The Death of African Cities : By Edson Charikinya

Death of African Cities

It is my opinion that Africa should brace itself for more massive protests similar to those that are being seen in the northern part of the continent. Unlike what most people would want the world to believe this wave of uprising are not being caused by Twitter, Facebook or the Internet.  This new wave of uprising threatening African cities is due to a swell in the urban population. According to a recent report from UN-HABITAT over a third of Africa’s 1 billion inhabitants currently live in urban areas, but by 2030 that proportion will have risen to one and a half billion. That represents a 50% increase in urban population in just over 20 years. In its 2010 report UN-HABITAT reported that, Cairo would grow by 23% to 13.5m people. By 2025, however, it will have been overtaken by both Lagos (15.8m) and Kinshasa (15m). This gives one a clear indication of where the next trouble spots are going to be on the African continent. This massive growth of our cities results in shortages of water, food and electricity. Infrastructure to support this growth in African cities is not being developed at a rate that is fast enough to meet the demands of a rising population.

Richard Florida in his book The Rise of the Creative Class (2002) identified a fraction of a city’s population termed the “creative class” as an essential element in spear heading developmental growth in cities .The term creative class used by Richard Florida refers to individuals who create growth and development in today’s post-industrial society. This class covers a wide range of professions from the traditional services and production profession to professions in areas such as science, education and product development. Richard Florida further states that the creative class is not only defined by job type but also by the characteristics that promote the expression of the creative aspect. He highlights the three Ts that are essential preconditions for creativity to unfold which are: talent, technology and tolerance.

Looking at these preconditions and trying to get a picture of where Africa stands is not an easy task. If the major economic indicators are anything to go by Africa is in a real mess and one gets the feeling that our cities are facing imminent death. African cities have lost a significant proportion of their Talent pool to AIDS.  The presence of a large population of African emigrants in developed cities also highlights the extent at which Africa has lost most of its talent. This brings similar conditions to Africa to those that were brought about by the slave trade which significantly diminished Africa’s population thereby resulting in little economic growth on the continent. Back then manpower was the essential element for economic growth, way before the invention of the steam engine.

It is obvious to me that due to poor education and telecommunication infrastructure our societies are not embracing new technology at a rate that is fast enough to allow us to make effective use of new technology in our production processes. New technology would make our production processes much cheaper hence result in our products being competitive on the international market.  As it stands all Africa has to offer the world is its raw mineral resources which are limited. Exploitation of Africa’s natural resources is also leaving a huge dent on the environment which is making rural life unsustainable hence the swelling of the cities. As for tolerance within our cities the recent Xenophobic attacks in South Africa highlights the low level of tolerance towards different nationalities in our cities. Racial tensions still play a key role in retarding growth in most African cities making them unfavourable destination for much needed foreign investment. The question that i think will face the next generation of African leaders is how to improve on these preconditions (the three Ts) that foster creativity?


About charikinya
I am a Chemical Engineer with a keen intrest in Africa and the eradication of poverty on the continent.

3 Responses to The Death of African Cities : By Edson Charikinya

  1. T-Bagwell says:

    This is true taking into cognizant the fact that whenever you see a lizard running, there are two possibilities: Either its being chased or its chasing after something. Riots are caused by people who are being “chased” by lack of delivery services……

  2. Miss Awesome says:

    For us to get the technology aspect right we need to retain our talent. The first thing on most young people’s minds these days in our countries is
    ” how soon can I get out”. We desperately need to address this issue.

  3. Hi Edson,

    Good post – but i think a little on the afro-pessimistic side.

    i agree with the creative class perspective, but also feel that this approach overlooks some of the practices of the urban poor (who will be a significant demographic in the increased population total of 2030, even more so at 2050 if cities don’t restructure their LED models radically) who are already making much out of little. Check out the work being done through Slum Dweller’s International ( – it’s pretty cool what you can do with low-tech solutions and well organised communities.

    i guess the question i would ask of the next generation of african leaders is how do you make cities the most enabling places to be? what will their view be towards social justice issues? will they see it as being mutually exclusive from economic growth or will they think of new models that sustain economic growth and also promote economic inclusion?

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