Al Kags

The Question urbanisation


As part of the discussion on hawkers & others
By Udi Waithaka 

The question of urbanisation is an interesting one especially in the case of sub-saharan Africa. It is estimated that about 36% of Africa’s population lives in urban areas and according to the BBC, Africa is predicted to be an urban continent by 2030.

Kibera, Kenya

Africa is likely to be an urban continent by 2030.

Today, sub-saharan Africa has the highest rates of urban migration. In the traditional model of urbanisation, which North America and Europe experienced during the Victorian era, people were pushed away from the countryside by the mechanisation of agriculture, and pulled towards urban eas by the offer of jobs and wages.

Africa has no such characteristic. The size of its cities bears no relation to their economic wealth and are experiencing what the UN’s human settlements agency, UN-Habitat, calls “premature urbanisation”. The agricultural sector is not flourishing and urban areas are not generating economic growth but failing crops, natural disasters and conflicts are forcing people to flood into towns and cities.

Because the urban areas are economically stagnant or in recession, local authorities do not have the money or expertise to provide services such as access to water, housing, education and healthcare. As a result, 70% of Africa’s urban population find themselves living in slums. But so what?So the cities are teeming with hawkers and parking boys and street families and kids high on glue (who are also erroneously referred to as parking boys but who are in fact just vagrants).

So the city councils, are having running battles with the hawkers who in their numbers are taking over the roads down town such that walking has to be done in the middle of the road amidst cars and horrific traffic jams and dirty streets laden with refuse.

In a bid to keep the city beautiful and clear, City Councils engage in running battles with hawkers & others, sparking debates.

So the debate in the internet enabled middle class that buys newspapers and watches TV rages on about what to do with the situation. Should the hawkers be thrown out of the streets or not. Should the city council build more market space for the hawkers. Remember, that in Nairobi for example, the area around the globe cinema round about was once designated for the hawkers and they scoffed at it (lack of toilet facilities, water etc, they said – as if they have that on Tom Mboya street?).

But the key issue with regard to the hawkers and so called urban “riff raff” involves the efficiency with which sub-Saharan countries are utilizing their land. The current situation with regards to land is that most of it, for example in Kenya, is semi-arid and very little of it is arable. Because of the vagaries of weather, most of the arable land is also not productive enough for people to survive on. Besides, there are large tracts of land that are being downright misused – up in northern Kenya, where land is used for nomadic pastoralism, a venture that is not sustainable from a social or economic perspective in the long run. So what is the solution?

Kenya as a key sub-Saharan country needs to lead the way in setting up the structures for a largely urban oriented country without further ado. Instead of resisting the obvious, lets set up Nakuru, Nanyuki, Isiolo, Garissa, Moyale and Wajir as trade cities or technology cities. The key thing to do this is to develop the infrastructure at a fast rate – road, fibre optic and rail network and encourage people to build technology parks in those cities. In places like Wajir, Garissa and Laisamis, let us have them declared free-trade zones and let people set up and trade at will in the Dubai model.

This will allow the rural to urban migrants to have something to do. Incidentally, one of the other things that government has to do is to strategically take a hit tax wise especially from a farm input and veterinary assistance perspective. By making these aspects of agriculture tax free as well as increasing the import tax rate for all goods that are easily available in Kenya – sugar, milk, maize etc, the government will be proactively telling people it is cheaper and more lucrative to farm. It is already happening but it could be hastened further.

At the same time, it has to be made completely exorbitant to live and work in cities. This is already happening. Increasing parking fees, the pedestranisation of inner city roads, greater taxation of inner city businesses is forcing more and more people to move out.

Essentially, the solution lies in the DELIBERATE urbanization of Africa. 

5 thoughts on “The Question urbanisation”

  1. ok, i agree with you on deliberate urbanisation – though i disagree that whole fiber in wajir stuff – let the market decide that. instead i think the re should be a deliberate focus on developing the service economy and develping of a social security system that would allow people to leave the land and animals behind without worrying an dthats is the key – land and animals are the only real social sceurity systems in kenya and tahts why people holdon to their rural property (its their retirment fund).

  2. I have to say I agree with you on the aspect of deliberate urbanisation and Joe certainly has a point with regard to developing social security outside the standard. But i do find joe’s comment – let the market decide on fibre optics in wajir rather laughable. Where would Dubai be if the market had been let to decide? The fact is, build a road and give people sufficient reason to move to smaller cities they will.

    Joe, don’t you think that if the government of Kenya say, made Garrissa a free trade zone – so long as infrastructure and water were made available, or made a bold move like made Thika the industrial town (again), addressing therein the issues of water (done), special power rates and lower tax rates people would move there in droves?

    I do.

    Rashida Bowry.

  3. rashida – kenya does not have unlimited financial resources like dubai. and im not sure if you have been to garissa before making one section of the country a free trade zone merely shifts investment patterns from one place to another – no disrespect to garissa residents but i juts dont see what advantage garisaa has over say mombasa or nairobi or lamu for that matter – based on location,human resources and cost of infrastructure roll out just show me – unless you wnat to create somenew white elephant projects.

    for kenya trying to replicate dubai or banagalore is alosing propostion we have to develop new ideas and the best way to do thatis to invest in people not roads and fibre optic(not that that is not important) – i mean the high tech industry in india was not buillt by govt design it was built by private inividuals and only the givt has been coming late to the game same thing with horticulture in kenya. – i mean we have been along this path before trying to create EPZ’s and after more than 20 yrs the results are plain to see.

    instead of creating new cities why dont we invest in what exists le develop nairobi,mombasa kisumu – i mean naorobi already exists its already trading with the world let make it work instead of trying recreate new cities(by the same people who cant make the current ones work)

  4. The lack of unlimited financial resources has been used as an excuse for far too long to cover for our conservativeness (in the name of realism) as Joe exemplifies here. The fact is, with good corporate governance, these things are possible. The reason that Dubai had to come to being, is because Al Makhtoum, their leader, realised that the oil dependency was simply finite and they would need a new source of revenue.

    The good side of an autocracy is that they managed the project as if it was their personal business (which it sort of is).

    I can see where Udi Waithaka is going with this, talking about the North Eastern Province. Wajir is today a vibrant trading centre between Nairobi and Somalia, Ethiopia and even Southern Sudan. The usage of mobile phones is second only to Nairobi and per capita it is more.

    It is estimated that a considerable percentage of Kenya’s GDP is maintained because of the Wajir-Eastleigh connection.

    Making the place a trading city is a plausible and doable thing and it is not expensive. It will require Kenya doing what it was already supposed to have done. Provide a road. Provide a rail system. Provide a Fibre optic connection. Strengthen Kenya Police Service presence there. Then from a policy perspective, provide tax incentives for companies to go there and work.

    Then leave the market to do the rest.

  5. I definately agree that “deliberate urbanization” is the way to go. I’ve not really followed or read Kenya’s Vision 2030 but I hope that is its agenda. I think it’s a good initiative because we can’t afford to wait for the market – time and tide wait for no man. I say build a road and people will buy cars & make use it, connect them with fibre optics and people will get computers, create businesses… It’s like raising a child – as a parent you don’t wait for the child to want good health, education and a bright future. You’ll obviously set up structures that will ensure that those things will happen. It’s important that we get a leader that is ready to take the country’s development by the horns and make decisions for us.

    The leadership also has to be one that invests in both people and infrastructure. You can’t say that we don’t emulate other countries. There is nothing new under the sun. The issues facing Kenya faced/are facing other countries as well. I’m not saying we copy action for action but copy the basics behind the thinking that created successful solutions for those countries. We also have to accept that the traditional formulas for economic growth aren’t working as they used to. Therefore, we should stop investing only specific areas of the country ie arable land. If you look at a map of Kenya you’ll see there is alot of concentration of both human resources and infrastructure in certain areas – what of the other areas? It’s time we open up the whole country after all it’s all ours to steward to greater things.

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