*This is a part of "Africa: The Built Environment," an ongoing series that will focus on life in African urban centers.
By Ambar Johnson
Cities are catalysts for economic opportunity, cultural growth, and social change. Africa’s various urban centers aren’t any different. However, with a heavy influx of migrants constraining the resources of these Africa's urban areas, cities across the continent are facing an unavoidable challenge – sustainable urbanization.
Across the continent policymakers and ordinary citizens alike are noticing that Africa’s population boom is leading to major congestion in various urban areas. It's undeniable, African cities are growing . . . exponentially! Here are some facts. By 2050, 2.4 billion people will live with the continent’s borders, an increase from 1.1 billion today. In 2050, it is forecasted that of those 2.4 billion Africans, 60% - 1.44 billion Africans - will reside in African cities.
This population shift will lead Africa’s growing population to inhabitant the continent’s many dense urban centers. Causing African cities to continue a pattern of growth that isn’t forecasted to end at any specified time.
Highlighting this "growth phenomenon," in Kenya cities with a population in excess of 100,000 people will grow from 21 today to 37 in 2020. These changes will be compounded by the rise of urban dwellings, or slums, where poverty and disease run rampant. According to estimates, by UN-Habitat, 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were living in slums in 2010, or 61.7 percent of the region’s urban population, the highest rate in the world.” Failing to develop African cities in a sustainable way will undeniably lead to an increase in urban slums across the continent. This occurrence will only hinder both the economic and societal impact of the continent's cities.
In fact, we can clearly see the impact that urban slums are having on African cities - and their inhabitants - today.
Take Mozambique’s capital Maputo, a city that is divided into two halves. One a highly developed urban metropolis called “The Cement City,” the other a large, monolithic barrio where the majority of Maputo’s 1.7 million inhabitants reside.
Maputo’s slums face many challenges including a lack of clean water, sanitation, and desolate housing structures. The slum’s residents are additionally susceptible to harsh environmental conditions. These shanty towns are often built with low-quality material, constructed on marginal land and are constantly threatened by floods. All of these issues are paired with faulty electrical wiring which inevitably lead to various fatal accidents.
How can we change this? How can we ensure that Africa’s various urban areas are capable of accommodating their citizens? How do we provide the urban poor with adequate and safe housing and jobs? How do we keep these burgeoning metropolises contemporary, authentic, and most importantly sustainable?
The answer is public engagement. Encouraging citizens to partner with local officials to ensure that cities meet the needs of their citizens – both current and future.
However as Michael Heyn, Deputy Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) in Nairobi has noted, “There has been a reluctance on the part of some governments to undertake major programs for [some] communities because they have sought to keep people in rural areas and build opportunities for them there, rather than encourage them to [relocate] to cities.”
Recently a project lead by researchers known as The Public Private People Partnerships for Climate Compatible Development (4PCCD) has started addressing some of these concerns. By using a partnership approach on the community level, 4PCCD hopes to spark sustainable urbanization that will assist the completion of the Mozambique’s “National Climate Change Strategy.”
Additionally, The UNPF is employing skilled craftsmen from The Mathare Valley to teach welding and carpentry techniques to young urban dwellers to spur business creation.
In Kenya, government officials, donor agencies, non-governmental organizations, and residents of six of Nairobi's slums are planning to aid Nairobi’s residents create programs to absolve you some of the issue they face on a daily basis.
Initiatives, like 4PCCCD, although new, is something nations across the continent should consider adopting. In the wake of sobering information about Mali’s urban population, Gakou Salimata Fofana, Mali’s former minister of housing, stated “we must take decisive action.”
Every city is unique and each has its own culture and needs. The challenge of developing Africa’s cities in a sustainable manner is conducting urban planning procedures from the bottom-up. As Michael Heyn, Deputy Representative of the United Nations Population Fund in Nairobi, has stated “Urban slum communities have been left out of the development process. . .''
The voices of ordinary citizens have gone unheard. We have to ensure that they have a say in the development of their cities. This means talking to community stakeholders and collaborating on a local level to assess the needs of civilians, rather than allowing government officials to tell citizens what’s best for them.
Africa’s cities are in a state of crisis. To ensure that these urban areas are ready to serve as engines of growth for the continent’s development, all efforts must be taken to ensure that they are developed in a sustainable manner. It is imperative that an emphasis is placed on the lives of their inhabitants, and the vital role that these cities will play in the continent’s future.