Development and Urbanization
Urban development, and particularly the improvement of basic services delivery, is still approached in mostly technocratic terms by multilateral donors, transnational development firms, and municipalities of the global South. Sanitation planning, for instance, remains the realm of engineers and planners despite decades of evidence that conventional, top-down, civil engineering approaches focusing on infrastructure upgrading have failed to deliver on their promise to tackle brown agenda challenges. Against this background, this paper explores sanitation planning in Mandalay, the second largest city of Myanmar. Here, the Asian Development Bank and a French transnational consulting firm have seized the opportunity created by the country’s recent political and economic opening to embark with the municipality on a multi-million dollar Urban Services Improvement Project: the MUSIP. The paper builds upon an analysis of project documentation complemented with participant observation and over one hundred semi-structured interviews with project stakeholders in Mandalay to critically explore the MUSIP. Drawing upon insights from Urban Political Ecology and critical development studies, the paper argues that the MUSIP can be interpreted as an interlocking of processes that together constituted an anti-politics machine. The paper further shows how this anti-politics machine failed to consider seriously both the political economy and the materiality of sanitation challenges in Mandalay, which in turn jeopardized the urban development process more broadly. The paper finally suggests that the MUSIP case is not unique and rather reflects how urban development is today being reshaped throughout Myanmar.