In the wake of the 2010 World Economic Forum Africa Summit held in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, that was held under the title of Rethinking Africa's Growth Strategy, most of the catch words were integrating Africa into the global economy, on modernizing agriculture, and on producing tertiary trained labour for value added service jobs. Whilst all of these policies are valid, none are particularly new, and in the context of Africa in 2010, may have excluded the most important of all and ever changing, the urban economy. Urbanization is the biggest challenge and opportunity for development in Africa, and probably one that is not being addressed as much as it should. Despite the presence of UN Habitat director, Prof Anne Tibaijuka at the Forum, she was not afforded much time to press forward the issue of urbanization that her organization is seeking to find solutions to.
The African continent is changing, it is urbanizing at a fast rate (3.5% per year) with close to 70% now in cities, the future of the continent lies in how governments plan for this evolving reality. Urbanization adds a new dimension to development, a city that was built for a few hundred thousand inhabitants can with a few decades be home to millions, and if there is no supporting infrastructure, living standards in that city will be insufficient.
A great example of this is Angola, the capital Luanda was built and massively expanded by the Portuguese in the 1800's post slave trade and as a shipping port and was to accommodate a few hundred thousand people. Fast forward to the 1970's, the civil war meant that Luanda was seen as the safest city to live in, and post civil war in 2002 with the economic boom, more and more people moved there. In 2010, there are over 5 million inhabitants in the city. This has meant that more than 70% of the city, lives in informal settlements, and with it, comes fewer access to facilities that make urban living possible, such as water, electricity, telecommunications etc.
Infrastructure has not kept pace with growing populations in cities, Luanda is not an isolated case, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen population grow from 5.5m inhabitants to 9.1m inhabitants from 2000-2010, Lagos has grown from 7.2m to 10.6m in the same time. Fast growth rates have also impacted on health delivery, with the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the 2010 World Health Day, as focussing on Urbanization and Health. In cities that are rapidly urbanizing, health risks include poor quality water, poor sanitation, possible spread of communicable diseases as inhabitants stay in densely populated areas of the city. An example of this can be seen in Harare, with the city unable to cope with rapid urbanization into the capital, infrastructure buckled and a cholera outbreak occurred.
There are however big opportunities from this rapid urbanization. Increased population in cities, mean more consumers to attract. This has enabled many ventures to appear in African cities, the common food stalls have now also seen individual sellers for mobile phone vouchers and mobile phone battery recharging have boomed, in cities with limited water supply, bottled water sales have increased. For other entrepreneurs, the ability to have services to cut and provide fire wood as electricity is not available have been profitable, as have independent food mills and transport. In the recent BBC programme, Welcome To Lagos, those who have moved from the rural areas to Lagos, they have reclaimed land and built homes, and with that, a whole complex self sustaining economy, all without state intervention.
Governments should be looking at ways of formalizing and assisting those who stay in the city, but are considered on the periphery of the economy and city, they could be the key that unlocks greater economic and social development within the country. Providing infrastructure will allow health to be preserved, providing legitimacy to informal traders will allow them to access credit and invest more in their businesses. The well known Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya can be seen as part of this initiative, the government has begun to move those that stay in the slum to move to newly developed buildings adjacent to the slum, all with infrastructure and services that were not present in the slum. This has allowed the informal traders to formalize their businesses and get access to loans, as well as allowing inhabitants to enjoy basic services like running water and electricity.
Below are two photos of Kiberia: the one on the left features the slums of Kibera and the one on the right is a photo of Kiberia today.
Stanley is an economist with degrees from SOAS and UCL (London) with experience in international agencies. He founded the website DevelopmentAfrique.com as a platform to explore all the development issues and themes that affect the 53 country continent. DevelopmentAfrique.com acts as an educational guide to those unacquainted with Africa in general, to offering professional consultancy reports for agencies and business firms. You can read more at http://www.developmentafrique.com .