ARTICLE: African Megacities: Opportunity or Threat?20/09/2018
Is rapid urban expansion a setback for Africa?
Within the next 17 years, it is predicted that the world’s 10 fastest growing cities will be African. This should be good news right? Not entirely. The kind of rapid urbanization currently happening in the continent poses more challenges than good. High birth rates, urban migration, housing, water drainage, urban transport, crime and congestion, lack of adequate service provision.
Plainly put, the megacities simply do not have the resources to cope with the explosive growth. Ideally, the rate of urbanization would have a direct link to the rate of GDP growth. Currently, Africa is at 40 percent urban but its GDP per capita is about $1,000. This is a big challenge to governments trying to manage the urban growth.
For example, Bamako, Mali’s capital has a population of 3.5million and an expansion rate of 4.5 annually. The UN estimates that Dar es Salaam is growing even faster than Bamako. It is currently at 5 million. Nairobi, long considered the ‘Green City in the Sun’ is rapidly growing at a rate of 4 percent annually due to migration in search of employment opportunities.
Start-ups like OkHi founded by Timbo Drayson, have tried to mitigate some of these challenges by creating efficiency through the use of technology. Okhi’s mission is to provide every smartphone user with a physical address, a necessity for transactions like bank account opening, postal address, services contracts, and even deliveries. His app has furthermore, saved hundreds of lives especially those who live in remote areas and have needed emergency medical services.
While this would be positive due to the perceived increased in productivity, the reality is that already, cities are grappling. Terrible congestion and sky-high rents resulting from the influx of immigrants from the rural settings, has given rise to informal settlements and with this, strenuous demand on services like water, electricity, healthcare, transport. Samir Ibrahim through his start-up Sun Culture is working on empowering smallholder farmers in Africa through accessibility to affordable solar-powered irrigation solutions. Imagine if farmers through this technology were able to increase crop yield and quality? Wouldn’t the narrative of helplessness and rural-urban migration for greener pastures start to change? Absolutely.
What is the way forward? Each city has a master plan to take it into the next frontier in regards to urban expansion. However, the sad reality is that the challenges in trying to implement the plans have left them adopting a wait-and-see approach.Read more Read less