Africa’s Planned Wakanda-Like Smart Cities Could Create More Slums

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
Langa, Cape Town Township in South Africa | Image: Anita Sanikop

Africa’s planned smart cities risk creating more slums as they fail to consider the housing needs for the urban poor who would build more informal settlements around these new “Wakandas,” experts say.

Governments and private investors across the continent are in a race to build at least 20 new billion-dollar smart cities, including Centenary and Eko Atlantic Cities in Nigeria, Tatu and Konza cities in Kenya, Modderfontein in South Africa and Diamond Lake City in Senegal.

Developers of many of these new cities are targeting Africa’s growing middle class that is expected to demand more and better housing while their governments are still grappling with growing housing deficits.


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Urban planners, however, say these new smart cities will increase inequality as a majority of the people moving to urban areas are poor and end up living in slums due to lack of low-cost housing.

An additional 1.3 billion people will be added to Africa’s population by 2050, half of them moving to urban areas in search of jobs and better living standards, the World Bank projects.

“Planning solutions cannot be ‘built out’ while ignoring the primary and secondary needs of the people,” said Constant Cap, a Nairobi-based urban planner and coordinator of Naipolitans urban planning and design events.

“These new developments rarely explain how they will deal with the challenges of low cost housing and interests of the working classes. There is a possibility of slums developing along their borders due to poor development control and market forces.”

Nearly half of the people currently in African cities live in slums and this situation is likely to get worse with an increasing rural-urban migration. Urban population on the continent is expected to triple in the next five decades, according to the U.N.

$100 Billion+

Private developers and governments have lined up more than $100 billion in new smart city projects in Africa, from utopian sea-side business districts and smart tech hubs to futuristic residential cities, according to a 2018 report released by Estate Intel, a real estate market data and research firm.

Land scarcity in existing urban areas has pushed these new projects to the fringes of existing cities, eating into previously agricultural areas. Lack of infrastructure such as roads, power and sewage system has hiked the cost of construction.

Many of these cities are touted as tech, intelligent or eco-friendly places that will be self-sustaining in terms of water and electricity use. Little is mentioned in terms of planning for the urban poor who are set to increase in coming decades.

Africa is the second fastest urbanizing region in the world after Asia, with expert estimating it will be on top by 2020.

“Having tech-driven neighborhoods that cater for middle-income individuals is OK, but they must also consider a broader mix that looks at where the lower-income persons will live,” said Alfred Omenya, an architect and principal researcher at Eco-Build Africa, a sustainable urban-planning and housing organization.

“Otherwise, if we don’t do this the new cities will not work as they will be choked by informal settlements that will crop up around them.”

Tech Infrastructure

Africa’s lack of proper tech infrastructure plays to its advantage as it can leapfrog other regions by installing new ICT technology without incurring the cost of removing or upgrading the old one, a 2016 report by consulting firm Deloitte said.

But while the opportunity is there, this may not happen automatically unless authorities take initiatives to adopt advanced technologies and learn from mature cities in developed worlds.

“When compared to mature cities like London and New York, African cities can currently be considered to be behind the ‘competitive’ curve,” Deloitte said in the report.

However, Omenya said lack of inclusivity in these new cities and real estate projects could lead to “segregation and conflicts” which will water down the effect of having less traffic and better environmental aware urban places.

Rwanda’s Vision City is a smart city on the outskirts of the capital Kigali that has tech-enabled neighborhoods including solar-powered street lamps and free Wi-Fi. It is one such project that has faced criticism.

The Rwandan city is criticized for ignoring the fact that 80 percent of the people around there live in slums with a monthly income way below the mortgage rates in the new city. Planners say they will build low cost housing in later stages.

“Technology for technology’s sake will not create solutions to some of Africa’s cities biggest challenges, including high-cost, low-quality, and inaccessible services,” said researchers at the Africa Growth Initiative.