“New urban projects in Africa are disconnected from the real needs of the population”

Diamniadio and now Akon City in Senegal, Konza Technopolis in Kenya, Sèmè City in Benin… The 2010s saw the launch of many new urban projects and projects in Africa. Researcher at the Sub-Saharan Africa Center of the French Institute of International Relations and author of the study “New cities, political cities. Diversification of actors and recenralisation of state power in the case of Diamniadio’, published in January, by Sina Schlimmer returns to these urban utopias, which are often presented as a solution to the anarchic development of the continent’s cities.

New urban projects are proliferating in Africa. Why this crazy?

In fact, they are rarely cities created ex nihilo, as the talk suggests. The land granted in Diamniadio, Eko Atlantic City in Nigeria or Konza Technopolis already had urban life, sometimes informal or agricultural life. New towns is more of a label we apply to urban renewal projects. They are used as showcases to inform investors that we can create socio-economic lungs integrated into the international economy, far from the images often associated with large African cities, such as pollution, traffic congestion and poverty. The private sector is also very present, through consulting firms or Turkish, Chinese and European construction companies, which are sometimes linked to governments through public-private partnerships.

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These cities are always political projects and must serve a purpose and perform certain functions. For example, Diamniadio was supposed to ease congestion in Dakar and provide social housing. In the city of Konza, the emphasis was on technology and the promise of seeing new economic sectors flourish.

Are there any completed projects?

We often observe very significant differences between plans on paper and reality. For example, Diamniadio has become a city mainly for events, with a large sports stadium, a conference center and a hotel for airlines. Fifteen years after the start of the project, the goal of accommodating Dakar residents in need of housing has not been achieved. In Nigeria, in the Eko Atlantic City area, buildings have been built and are partially occupied, but it is taking time. Appropriations for the target population are low because the housing and services built are often unaffordable for the majority of cities living below the poverty line.

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Georgie Collins

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