Global South’s Rising Megacities Challenge Idea of Urban Living

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


The world crossed the threshold from being a majority rural world to a majority urban one at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. The reason for this is the fast-growing urban areas of the global South. And this is having a profound affect on how the world’s people live.

Across the global South, there are many examples of unchecked growth leading to squalor and poor housing conditions, and in turn to poor health and high rates of crime and disorder. Yet, the urbanization happening today across the global South is unprecedented for both its speed and its scale.

And, unlike previous surges in urbanization, it is this quality that is far more challenging for governments and policymakers.

Many countries and regions are experiencing highly stressed environmental conditions, with poor access to water and rising air pollution damaging human health, for example. But on the other side, there is also unprecedented change in technology and communications taking place. Every year, more and more of the world’s population gain access to 21st century communications such as smart phones and the Internet or ‘apps’ (applications), allowing the exchange of solutions and ideas at a rapid pace.

Many are weighing up the benefits and downsides of such an urban, dense world. Denser cities make it easier and more efficient to deliver services, and proponents see a rapid rise in living standards in these megacities. Others see wide-scale poverty and vicious fights over resources in crime-ridden, unhealthy packed megacities. These pessimists point to current conditions in many megacities across the global South.

No matter what perspective, many agree there has to be a cultural change in how people live and behave to make the megacities work.

The contrasting approaches taken by two giants of the global South – India and China – provides lessons and ideas.

The first big push from rural to urban took place in Europe in the 19th century. In 1800, just three per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. All the cities now seen as cosmopolitan hubs of economic and creative energy were just shadows of themselves prior to the 19th-century industrial revolution.

Lessons were learned from hard experience and one of the most important lessons was this: if a city is to grow – and grow quickly – then it must plan for this growth and put the well-being of people at the centre of this plan. This is critical to ensure public health is improved and that the transition to more dense living conditions improves human well-being, rather than making it worse.

A megacity is a city with a population greater than 10 million people ( The number of such cities will double over the next 10 to 20 years and many of these cities are in south and east Asia. By 2025, seven of the world’s top 10 megacities will be in Asia. Whole new cities are rising up that most people across the world have never heard about – yet.

One of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in the world is China. At the beginning of 2012, Chinese authorities announced the country was now a majority urban place, with most citizens living in cities. This population of 690.79 million people outpaced the rural population of 656.56 million people.

China is exploring a variety of solutions to making high-density city living work. Some of these solutions include creating multiplexes containing modern shopping, leisure, recreational and housing in one location. One example of this is The New Century Global Centre ( in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. It is being called the world’s largest standalone complex. Chengdu is now a city of 14 million people and projected to be heading to 20 million people.

It includes design by noted Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (

There are 1.5 million square metres of floor plans, two 1,000-room five-star hotels, an ice-skating rink, a 20,000 capacity marine park with 400 meters of artificial coastline and 5,000 square metres of artificial beach, including hot springs.

In contrast, the more chaotic and unplanned approach taken in India – also a country experiencing rapid growth in its cities – has come under intense criticism. Dr Rumi Aijaz of the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation ( told The Guardian that Indian infrastructure improvements will be difficult to achieve: “Our urban areas are in a raw form.

All the basics are at a very low level. And the Indian state has been trying for a very long time to address this but a lack of capacity and endemic corruption has meant not much success.”

In 2001, India had 290 million people living in cities. By 2008, this reached 340 million. It is predicted this will reach 590 million people – 40 per cent of the population – by 2030. McKinsey and Company ( believe by 2030 India will have 68 cities of more than one million people, 13 will have four million people and six megacities will be greater than 10 million people.

India faces an urban infrastructure crisis of epic proportions, McKinsey believes. Many millions will not have access to clean drinking water, adequate sewage, and will have to cope with poor transport.

China, on the other hand, has invested seven times more in urban infrastructure than India. And one example of how this investment pays off is Chengdu.

The fast-growing city of Chengdu’s mayor is trying to manage growth directly through the city’s policies. This involves managing the push and pull incentives driving people to cities and lifting the standard of living in the surrounding countryside.

Chengdu’s mayor Ge Honglin told The Guardian: “The first thing I did was to improve the conditions – schools, shops, garbage collection, the sewage system. We had to cut the gap between rural and urban areas. If people could have a brighter future in the countryside, they’d stay there. So we’re not seeing people swarm into the city= Instead there are people in the city considering moving to the country.”

“Chengdu is the only super-large central city that has narrowed the urbanrural income gap alongside rapid economic growth in China,” Ge said.

Hundreds of schools have been built surrounding Chengdu and partnerships made between rural and urban schools to help raise standards.

Chengdu is also pioneering new ways to address urban squalor with new information technologies. Patrols use mobile phones and cameras to document broken infrastructure and health and safety problems, and to locate and assist the homeless.

“You can barely see a begger in Chengdu,” said Gu. “We have a special system for monitoring them, and it works. Beggars are taken to the assistance centre, where they are given food and shelter and money to take them back to their home. If I say there are no more than 10 beggars on the street you will think there’s some sort of tyranny, but there isn’t. We’re trying to solve their problems.”


1) Endless City and Living in the Endless City: LSE Cities is an international centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science that carries out research, education and outreach activities in London and abroad. Its mission is to study how people and cities interact in a rapidly urbanizing world, focussing on how the design of cities impacts on society, culture and the environment. Website:

2) Planet of Slums by Mike Davis: According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. Website:

3) An infographic from The Guardian newspaper showing the rise of the megacity in world history. Website:

4) Arrival City by Doug Saunders: A third of humanity is on the move. History’s largest migration is creating new urban spaces that are this century’s focal points of conflict and change — unseen districts of rapid transformation and febrile activity that will reshape our cities and reconfigure our economies.Website:

5) Global Urbanist: The Global Urbanist is an online magazine reviewing urban affairs and urban development issues in cities throughout the developed and developing world. Website:

6) The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age by Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit. Website:

7) Rise of the Asian Megacity: Website:

8) Capitals of the Connected World: Mapping the New Global Power Structure. Website:

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Ring Tones and Mobile Phone Downloads are Generating Income for Local Musicians in Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


African musicians hoping to support themselves through their recordings have always had to contend with the added burden of poor copyright control over their work. While musicians in the West are supported by a highly regulated regime of copyright protection – ensuring some to become the richest people in their respective countries – most African musicians have had to stand back and watch their work being copied, sold and exchanged with little chance of seeing any royalties. Global audiences know of the success of artists like Fela Kuti, Youssou N’Dour, Manu Dibango and Miriam Makeba, but most African musicians can look forward to scant earnings from recording their music.

Anyone who has walked through the markets of Africa will know there are plenty of pirated CDs for sale, yet it is of no use to a musician who never sees the money. Poverty is endemic amongst African musicians as a result of this loss of income. While music is a global business worth US $40 billion according to the Recording Industry Association of America, pirated music in Africa is rampant – some estimates by the Recording Industry of South Africa put it at over 80 percent of available music. How much money is being lost can be judged from the estimated daily income of a pirate music vendor in Africa, ranging between Euro 762 and Euro 2,744.

But a solution to this problem is being pioneered in Botswana in southern Africa. A partnership between mobile phone provider Orange Botswana and Small House Records/Mud Hut Studios, ensures musicians get a slice of the profit pie. Managing director Solomon Monyame of Small House Records has signed a contract with Orange to share the profits from ring tone and song downloads to mobile phone subscribers. With more than 76.8 million people currently subscribing to mobile phone services in Africa, and the number growing by about 58 percent each year for the last five years, the potential royalties market for African musicians is vast if this initiative is replicated across the continent.

In the paper “Development Goes Wireless” to be published in the spring 2007 issue of the journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs, lead researcher Karol Boudreaux of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center and Enterprise Africa!, discovered mobile phones and mobile phone companies can give artists a new way to control royalties for their work. She found that in the absence of effective copyright control mechanisms – as is the case in many African countries – the mobile phone company can step in to save the day.

“When you walk through the markets there you see so much music available on the street, but there is little intellectual property rights protection,” she said.

“In other countries, like the UK, you have strong intellectual property rights protection, but this just isn’t the case in much of Africa. The mobile phones are a very good way to get around this problem as long as cell phone providers are willing to make the contracts. Botswana is very lucky in that they have a very good contract environment, but this isn’t necessarily the case in other countries. It is a win-win for music providers and mobile companies.”

The NetTel@Africa project started by USAID and the Center to Bridge the Digital Divide, in partnership with many African and US universities, is also championing copyright protection strategies.

How important creative industries are becoming to economic development is slowly being recognized. It is now seen as an important component of modern post-industrial, knowledge-based economies, but equally also a way for economically underdeveloped countries to generate wealth. Not only are they thought to account for higher than average growth and job creation, they are also vehicles of cultural identity and play an important role in fostering cultural diversity. Initiatives like UNESCO’s Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity attempt to document this phenomenon and back it up with hard numbers.

UNESCO also has a project to establish musicians’ cooperatives across Africa. As such, the musicians are able to pool their production resources, which are individually insufficient to ensure the economic viability of a small or medium-sized business. In Burkina Faso, a co-operative is working with the International Labour Organisation. Click here for more information.

Festivals like Mali’s annual Festival in the Desert in the oasis of Essakane, 65 kilometers from Timbuktu, is an example of how African musicians are finding their own way to reach audiences. Targeted above all to promote African and Malian Music inside the continent, the Festival has also boosted international tourism to the region and almost 10 percent of last year’s 6,000 visitors came from outside of Africa.

Another initiative for African musicians is the DigiArts Africa network. It was founded by UNESCO and aims to increase communication between artists, industries and educators, make musicians self-sustainable, use the ICT industries to support and contribute to cultural activities, and better promote African musicians within and outside Africa. Click here for more information.

Well-known Senegalese musician Thione Seck is blunt about the economic effect of piracy on his income.

“Were there no piracy, I could have bought an island, seeing the number of songs that I composed in more than 30 years of my career”, he told a local newspaper.

According to Abdoul Aziz Dieng, president of the Senegal Music Works Association (AMS) and Chairman of the Board of the Senegalese Copyright Office (BSDA) (, out of 10 Senegalese artists’ CDs available on the local market, “only two are legal”. For audio cassettes, the ratio is three pirate copies out of every five sold.

Opportunities to combat piracy and generate income are also not limited to just musicians. Filmmakers in Africa are starting to learn how to exploit the opportunities thrown up by the fast-expanding mobile phone networks on the continent. Already a phenomenon in South Africa (, director Aryan Kaganof is in the process of releasing SMS Sugar Man, a feature length movie shot entirely with mobile devices. The movie will be beamed to cell phones in three-minute clips over 30 days.

What are the effects of Piracy?

  • Artist
    • No royalty payments, no money to live
  • Record companies
    • No return on investments. Staff retrenchments
  • Retailers
    • Cannot compete with low prices. Staff retrenchments
  • Consumers
    • Many copies are of inferior quality. If tracks are missing or the sound quality is poor, no exchange or refunds
    • May be contributing to “organized crime” syndicates which are heavily involved in international music piracy

Source: Recording Industry of South Africa


Lively website about African musicians

BBC website on African music

Further reading from UNESCO: African music: new challenges, new vocations: Click here


© David South Consulting 2021

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Taxis Promote African Music Beats

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


South Africa’s township music is pounding its way into the global music charts. How has music made in the impoverished townships that are a hangover from decades of apartheid – the country’s former racial separation laws, which trapped millions of black South Africans in disenfranchisement and poverty – travelled around the world? By hitching a ride with the country’s ubiquitous taxi drivers.

In the age of digital downloads and rampant pirating of music CDs by bootleggers, musicians in the South face an epic struggle to earn income from their music. It’s estimated 95 percent of digital downloads of music are unauthorized, with no payment to artists and producers (

And for musicians and artists from the world’s poorest places, who are far out of sight of the mainstream music business, life is even harder. The question remains: what on earth do you do to get heard?

Many South Africans are big fans of European House, a type of dance music. An enterprising group of producers living in the townships of Pretoria started to experiment, taking the House they loved and turning it into something more reflective of where they lived. The result, dubbed Township House, blends the school-of-hard-knocks beats of South African hip-hop, Kwaito, with House music’s tempos and electronic sounds.

Being from the townships meant the musicians behind Township House were frozen out of the mainstream music industry. And as every artist knows, if you can’t get heard, then your music will go nowhere. Rejected by radio stations and big record labels, they turned to an unlikely outlet: taxis, the ubiquitous small minibuses that are the only alternative form of transportation for people who do not have a car.

They are heavily used: the University of Pretoria ( estimates between 5 and 10 million people use minibus taxis every day to get to work or get around.

“In South Africa, the easiest way to the people is through the taxis,” musician DJ Qness told CNN.

The vast network of taxis serving the country represent a captive audience of listeners. Many are simply bored as they endure lengthy commutes. The Township House producers handed out compact discs (CDs) of their tracks to taxi drivers to play. They soon had a hit on their hands. But without any presence in record stores people couldn’t buy the CDs they wanted. And a new source of income was born for taxi drivers: selling CDs from their taxi stands or roadside stalls.

With appetites whetted for Township House, it started to outsell imported dance music.

The biggest hit maker of this pioneering group was DJ Mujava, whose track Township Funk was a global dance club hit in 2008.

“These people created a demand. The Mujava’s ‘Township Funk’ blew up on the streets and everything went crazy,” said Qness, who works for record label Sheer Music.

After all this home-grown success, the record labels jumped in. DJ Mujava landed a record deal with the small label Sheer Music. But the township musicians were still just reaching a local audience. However, by putting together a low-budget video using township dancers, and by posting the video on the YouTube ( video-sharing website, they attracted the attention of British record labels Warp Records and This is Music, who re-mixed the track for clubs.

The model of using taxis as a music distribution vehicle has been copied by others. Pretoria’s Gospel Taxi Club uses the method to promote their religious music. Political parties are also using music CDs to get their message out.

Other Pretorian township successes are making waves as well. They include Bojo Mujo and Tembisa Funk by McLloyd.

“By combining the electronic sound from European House with the hard drum and the raw snare they’ve created something totally unique. You can’t find it anywhere in the world — only in South Africa,” said Qness.


DJ Mujava: Listen to all of DJ Mujava’s tracks at his website. Africa: The DigiArts Africa network is a tool to find people working in Digital Arts in Africa and to provide a collaborative working space to promote digital arts in Africa. Website: Musicians Profiles: A lively website featuring profiles of African musicians by alphabetical listing and also reviews African films. Website: www.africanmusiciansprofiles.comRecording Industry of South Africa (RiSA): RiSA is the main body representing the South African recording industry. Website: 

ISSN Portal.


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Mauritanian Music Shop Shares Songs and Friendship

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Around the world, traditional music stores selling vinyl records, tapes and CDs (compact discs) are closing down. Digital downloads distributed over the Internet and mobile phones make it unnecessary to build a music collection in these hard formats.

While this has been a revolution that has made acquiring music as simple as firing up a digital download service like iTunes, it has many downsides as well. One of them has been the loss of vast swathes of musical history, as many songs recorded in the past have not made their way into digital downloads. And how can you find music online if you only remember part of a tune or song and can’t remember its title or the musician?

The background and knowledge that was once imparted by an informed person in a music store has been lost in the world of digital downloads.

A Mauritanian music shop is showing how a traditional record store can stay relevant and commercially viable in the 21st century. Entrepreneur Mohamed Vall’s Saphire d’Or store in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott (, is a treasure trove of the sort of long-lost recorded songs that normally vex lovers of African music. Pictures of the shop can be seen at the sahelsounds blog (

Vall has run the shop for three decades and amassed a large collection of rare African music on records and tapes. He has married this trove of African creativity to a clever business model: Vall doesn’t let customers buy the precious records themselves but instead will transfer the songs to a disc or a USB stick ( for US 30 cents each.

He has also used traditional hospitality to create an atmosphere that encourages people to interact and keep coming back.

“I have the biggest collection in Mauritania,” Vall told The Guardian newspaper. “Any music you want from Africa – I mean the kind of music that puts Africa on the map – I have it.”

The shop is down an alleyway in the bustling capital and offers a refuge for music lovers.

The atmosphere encourages friendly conversation and lets customers take their time making a selection. Customers can relax in armchairs while browsing and drink some traditional mint tea or enjoy a snack from a communal bowl.

The shop uses traditional Mauritanian nomadic hospitality to improve the customer experience. It also uses the music it sells to heal rifts between the different cultures that cross Mauritania, as it bridges Arabic-speaking North Africa and the majority black sub-Saharan Africa.

“When you are here, it doesn’t matter who you are,” Vall said. “We get youngsters wanting 1940s ballads and old people whose minds are musical museums. We get toubabs (white people) who heard one song decades ago.”

One of the treasure troves held in the shop is the recordings made by West African orchestras during the post-colonial period.

The shop also acts as an interactive museum and archive of many African musical greats, from Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour to Nigerian afrobeat pioneers, Guinean pop legends and Maliaian and Congolese musicians.

Its collection ranges beyond Africa to take in musical genres from around the world, from blues to salsa to rock.

“The music allows you to travel in your head,” said one customer, teacher Abdoul Kaba.”When I first came to Mauritania from Guinea, I went round and round looking for zouk (West African funk) music that everybody listens to in Guinea until I ended up here.”

The shop also serves as a sanctuary for many from life’s everyday hardships.

“It’s not about the music any more. People come back because in here you can be free. You can listen to music and forget this hard life,” Kaba said.


1) The African Music Encyclopedia: Search by alphabetical listing the continent’s musicians. Website:

2) African Musicians Profiles: African Musicians Profiles (AMP) is a website for the promotion and publicity of African musicians. Each musician “has a profile, and there are pages on news of recent and future events, special features, recommended CDs, relevant reading (biographies, reference books and magazines) and photos”. Website:


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