Urban Sprawl in Africa and its Ramifications

According to the United Nations, Sub-Sahara Africa is regarded as the fastest growing urbanizing region in the world. With an urbanized population of about 472 million as at 2018, it constitutes a growth rate of about 3.6 percent per annum. The effect of Africa’s urban population explosion is the unbridled expansion of towns and cities culminating in unprecedented sprawl far beyond the boundaries of the urban areas and the lack of economic resources to handle the issue of housing to the satisfaction of the populations.

Urban sprawl ends up in the inability of government housing authorities to provide adequate affordable housing for the rising urban population. And with unregulated control of land resources for building, new houses began to spring up in the outskirts of the cities and urban areas. The demand for housing increases the demand for more land for infrastructure. But land is a fixed quantity. More areas have been converted into schools, markets, churches and with the introduction of automobiles came vehicular roadways. It must be mentioned too that the nuclear family assumed more practicality over the original family structure of father and other extended family. In the process, families moving into the urban areas ensured that it was father, mother and children in most cases.

Other aspects of sprawl is that liberalization of the housing industry allowing private sector participation weakens quality control in the provision of houses. Urban planning and provision of such facilities as energy and water are not effective enough to streamline the quality of homes that are built. Indeed, even with the provision of affordable houses, many homes built for nuclear families are soon occupied by extended family from the villages. In addition, political interference, lack of logistics and above all, corruption make local authorities ineffective in enforcing building and planning regulations.

Another factor that fuels and increases urban sprawl is that with increase in income comes the urge to relocate or invite family and/or friends left behind outside an urban area. Centralization of most government institutions as well as public and private jobs has indubitably precipitated urban sprawl.  And with uncontrolled and uncoordinated urban sprawl comes urban blight!

There is no doubt that urban sprawl has become a major environmental issue in Ghana and other African nations. Owing to lack of planning in the sprawled dwellings, many of such places disregard the need to employ mitigating measures such as planting of trees to offset potential environmental warming.

Urban sprawl has many effects that demand that governments indeed have to act for environmental reasons. It ends up in the indiscriminate disposal of waste. In many cases where settlers happen to be poor and lack the financial resources to engage urban planners and engineers to develop the settlement, incidents of raw sewage and polluted running water wash into water bodies. These and some, often results in air and environmental pollution. Also, as a result of poor planning, flooding constantly occurs with the least rainfall. People build in waterways and marshy areas worsening the environmental situation. Some scholars opine that the clearing of vegetation and the construction of impervious surfaces in the outskirts increase runoff and cause floods. The potential for open spaces and even cemeteries being converted into dwelling places is imminent and existential at the current rate of urban sprawl.

It is also not strange that urban sprawl results in the development of squatter dwellings owing to the poor not being able to purchase property or to rent decent housing. This often leads to conflict among prospective property owners and family members and encroachers. In Ghana, urban sprawl and its attendant land grab has given birth to the notorious and illegal land guards whose actions have proven dangerous to life and limb. In many cases they have been known to attack persons who have legally acquired property from government housing bodies and/or traditional/private people. Most often one has to pay up for peace of mind. And even more egregious, chiefs who often hold the land in custody for families in the localities have been known to engage in multiple sales of property.

Interviews conducted by Amandla for this editorial heard complaints from some citizens who spoke about social problems involving criminals who hide in their neighborhoods away from law enforcement agencies. Many happen to be illegal aliens from neighboring countries, and often fugitives from justice. Other locals commit crimes, including armed robbery in the cities and flee from law enforcement agencies as well. 

Amandla is aware of the myriad of issues arising from urban sprawl. Invariably, the phenomenon becomes more of a placebo than a solution to the housing problems facing countries in Africa. We can say that no country in Africa has been able to find a solution to the continent’s many housing problems, or do the problems overwhelm the economic capabilities of countries and have therefore become secondary to more pressing issues?

Posted by on Oct 14 2022. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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