07 January 2013

Growing Population and Innovation in Africa's Cities

It is not news that African cities are growing at a rapid pace. Projections point towards the largest African city changing from Cairo to Lagos this year. Also, the city populations are getting younger. A November Economist article says that over half of city dwellers across Africa will be under the age of 18 years old this year.
What is certain is that African cities will be the most informal economies in the world in 2013. Some 70% of workers will live on their wits, relying on day labour to make enough to eat, pay rent and send their children to school. That will make cities dynamic and mobile, but also combustible. Nairobi’s slums exploded into violence following disputed elections in 2008 and could rise up again after new elections in the coming year. What will become clearer in 2013 is that more equitable African cities, communities which harness high-tech to labour-intensive low-tech (rickshaws, not trams), will have a rich future, including in the preservation of biodiversity—a selling-point of cities. Conversely, a failure to create jobs for the growing urban masses will risk disorder.
If the informal sector continues to thrive as the Economist describes, there is also an opportunity to tell this story. Organizations, such as Oxfam GB, are making moves to tell good stories, but the more interesting happenings are through start-ups like Makeshift magazine.

There are a good amount of journalists and storytellers who will be working in various cities around Africa. The question is if they will have the opportunity to really dig in to these stories and get beyond the buzz around the amorphous innovations that are taking place. Are news agencies willing to publish these stories? Will local reporters, not just expats, have the opportunity to do the reporting?

The Economist mentioned the Post-election violence that took place in Kenya in late 2008. Many will keep a watchful eye over the country to see if something similar happens and for good reason. There are certainly going to be stories of the big slums in Nairobi that will talk about cramped living conditions and flying toilets. However, there are plenty of stories to be told in the run-up to the elections about how people are making a living, the challenges of employment for youth and the ways that farmers in western Kenya are improving crop yields.

Frankly, that is only a crude listing of what can be told. There is plenty that happens off the radar of someone who is not actually there. My hope is that I and others can access those stories and information.