Urbanisation in Fragile Societies: Thinking about Kabul

Once a year the Blavatnik School of Government holds a conference on 'Challenges of Government' providing academics, government and private sector representatives with opportunities to discuss policies and strategies for some of the world’s toughest challenges. At last year’s conference (2019) the 'Cities that Work'-Team of the 'International Growth Centre' convened a panel to examine urbanization dynamics in conflict affected settings such as Kabul. During the session it was demonstrated that creating a common identity to increase compliance with public policies in urban settings presents a challenge to fragile societies.

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Kabul serves as a perfect example for a fast-growing city in a fragile society. Over the past few decades its population size has increased from 500,000 inhabitants in 2001 to over 5 Million inhabitants today.

In 1979, political upheaval required Kabul’s elite to leave the capital. Following their departure, the cities social landscape changed remarkably, in particularly due to the large influx of people from rural regions over the years. After 2001 however, Kabul’s former elite partially returned to the city. Since then they have promoted a certain nostalgia for the years preceding 1979, rejecting citizens with rural backgrounds and not recognizing them as ‘real Kabulis’. Moreover, most Kabulis live in areas with people from a similar ethnic background, adding even more to the social fragmentation of the city.

According to the ‘Cities That Work’ Team it is this absence of social cohesion that deepens the lack of trust of Kabul’s citizens in their government, as these conditions make it even more difficult to find common ground concerning the design of public policies.

To address these issues, the 'Cities That Work'-Team suggests implementing rather small-scale projects focused on local engagement. Through short-term successes these projects can increase the population’s satisfaction and trust in the performance of their government. In turn it is believed that citizens will adhere more with public policies. In conclusion the ‘Cities that Work’-Team stresses that citizens expectations need to be managed realistically in order to establish stable governance structures over time.

Find more information here.