“Cities are not just Africa’s future: they are its present. Unless collective action is taken now to transform cities like Nairobi into the drivers of economic development and sources of opportunity that they are supposed to be, they will become a tinderbox of perpetual inequality”.1 This warning from Kennedy Odede, head of a community organisation in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest informal settlement, serves as an emphatic reminder of the realities of urban growth in Africa.
Most urban centres have mushroomed without the guidance of any physical development plan. The vast majority of urban residents – the poor – have inadequate access to basic services, such as water, sanitation, health facilities transport and education. They are politically and economically marginalised.
Planning is an essential, but often overlooked, instrument for responding to rapid urban growth. In Kenya, the post-independence Kenyatta administration regarded planning as a tool for “modernisation”. By the 1980s and 1990s, however, a combination of autocracy and straitened economic circumstances prompted the use of planning as a means of political and social control. Legislation based on outdated and inappropriate models such as the UK’s 1947 Town and Country Planning Act was routinely used to justify mass evictions and demolitions in informal settlements. Planners were complicit in the enrichment of political and economic elites. By the end of the 20th century, the planning profession had become irrelevant and discredited in the eyes of all but its few beneficiaries.
Director, Africa Research Institute