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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

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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.

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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. 

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