Africa Business Communities

[Column] Bob Koigi: African cities losing competitiveness on high cost of living

Africa is rising, and nowhere is this better exemplified than in its burgeoning cities that numerous reports have primed as prestigious, having positioned themselves to sate the growing demand from a booming urban population.

State of the art infrastructure, world class technologies and a growing number of well-educated populace that has inspired the growth of numerous businesses and attracting foreign investment best captures the modern African cities.

But that is as far as the fairy tale goes. Behind the façade, is the eyesore of an unprecedented rise in the cost of living with prices of basic commodities like food, housing, clothing, water and transport being unaffordable to a high percentage of city dwellers, making these cities some of the most expensive to live and operate business in.

In Nairobi, Kenya’s capital for example, a fifth of the residents are ultra-hungry, researchers say. 

Residents now pay twice as much as they used to for most items about a year ago.  Real estate experts like Kenya’s property consultant HassConsult attribute this costly urban life to rising property costs, inflation, high lending rates and rise in urban population.

Data indicate that one third of the African population is urbanized with this expected to soar to half of the population by 2040. This will then translate to a population growth of over 4,000 new urban dwellers every day between now and 2040.

To put it into context, there are about 475 million people in Africa living in urban areas with this number expected to grow to 1.3 billion in 2050. At the moment up to 70 per cent of this city population in Sub Saharan Africa lives in slums. The result has been pressure on supply of most items like food and houses, thus pushing up prices.

Many cities in Africa are experiencing faster growth. These cities have undergone complete transformation compared to what they were five years ago. This metamorphosis comes with a price that includes high cost of items.

“The real surge in Africa’s urbanization is yet to come; it will occur in the next thirty years, when the urban population is projected to nearly triple and become the majority. Most of this growth will occur due to the transformation of rural settlements at the urban periphery, as they become more densely populated and less dependent on agriculture, and to natural population increase in cities. Both the large cities and the many rapidly growing smaller cities pose major challenges for local government administrations with characteristically weak capacity,” reads a section of a report dubbed ‘The Context of Urban Development in Sub-Saharan Africa,’ by Cities Alliance.

And while governments and policy makers across these cities have announced mega plans to decongest them, actualization is bound to take time even as the problem balloons.

The ultimate solution lies in going back to the basics; empowering urban actors to solve practical problems.

To quote a UN Habitat report that vouches for sustainable cities: “By getting urban development right, cities can create jobs and offer better livelihoods, increase economic growth, improve social inclusion, promote the decoupling of living standards and economic growth from environmental resource use, protect local and regional ecosystems, reduce both urban and rural poverty and drastically reduce pollution.” These are the building blocks that will make African cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, sustainable and ultimately bring back their shine.

Multiple award winning Kenyan journalist Bob Koigi  is the Chief Editor of East Africa at Africa Business Communities


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