Karim Kane is a carpenter, not a speculator. But the plot of land he bought a decade ago is worth nearly 25 times what he paid for it. In 2007, the village chief sold it to him for the equivalent of about 450 US-Dollar. Mr. Kane bought it to build a house for his wife and their six children on a land that today he reckons is worth nearly 11,000 US Dollar. The area where Mr. Kane lives is little more than muddy hills with scattered plots of land given over to cows and goats. Pedlars lead donkey carts loaded with plastic jerry cans of portable water. All of that reminds us to India two decades ago. But despite its semi-rural appearance, Mr. Kane has no doubt he is now a resident of Mali’s capital. “I’m a Bamakois,” he said, using the French word for a citizen Bamako.
Almost unnoticed by the rest of the world, Africa has become the world’s most rapidly urbanizing continent. From 2018 to 2035, the UN predicts that the world’s 10 fastest growing cities will be African. It is a trend that has already enveloped Mr. Kane, whose land has been swallowed up by Yirimadio, the fastest-growing part of Bamako which may itself be the fastest-growing city in Africa.
In parts of the neighborhood, shacks built by people recently arrived from the countryside jostle with houses being constructed by Bamakois who are snapping up cheaper plots of land on the city edge. As Bamako has grown exponentially, it poses huge logistical problems for the cash-starved authorities that are replicated across the continent. According to a World Bank study, 472 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live in cities. This as more than the population of the US as well as Europe. High birth rates and migration from the countryside mean that by 2040 Africa’s urban population will more than double to 1 billion, it says, a rate that far outpaces urbanization elsewhere in the world.
Tann Vom Hove, a senior fellow at City Mayors – a think – tank, which puts Mali’s capital, with an existing population of 3.5 million at the top of the list with an annual expansion rate of 4.5 percent – said the trend was more important than the precise ranking. Estimates from the UN say other cities, including Dar es Salaam, a city of nearly 5 million in Tanzania, are growing even faster than Bamako.
Some of Africa’s megacities including Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital of 21 million people, and Kinshasa, the chaotic capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, are sucking in hundreds of thousands of new people each year. Smaller cities, such as Yaoundé in Cameroon, are growing almost as fast. Urbanization is what helped ignite the “Africa rising” narrative promoted by the likes of Mc Kinsey, a consultancy, whose 2016 Lions on the Move II report highlighted cities as an engine of productivity. From 2015 to 2045, Mc Kinsey found, 24 million more Africans would be living in cities each year, compared with 11 million in India and 9 million in China. “Urbanization has a strong correlation with the rate of real GDP growth” the report said, adding that “productivity in cities is more than double that in the countryside.”
But managing urban growth, with its associated problems of service provision, housing, crime and congestion, has become one of the biggest policy challenges on the continent. “For me this is a catastrophe foretold”, said Issa N’Diaye, a professor of philosophy at the University of Bamako, of his city’s untrammelled growth. “Bamako is a time-bomb.” Bamako, he said, and by implication many other cities in Africa, lacked the resources and institutions capable of coping with explosive growth. Skyrocketing land prices had led to rampant corruption, Mr. N’Diaye said, alleging that land allocated for schools in his own neighbourhood had been sold off by unscrupulous officials.
Rapid urban expansion had also left people bereft of services, he said. “There’s been no planning whatsoever of the road system, water drainage, electricity or urban transport. The city is becoming more and more unlivable.” Since 2005, Yirimadio’s population alone has risen from about 20,000 to 190,000, according to officials from Muso, a health organization that serves the area. In parts of the neighbourhood, locals have campaigned for a standing water pipe while in others they have dug their own wells, Yuba Diakite left what he said was the tedium of forming to try his luck at accounting in Bamako. The women in his rented quarters, where whole families are squashed into a single room, get up before dawn as they would in the village. “Our woman exhausts themselves over this question of water” he said.
Somik Lall, the World Bank’s lead economist for urban development in Africa, said the continent’s urbanization was running ahead of its income. Africa, he said, was now 40% urban with a per capita gross domestic product of roughly 1,100 US-Dollar. By the time Asia reached 40% urbanization, its GDP per capita was 3,500 US-Dollar, he said. Bamako’s expansion has been especially rapid because of people fleeing north and central Mali, unstable since an al-Qaeda – linked group took control in 2012, before being expelled by a French-led military invasion. In the housing and town planning ministry, Abdramane Diawara, the director, is well aware of the challenges. “It is difficult to implement the plans we have, let alone a plan for the future”, he said, brandishing a document entitled Bamako Horizon 2030. “Bamako should be an asset to the country“, he added, before slumping back in his chair. “Instead, it’s a problem.”