As 2016 draws to a close, I am looking back at my travels across Africa during the course of the year. In total, I was able to visit about 30 countries this year.
Wherever I went, I witnessed problems related to the widespread problem of “informal settlements”, especially in urban areas. Statistics point to a looming crisis if appropriate measures are not taken as a matter of urgency to address the situation. Accordingly, figures show that more than 70 per cent of Africa’s urban residents are slum dwellers.
While in Zambia in January, I saw how the poorly planned Chawama suburb in Lusaka was a headache to President Edgar Lungu’s newly elected government. Having been a resident of Chawama for years himself, the situation must have bothered Mr Lungu. Hopefully, something will be done now that he is president.
In Chibolya, another unplanned, slum-like settlement in Lusaka, the situation was even worse. Services such as power and water supply, garbage collection and health care were hardly available.
It was the same story in Misisi, another locality in the Zambian capital. I was told that safe and clean water and sanitation have been virtually non-existent in the area for many years. It is estimated that about half of Lusaka’s population lives in areas such as Chawama, Chibolya and Misisi.
It was more of the same when I visited Uganda in March. My visits to Kabalagala, Bukasa and Ggaba in Kampala were both eye-opening and unsettling. On a positive note, goods sell at rock-bottom prices in these areas. Also, the people are warm and welcoming, at least during the day. Kabalagala is particularly known for its vibrant nightlife, pubs, shops and moneychangers, but is also notorious for its disproportionate number of prostitutes – both female and male.
On my way back home, I made a stopover in Kenya, where I visited a number of places in Nairobi, including the sprawling slum of Kibera, which is home to anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million people, depending on which source you trust. Despite being only a couple of kilometres from Nairobi’s central business district, Kibera has neither running water nor electricity.
Also on my itinerary was River Road in Nairobi city centre. This is one of the areas in the Kenyan capital that never sleep. Bustling River Road probably has the highest concentration of bars packed on a one-kilometre street in East and Central Africa. The common thing about these bars is that music is played at ear-splitting volume, making River Road easily the noisiest street in East Africa. I wondered how people could spend a few hours in the bars and still retain their sanity.
As Easter beckoned, I joined two colleagues in visiting Blantyre and Lilongwe in Malawi. Lilongwe’s Area 47 is tranquil during the day, but is completely transformed after dark, and we were lucky enough to savour the city’s nightlife in this corner of the city. It is in this area that one finds places where popular Congolese and Malawian music is played. One of the city’s most popular joints is the Chez Ntemba International Night Club. I have to admit that you can have a bit of fun even in an extremely poorly planned suburb!
But the fact remains that we must strive to plan our cities to make them livable.
In Tanzania we also have our fair share of slums and unplanned settlements, particularly in Dar es Salaam where there are over 20 such areas. In fact, unplanned development can be seen all over the city.
Most of Africa needs to address the problem of unplanned settlements. Even South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, has not been spared, what with townships, nay slums, such as Old Soweto, Deepsloot, Alexandra and Hillbrow. Ethiopia and Ghana have Gondar and Jamestown, respectively. Where in African can one not find an unplanned settlement? I bet nowhere.
Tanzania must institute measures to address challenges posed by informal and unplanned settlements in urban areas. The way out of unplanned housing is for the government to increase the pace of surveying undeveloped land on the outskirts of cities and major towns.
Consequently, people wishing to build houses will have to acquire title deeds and develop their plots in accordance with urban development regulations. Short of this, slums will continue to be part and parcel of Tanzanian cities and towns in the foreseeable future.
Deus Kibamba is trained in Political Science,International,Politics and InternationalLaw