) See, e.g., C. S. Nichols, The Swahili Coast: Politics, Diplomacy and Trade on the East African Littoral (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1971); Abdul Sheriff, Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy 1770–1873 (London: James Currey, 1987); and Ralph Austen, African Economic history (London: James Currey, 1987), chapter 3.

(9.) The classic account is Sheriff, Slaves, Spices and Ivory.

(10.) For Zanzibar Stonetown, see The History and Conservation of Zanzibar Stonetown, ed. Abdul Sheriff (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press 1995).

(11.) For Pangani, see Jonathon Glassman, Feasts and Riot: Revelry, Rebellion, and Popular Consciousness on the Swahili Coast, 1856–1888 (Portsmouth, NH: Heineman, 1995). 58 ff.; for Bagamoyo, Walter T. Brown, “Bagamoyo: An Historical Introduction,” in Tanzania Notes and Records 71 (1970): 74–75; for Kilwa, Nichols, Swahili Coast, 36 ff.; for Tabora, Henry M. Stanley, How I Found Livingstone (London: Low, Marston, Low & Searle, 1872), 193; and for Ujiji, Stanley, Through the Dark Continent (London: Sampson Low, 1890), 326–328.

(12.) For defensive urbanization in 19th-century East Africa, see Andrew Burton, “Urbanisation in Eastern Africa: An Historical Overview, c. 1750–2000,” in The Urban Experience in Eastern Africa c. 1750–2000, ed. Andrew Burton (Nairobi: BIEA, 2002), 1–28; also published as a special issue of Azania 36–37 (2001–2002), 14. [The book ‘The urban experience’ was simultaneously published as a special issue of the journal Azania. The former went on general sale, the latter went to subscribers of Azania. The only difference was the binding. Therefore the page reference applies to both.]

(13.) Feierman, Peasant Intellectuals, 112 ff.

(14.) P. C. W. Gutkind, The Royal Capital of Buganda: A Study of Internal Conflict and External Ambiguity (The Hague: Mouton, 1963); Richard Reid and Henri Médard, “Merchants, Missions and the Urban Environment in Buganda,” in Africa’s Urban Past, eds. David M. Anderson and Richard Rathbone (Oxford: James Currey, 2000), 98–108; and Roland Fletcher, “African Urbanism: Scale, Mobility and Transformations,” in Transformations in Africa: Essays on Africa’s Later Past, ed. Graham Connah (London: Leicester University Press, 1998), 104–138.

(15.) Though European ambitions to order. African towns were invariably undermined by local circumstances. For the shortcomings of colonial planning in Zanzibar, see William Cunningham Bissell, Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010).

(16.) See James R. Brennan and Andrew Burton, “The Emerging Metropolis: A History of Dar es Salaam, ca. 1862–2000,” chapter 1 in Dar es Salaam: Histories from an Emerging African Metropolis, eds. James R. Brennan, Andrew Burton, and Yusuf Q. Lawi (Oxford and Dar es Salaam: Africa Books Collective/Mkuki na Nyota, 2007), 13–75.

(17.) Terry Hirst and Davinder Lamba, The Struggle for Nairobi (Nairobi: Mazingira Institute, 1994), offers a good, and accessible, overview of the city’s history.

(18.) For the Kibuga, see Gutkind, Royal Capital of Buganda; and for Kampala, Aidan Southall and P. C. W. Gutkind, Townsmen in the Making: Kampala and Its Suburbs (Kampala: EAISR, 1957).

(19.) Dar es Salaam District Annual Report for 1930, p. 24, Tanzania National Archive accession no. 54.

(20.) For an extended discussion, see James R. Brennan, Taifa: Making Nation and Race in Urban Tanzania (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2012).

(21.) Ibid.; for intercommunal riots in colonial Dar es Salaam, see Andrew Burton, African Underclass: Urbanisation, Crime and Colonial Order in Dar es Salaam (Oxford: James Currey, 2005), 179–181.

(22.) For an influential discussion of colonial urban space, see Frederick Cooper, “Urban Space, Industrial Time and Wage Labour in Africa,” in Struggle for the City, ed. Frederick Cooper (Beverley Hills, CA: Sage, 1983), 7–50; for anxiety over the African urban presence in British period Dar es Salaam, see Burton, African Underclass, especially chapter 9, 164–190; for medically related segregation in colonial Africa and Nairobi, see, respectively, Philip Curtin, “Medical Knowledge and Urban Planning in Tropical Africa,” American Historical Review 90:3 (1985) 594–613; and Milcah Amolo Achola, “Colonial Policy and Urban Health: The Case of Colonial Nairobi,” in Urban Experience, 119–137.

(23.) For a regional discussion of colonial antipathy toward African urbanization, see Burton, African Underclass, chapter 1, 17–42.

(24.) For the Belgian Congo, see Valdo Pons, Stanleyville: An Urban African Community under Belgian Administration (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969). The phrase “laboratories of modernity” is from A. L. Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995).

(25.) See especially the work of Frederick Cooper, notably On the African Waterfront: Urban Disorder and the Transformation of Work in Colonial Mombasa (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987); and Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

(26.) For women and youth in colonial urban East Africa, see, e.g., Luise White, The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1990); Andrew Ivaska, Cultured States: Youth, Gender and Modern Style in 1960s Dar es Salaam (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); and Andrew Burton, “Urchins, Loafers and the Cult of the Cowboy: Urbanisation and Delinquency in Dar es Salaam, 1919–61,” Journal of African History 42 (2011): 199–216.

(27.) Best documented in Dar es Salaam. See John Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1979); and Brennan, Taifa; James R. Brennan and Andrew Burton, “Introduction,” in Dar es Salaam: Histories from an Emerging African Metropolis, eds. James R. Brennan, Andrew Burton, and Yusuf Q. Lawi, 1–11 (Oxford and Dar es Salaam: Africa Books Collective/Mkuki na Nyota, 2007), 5–6.

(28.) See e.g., Justin Willis, Mombasa, the Swahili, and the Making of the Mijikenda (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

(29.) See, e.g., for Nairobi, White, Comforts of Home; Janet Bujra, “Women ‘Entrepreneurs’ of Early Nairobi,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 9.2 (1975): 213–234; Claire C. Robertson, Trouble Showed the Way: Women, Men and Trade in the Nairobi Area, 1890 to 1990 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997). For Mombasa, Margaret Strobel, Muslim Women in Mombasa 1890–1975 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979). For Dar es Salaam, Ivaska, Cultured States; Brennan, Taifa, 111–112; and Marjorie Mbilinyi, “This Is an Unforgettable Business: Colonial State Intervention in Tanzania,” in Women and the State in Africa, eds. J. L. Parpart and K. A. Staudt (Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner, 1987), 111–129.

(30.) See, e.g., Burton, “Urchins”; Ivaska, Cultured States; Thomas Burgess, “Cinema, Bell-Bottoms, and Mini-Skirts: Struggles over Youth and Citizenship in Revolutionary Zanzibar,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 35.2 (2002): 287–313; and Paul Ocobock, “‘Joy Rides for Juveniles’: Vagrant Youth and Colonial Control in Nairobi, Kenya, 1901–52,” Social History 31.1 (2006): 39–59.

(31.) See, e.g., Burton, African Underclass: 58–59, 235–238.

(32.) For a regional survey, see ibid., 29–31.

(33.) J. R. Harris and M. P. Todaro, “Urban Unemployment in East Africa: An Economic Analysis of Policy Alternatives,” East African Economic Review 4 (1968): 17–36; and J. Gugler, “On the Theory of Rural–Urban Migration: The Case of Subsaharan Africa,” in Migration, ed. J. A. Jackson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 134–156; R. H. Sabot, Economic Development and Urban Migration: Tanzania 1900–1971 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978); and Anthony O’Connor, The African City (London: Hutchinson, 1986), 74–78.

(34.) See, e.g., UK Government, East African Royal Commission 1953–55 Report (London: HMSO, 1955); Kenya Colony, Report of the Committee on African Wages (Nairobi: Government Printer, 1954); M. J. B. Molohan, Detribalization (Dar es Salaam: Government Printer, 1959). For a survey of late colonial initiatives in Dar es Salaam, see Andrew Burton, “Townsmen in the Making: Social Engineering and Citizenship in Dar es Salaam, c. 1945–60,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 36.2 (2003): 331–365; for Nairobi, see Bodil Frederiksen, “Making Popular Culture from Above: Leisure in Nairobi, 1940–60,” in Collected Seminar Papers, ed. L. Gunner (London: Institute of Commonwealth Studies, 1992), 68–82; and for Jinja, Andrew Byerley, Becoming Jinja: The Production of Space and Making of Place in an African Industrial Town (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2005).

(35.) For Nairobi, see A. G. Dalgleish, Survey of Unemployment (Nairobi: Government Printer, 1960); for Tanganyika, Andrew Burton, “Raw Youth, School Leavers and the Emergence of Structural Unemployment in Late-Colonial Urban Tanganyika,” Journal of African History 47 (2006): 363–387 (this article was reprinted in Generations Past: Youth in East African History, eds. Andrew Burton and Hélène Charton [Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010], 108–134).

(36.) For Nairobi, see David Throup, The Social and Economic Origins of Mau Mau (London: James Currey, 1987); and for Dar es Salaam, Burton, African Underclass.

(37.) In the late 1960s, just 3 percent of Nairobi’s inhabitants had been born in the city. R. M. A. Van Zwanenberg and Anne King, An Economic History of Kenya and Uganda 1870–1970 (London: Macmillan, 1975), 269. For a compelling account of—among other things—the emergence of urban classes in Kikuyu society and their links to rural society, see John Lonsdale, “The Moral Economy of Mau Mau: Wealth, Poverty and Civic Virtue in Kikuyu Political Thought,” Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa, Book Two: Violence and Ethnicity (London: James Currey, 1992), 315–504.

(38.) See Burton, “Urbanisation in Eastern Africa,” 22–23.

(39.) White, Comforts of Home, 57–58. A 1938 survey of Nairobi puts the ratio at 8 to 1, which White considers exaggerated. Janet Bujra puts it at 6 to 1 in 1932. White herself considers 4–5 to 1 as being closer to the truth.

(40.) 1931 Dar es Salaam District Annual Report (Tanzania National Archive); United Republic of Tanzania, 1978 Population Census Report (Dar es Salaam: Bureau of Statistics, 1982), Table 6; ibid., Women and Men in Tanzania (Dar es Salaam: Bureau of Statistics, 1997), 1; and John Campbell, “Conceptualizing Gender Relations and Household in Urban Tanazania,” in Gender, Family and Household in Tanzania, eds. Colin Creighton and C. K. Omari (Aldershot: Avebury, 1995) 183.

(41.) For a discussion of the changing position of women in the urban workplace in early postcolonial Dar es Salaam, see Andrew M. Ivaska, “In the ‘Age of Minis’: Women, Work and Masculinity Downtown,” in Dar es Salaam, 213–231. See also Ivaska, Cultured States; and Brennan, Taifa, 172.

(42.) For an early regional survey, see Kenneth Little, African Women in Towns: An Aspect of Africa’s Locial Revolution (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973).

(43.) For late colonial housing initiatives in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, see, e.g., David M. Anderson, “Corruption at City Hall: African Housing and Urban Development in Colonial Nairobi,” in Urban Experience, 138–154; and Burton, African Underclass, 205–213.

(44.) For a discussion of the social geography of postcolonial Dar es Salaam, see Brennan and Burton, “Introduction,” in Dar es Salaam, 54–55.

(45.) For Nairobi, see Andrew Hake, African Metropolis: Nairobi’s Self-Help City (London: Chatto & Windus, 1977); and for Dar es Salaam, Andrew Burton, “The Haven of Peace Purged: Tackling the ‘Undesirable’ and ‘Unproductive’ Poor in Dar es Salaam, ca.1950s–1980s,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 40.1 (2007): 119–151.

(46.) For the growth of the informal economies of colonial Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, see, respectively, Robertson, Trouble Showed the Way, and Burton, African Underclass, chapter 8, 153–63. For postcolonial Kenya, see Kenneth King, Jua Kali Kenya: Change and Development in an Informal Economy, 1970–95 (Oxford: James Currey, 1996). For the emergence of unplanned settlements in colonial Nairobi, see Hake, African Metropolis, and Anderson, “Corruption at City Hall.”

(47.) For transformations in Nairobi’s informal sector, see King, Jua Kali Kenya.

(48.) Robertson, Trouble Showed the Way, p. 146.

(49.) Central Bureau of Statistics, Economic Survey 1997 (Nairobi: Government Printer, 1997), 66 and 73.

(50.) See Aili Marie Tripp, Changing the Rules: The Politics of Liberalization and the Urban Informal Economy in Tanzania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

(51.) The best body of work on urban housing remains that of Richard E. Stren—see “Evolution of Housing Policy in Kenya,” in Urban Challenge in East Africa, ed. John Hutton (Nairobi: EAPH, 1972); Urban Inequality and Housing Policy in Tanzania: The Problem of Squatting (Berkeley, CA: Institute of International Studies, 1975); and especially Housing the Urban Poor in Africa: Policy, Politics and Bureaucracy in Mombasa (Berkeley, CA: Institute of International Studies, 1978). For Nairobi, Hake, African Metropolis is very useful. For Dar es Salaam, see especially J. M. L. Kironde, “The Evolution of Land Use Structure of Dar es Salaam 1890–1990: A Study in the Effects of Land Policy,” Ph.D. diss., University of Nairobi, 1994. For Kampala, see Shuaib Lwasa, Urban Land Markets, Housing Development and Spatial Planning in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Case of Uganda (Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science, 2009).

(52.) See referenced works in note 1, and for Kirkman, James S. Kirkman, Men and Monuments of the East African Coast (London: Lutterworth, 1964). For a useful recent survey, see Stephanie Wynne-Jones and Jeffrey Fleisher, “Swahili Urban Spaces of the Eastern African Coast,” in Making Ancient Cities: Space and Place in Early Urban Societies, eds. Andrew T. Creekmore and Keven D. Fisher (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 111–144.

(53.) Ibn Battuta visited Kilwa and Sofala in 1331. The Greek Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, from c. 100 ce, predates Battuta but provides negligible detail on “Azanian” towns, as does the 9th-century account of the Chinese explorer Tuan Ch’eng-shih.

(54.) When Justus Strandes completed Die Portugiresenzeit von Deutsch- und Englisch- Ostafrika—translated later and published as Strandes, Portuguese Period.

(55.) L. B. W. Hollingsworth, A Short History of the Coast of East Africa (London: Macmillam, 1929); and Reginald Coupland, East Africa and Its Invaders: From the Earliest Times to the Death of Seyyid Said in 1856 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938).

(56.) See, e.g., Nurse and Spear, The Swahili; De Vere Allen, Swahili Origins; and Wynne-Jones and Fleisher, “Swahili Urban Spaces.”

(57.) See referenced works in note 3; and for a detailed bibliography, Thomas Spear, “Swahili History and Society to 1900: A Classified Bibliography,” History in Africa 27 (2000): 339–373.

(58.) For Zanzibar see Sheriff, The History and Conservation of Zanzibar Stonetown; for Bagamoyo, see Walter T. Brown, “Bagamoyo: An Historical Introduction,” Tanzania Notes and Records 71 (1970): 69–83; and Norman R. Bennett, A History of the Arab State of Zanzibar (London: Methuen, 1978); for Pangani, see Glassman, Feasts and Riot.

(59.) See, e.g., W. S. W. Ruschenberger, Narrative of a Voyage Around the World in 1835, 1836 & 1837, 2 vols. (London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1970), which is a reprint of an 1838 book; J. H. Speke, Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile (Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1863); Richard F. Burton, Zanzibar: City, Island and Coast (London: Tinsley Brothers, 1872); and Stanley, How I Found Livingstone and Through the Dark Continent.

(60.) Important official reports include the regional East Africa Royal Commission 1953–55 Report: Report of the Committee on African Wages; Molohan, Detribalisation. Important social surveys include R. and C. Sofer, Jinja Transformed (Kampala: EAISR, 1955); Aidan Southall and P. C. W. Gutkind, Townsmen in the Making: Kampala and Its Suburbs (Kampala: EAISR, 1957); J. A. K. Leslie, A Survey of Dar es Salaam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), first produced for the Tanganyikan government in 1957; and Godfrey Wilson, Mombasa Social Survey (Nairobi: Government Printer, 1958).

(61.) Anderson and Rathbone, Africa’s Urban Past, 10. The manner in which East African towns were crucibles of modernization (closely associated with urbanization), and the tensions arising from this process, has now become an enduring theme of regional historiography.

(62.) See, e.g., Karim K. Janmohamed, “African Labourers in Mombasa, c. 1895–1940,” in Economic and Social History of East Africa, ed. Bethwell A. Ogot, 156–179 (Nairobi: EAPH, 1976); and especially John Iliffe, “A History of the Dockworkers of Dar es Salaam,” in “Dar es Salaam: City, Port and Region”, ed. John Sutton, special edition of Tanzania Notes and Records 71 (1970): 119–148; Iliffe, “Wage Labour and Urbanization,” in Tanzania under Colonial Rule, ed. M. H. Y. Kaniki (London: Longman, 1979), 276–306; and Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), chapter 12, 381–404, which in addition to a history of labor contains an early consideration of Tanzania’s colonial urban history.

(63.) Cooper, On the African Waterfront; see also his “Urban Space” and Decolonization.

(64.) See, in particular, Burton, African Underclass and “The Haven of Peace Purged.” Chapter 1 of African Underclass, 17–42 provides a useful survey of urbanization and urban policy in colonial East Africa (and further afield).

(65.) Bissell, Urban Design.

(66.) Justin Willis, Mombasa; Laura Fair, Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community and Identity in Post-Abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890–1945 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2001); and Brennan, Taifa.

(67.) Strobel, Muslim Women; White, Comforts of Home; Robertson, Trouble Showed the Way; Ivaska, Cultured States. See also Bodil Frederiksen, “African Women and Their Colonisation of Nairobi: Represenretations and Realities,” in The Urban Experience in Eastern Africa c. 1750–2000, ed. Andrew Burton (Nairobi: BIEA, 2002), 223–234; Emily Callaci, “Dancehall Politics: Mobility, Sexuality, and Spectacles of Racial Respectability in Late Colonial Tanganyika, 1930s–1961,” Journal of African History 52.3 (2011): 365–384; and Fair, Pastimes and Politics; and other works cited in note 26.

(68.) See, e.g., Burton, “Urchins” and African Underclass; Burgess, “Cinema, Bell-Bottoms”; Ivaska, Cultured States; James Brennan, “Youth, the TANU Youth League and Managed Vigilantism in Dar es Salaam, 1925–73,” in Generations Past: Youth in East African History, eds. Andrew Burton and Hélène Charton (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010), 196–220; and Callaci, “Dancehall Politics.”

(69.) The pioneering early work, though with a regional rather than a specifically urban focus, was T. O. Ranger, Dance and Society in Eastern Africa, 1890–1970: The Beni Ngoma (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975). Recent histories of urban popular culture include Fair, Pastimes and Politics; Burgess, “Cinema, Bell-Bottoms”; E. S. Atieno Odhiambo, “Kula Raha: Gendered Discourses and the Contours of Leisure in Nairobi, 1946–63,” in The Urban Experience in Eastern Africa c. 1750–2000, ed. Andrew Burton (Nairobi: BIEA, 2002), 254–264; chapters by Werner Graebner, Tadasu Tsuruta, Stephen Hill, and Alex Perullo on music and football culture in Brennan, Burton, and Lawi, Dar es Salaam; Ivaska, Cultured States; and Callaci, “Dancehall Politics.”

(70.) Zanzibar represents a partial exception.