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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 October 2011


The formal labour markets and economies of many cities in sub-Saharan Africa have been very weak for decades and this has led to significant adaptations in the nature of the livelihoods of most urban households. The lack of formal and reasonably paid jobs has also had a strong impact on population growth in cities, although this is often not recognized. This article reviews some of these trends and illustrates them with case study material from Harare, Zimbabwe. There, many urban residents have increasingly struggled to get by and their perceptions of the city and their future within it show a strong negative trend. Links to rural areas and the possibility of making livelihoods there in the future have become more important. These adaptations build on the long history of rural–urban linkages in sub-Saharan Africa but contemporary practices, including patterns of circular migration, are influenced by the harsh realities of African urban economies. The decisions and future plans of some migrants may not, therefore, fit with their aspirations – and the degree and nature of this mismatch are influenced by factors such as gender, age and position in the urban household, and links to rural areas. It is suggested that it helps to analyse the consequent migration patterns in terms of a framework in which migrants’ decisions to stay in the city or leave it are conceptualized as either willing or reluctant.


Dans beaucoup de villes d'Afrique sub-saharienne, la grande faiblesse des économies et marchés du travail formels depuis des décennies s'est traduite par des adaptations importantes quant à la nature de la subsistance de la plupart des ménages urbains. La pénurie d'emplois formels correctement rémunérés a également eu un impact considérable sur la croissance démographique dans les villes, même si celui-ci est souvent non reconnu. Cet article examine certaines de ces tendances en les illustrant par une étude de cas menée à Harare (Zimbabwe). De nombreux résidents urbains y ont de plus en plus de mal à s'en sortir et leurs perceptions de la ville et de leur avenir au sein de la ville affichent une forte tendance négative. Les liens avec les zones rurales et la possibilité d'y gagner sa vie à l'avenir ont vu leur importance croître. Ces adaptations s'inscrivent dans la longue histoire des liens ruro-urbains en Afrique sub-saharienne mais les pratiques contemporaines, y compris les schémas de migration circulaire, sont influencées par les dures réalités des économies urbaines africaines. Les décisions et les projets d'avenir de certains migrants peuvent donc ne pas correspondre à leurs aspirations, et le degré et la nature de ce décalage sont influencés par des facteurs comme le sexe, l’âge et la place de la personne dans le ménage urbain, ainsi que les liens avec des zones rurales. L'article suggère qu'il est utile d'analyser les schémas de migration qui en résultent en termes de cadre au sein duquel les décisions des migrants de rester dans la ville ou de la quitter sont conceptualisées comme étant prises de bon gré ou à contrecœur.

Research Article
Africa , Volume 81 , Issue 4 , November 2011 , pp. 588 - 605
Copyright © International African Institute 2011

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