Isaac. G. Wanjohi
I have obliged a request to stand in for Mr. Syd Parsons, the CTBUH Vice Chairman for the African region, and speak about Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in Africa. This is a difficult subject for anyone to speak with authority, particularly one who had not made prior preparations. This is so because Africa is a very large continent with not only diverse cultural heritages, climatic features and economic characteristics but also different state administrations and governments. There are currently over 40 sovereign states in Africa with hardly any effective professional communication and dialogue among them.
In the context of urban habitat some of our cities in Africa such as Cairo in Egypt, Tripoli in Libya, Casablanca in Morocco, Tunis in Tunisia, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and Khartoum in Sudan are among the earliest cities in the World. With the Pyramid structures in Egypt, Africa held the world record of tall buildings for over 4500 years. Other urban areas in the hinterland of central Africa are among the youngest cities in the world, which include capital cities such as Kinshasa in Congo, Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, Kampala in Uganda, Lilongwe in Malawi, Harare in Zimbabwe, Lusaka in Zambia, Kigali in Rwanda, Bujumbura in Burundi, Gaborone in Botswana, Maseru in Lesotho, Mbabane in Swaziland. Yet others, like Johannesburg, and other cities on the coast of Africa such as the capital cities of Kisimayu in Somalia, Asmara in Eritria, Accra in Ghana, Lagos in Nigeria, Dakar in Senegal, Maputo in Mozambique etc. are of the same age as other important cities in the world which were established in the seventeenth and eightieth centuries.
These cities have had varied growth and exhibit different urban characteristics with respect to tall buildings and urban habitat. Though I have visited many cities in Africa, I have not carried out any serious study, but I have made some observations. Today the African urban centers are growing at the rate of 5 to 7.5% per year and the population in the urban areas is making huge demands in employment, housing, water supply, sanitation and sewerage, transportation, communication and energy, particularly electricity.
The housing problem in the cities is greatly constrained by the affordability factor because only a few people are able to afford decent housing. Land may be available in abundance, but the cost of serviced land is beyond reach of most families. Government agencies often have little to do with unplanned urban development and therefore most city dwellers are struggling to live on their own. The majority of urban dwellers therefore live in informal shelters often without any form of services within reasonable reach.