By: Deonta D. Wortham
At a moment’s notice a light flickers above the head of a young child. He jumps with glee noting the unfamiliarity of this illuminating “luxury.”
To many the thought of calling electricity is absurd. Yet, for many urban dwellers across the developing world the lack of consistent electricity is a perpetual problem.
In a recent New York Times Op-Ed the extraordinary Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie details life in the bustling metropolis of Lagos, a city that is home to just over 5 million people that has a further 15 million people living in its metropolitan area. She explains that the “luxury” scene, that we’ve just explored, is an all too familiar occurrence for many that live in Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest metropolitan area.
Adichie notes that Lagos – a city that is noted for its vibrant cosmopolitan life – is power deficient. In short the city simply lacks “light.”
“Light,” she states, is a colloquial term for electricity – it serves as a befitting medium between “electricity” and “power” terms that fail to adequately describe the illuminating shimmer of orange and yellow that pierces throughout the homes of Lagos. This “light” often time disappears. It jitters on and off, at times causing fires, and at others failing to remember its existence. “Light,” even to the well-heeled communities of Lagos’ Ikoyi and Victoria Islands is simply not there.
The issue at hand in this situation is centered on one issue – the urban planning, or lack thereof, of African urban centers.
The fact of the matter is that the majority of urban centers across the African continent have failed to properly develop as their populations have increased. What we are seeing is the expansion of urban centers - in terms of people and dwellings – unaccompanied by the initiation of sustainable development processes or the expansion of municipal services.
In fact, one could argue that in the Nigerian context, and of that seen across the African continent, there is an evident lack of effective municipal governance that would enable processes of sustainable urban development. This fact is troublesome. Especially, when you then consider that the United Nations predicts that in the coming decades African urban centers will grow from 414 million today to nearly 1.2 billion by the year 2050.
The issue of sustainable development within Africa’s countless urban center is one that needs to be addressed immediately.
However, amidst what seems to be an extremely bleak landscape for urban centers across the continent there stands a number of urban areas that are strategically thinking about their futures. Two examples are the cities of Enugu, Nigeria – which is just over 250 miles east of Lagos – and Rwanda’s capital city of Rwanda.
Enugu has recently been named one of the Rockerfeller Institute’s “100 Resilient Cities.” Noting the importance its urban growth and development over the 30 years Enugu has partnered with The Rockerfeller Institute to ensure that its development is accomplished through a series of sustainable and efficient processes that will positively affect Enugu’s citizens.
The city of Enugu, with the support of the Enugu State, has taken the initiative to ensure that the development of its urban area meets the perceived potential of its thriving populace through a series of reforms targeting urban planning and infrastructure formation.
Some 2500 miles to south of Enugu lies the bustling city of Kigali. With nearly 1.2 million residents the Kigali is the largest city in the landlocked country of Rwanda and is poised to become East Africa’s technology and financial hub.
The development of Kigali is deeply wound in the historical narrative of the Rwandan state. The Rwandan Genocide of the 1994 has been well documented, the loss of life during that war period was immense, and furthermore various cities – including Kigali – were simply decimated. Noting this history, and the need to look toward the future the Rwandan government has made it top priority to reconcile the Rwandan nation through a series of reforms that both unites ethnic factions and spurs economic growth.
Some 20 years after the genocide Rwanda has accomplished this task. Befitting the nation’s extraordinary societal progress is the anticipated development of Rwanda’s main urban core. The Kigali Conceptual and Transportation Master Plans – both released in 2008 – illustrate the transformation of Kigali from a medium sized urban area to a full blown urban oasis. Kigali city planners has effectively looked at various issues that presently plague urban life in Kigali – namely housing opportunities, the lack of green open spaces, and infrastructure related necessities – and solved them in the creation of what could be called “New Kigali.”
Kigali’s bold vision has been assisted by the consulting services of Singapore’s Surbana International Consultants which has aided in the planning process. Their combined efforts have received international acclaim, and it can be said that Kigali is blazing a trail of renewal and refinement for African urban centers.
Enugu and Kigali are setting an extraordinary examples of what can be accomplished when African cities partner with institutions that are dedicated to ensuring sustainable urban development. This process could be replicated across the continent and would have lasting effects on a variety of development areas that are critical to the development to both social and economic development of African societies.
It is time that the issue of “light” is combated with formative reforms that will truly benefit Africa’s urban cores. The luxury of electricity, as well as so many other “amenities,” needs to be transformed into a common day necessity. Through precise reforms and a succinct effort on the part of African government and planning officials this can be accomplished. Urban growth on the African continent is a reality, and issues that come with the growth of urban cores must be addressed. Quite literally, the fate of African societal development depends on it.