Opinion and Analysis
Decentralised city ideas like Tatu will cut urban poverty
Posted Thursday, June 28 2012 at 18:58
Dressed in a black suit, pressed white shirt and paisley tie, Kamau Agoba sets off to work each day from Kibera, on the outskirts of Nairobi, one of the world’s fastest-growing cities.
But Kibera is not, as Agoba’s attire would suggest, a neat suburb for Nairobi’s emerging middle class. Rather, it is the largest slum in Africa.
The plight of 34-year-old Agoba, who earns $800 a month as an IT specialist, another $300 on weekend jobs and carries two mobile phones in his laptop bag, is not unique.
He travelled 500km to Nairobi from his village in Siaya for his university education, and stayed. Now an upwardly mobile urban professional, in normal circumstances he would qualify for a mortgage and buy a flat closer to work.
Agoba’s two-room home, a patchwork structure of wood, metal sheeting and mud, may be wired with Internet and cable TV, but it is cramped.
Agoba’s sister, a shopping-centre manager, and a student cousin share the space. The shower is in a nearby, communal bathing cubicle.
“I’ve been to three banks over the last year; they all tell me that I can get a mortgage,” Agoba says. “If only there was a home to buy.”
It is certainly not far-fetched to state that Kenya and most of Africa is experiencing unprecedented demographic transformation as seen in the emergence of a growing, vibrant middle class.
The rise of a new relatively affluent class of citizens signifies that Africa is slowly coming of age and has made remarkable progress in improving the welfare of her citizens.
It is also clear that decades of social investment in education and health are finally paying off for a continent that was long derided as ‘backward’ and ‘stagnant’.
That this is the case is evident in the increased interest by multinationals now pitching tent on the continent.
Besides, enhanced activity by private equity funds in key sectors of the economy such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism denotes a renewed confidence in Africa’s prospects on the part of global financial players.
The emergence of a large middle class in Africa is creating immense opportunities for investors including infrastructure and property developers.
But Kenya, like the whole of Africa, continues to experience a middle-class housing shortage. The World Bank estimates that 2.2 million houses need to be built over the next decade in Kenya alone — four times the number built in the past decade.
The statistics get even bleaker when one factors in poverty in an urban context. There are an estimated 2.5 million slum-dwellers in Nairobi, a million of whom live in Kibera. They account for an astonishing 60 per cent of the city’s population.