I’ve been wanting to do a post on African cities for a while and I thought this was the perfect time with the release of Black Panther. Cities in this part of the world are particularly overlooked, and there are still people who do not think of urban environments when they think of Africa. I want that to change so here are five cities you should notice.
Featured image is of Nairobi, Kenya from the Africa Liberal Network
- Accra, Ghana – Accra is Ghana’s largest city and makes up about ten percent of the country’s total GDP. It is the commercial, industrial as well as the actual capital of Ghana. The city started out in the 18th century when various Europeans, then eventually just the British, established trading posts and forts there. After the turn of the century, the city remained legislatively segregated. Today the coastal town is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa, while also not overwhelmingly huge at approximately 4 and a half million. Like most sub-Saharan cities, a large part of the city are composed of informal settlements without basic infrastructure, a characteristic of fast growing cities in the developing world. On the opposite side are the posh suburbs and business district. Foreign investors are now eyeing Ghana as their next target. It’s young and rapidly urbanizing population paired with relatively superior education infrastructure (including its Space Center) makes for quite a good bull’s eye.
- Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Many cities in Africa are receiving investment from the Chinese. One of the more striking ones is Addis Ababa, where the investment was made via public transport. This is probably one of the greatest endowments to the city, as improved infrastructure can be a pivotal time for all cities. The Addis Ababa light rail continues to be a success (according to CCTV, anyways) and serves many people from all classes in the city. The Chinese also funded a railway from Ethiopia to Djibouti that sliced a four day journey into mere hours. Look. Obviously the PRC isn’t just trying to play Santa Claus. The Asian giant is trying to expedite its resource-grab in the continent. But if it brings much-needed growth to these cities, especially in an environmental way, then what’s the harm? It’s important to note that Addis has a long history and has for a while been one of the most developed cities in sub-Saharan Africa. It has a middle-eastern feel despite its location. Nonetheless, it has a ton to do if you’re lucky enough to visit.
- Luanda, Angola – Luanda is another one of Africa’s fastest growing cities. Located on the coast of Angola, it has the country’s largest seaport on the Atlantic. It is also one of the largest ports on the southern side of the continent on the Atlantic side. Therefore it has a plethora more potential to serve as an exit for the region’s raw goods, such as petroleum, diamonds and iron ore. Currently, there is a boom started by the oil industry in construction and the city has been peppered with new skyscrapers and elite suburbs. The city has a historical old part as well as a fort overlooking the city which, with the new economic boom, has seen restoration efforts. These assets can help Luanda become a hotspot for tourism in the future. Right now though, it is a target for mineral extraction and the Chinese are a key player in that – even building housing and infrastructure (however controversial that may be). All the sudden economic influx has made the city one of the most expensive in the world (a small flat can cost $4000 a month!).
- Nairobi, Kenya – The capital and largest city of Kenya boats about 7 million residents including the metro area. The city is a vibrant center of manufacturing, business and other industries. There is a steady tourism industry in the area as well. The anglophone city is also melting pot of different cultures. One notable community are Indians, who have been in Nairobi since British colonial times when they were brought in to build railroads and eventually settled in the city. In fact, many aspects of the city were shaped by its colonial period. Today, it is mostly a patchwork of suburbs with some slums wedged in. The central heart of the city and CBD is tame compared to some other African cities with not much in the way of public transit. The most unique thing about the city is that is perched right next to a nature reserve. The urban fabric stops abruptly at the border making for an interesting urban design. What will make Nairobi even more unique is it’s reputation of having the soon-to-be tallest tower in Africa along with many other forward-looking developments. Oh. and don’t forget the almost unreal Giraffe Manor!
5. Lagos, Nigeria – Lagos is currently Africa’s largest city population-wise, after surpassing Cairo, and is a megacity in every right. It is as blessed with opportunity as it is cursed with all the challenges of every megacity in the developing world. Population censuses are notoriously outdated or inaccurate due to how fast Lagos is growing, but the current estimate is betweek 16 and 25 million. As with every other fast growing cities in its league, such as Mumbai, Dhaka or Rio, rural migrants are pouring in faster than government infrastructure or services can catch up, leaving many residents living in large swaths of slums. Lagos slums are characterized by standing on stilts above the lagoon. Poverty in Lagos, however, is also contrasted with luxury high rises of Ikoyi, a modern land reclamation project which can rival most of those of the Gulf countries’, and the skyscrapers of downtown Lagos. The multi billion dollar GDP of the city can be attributed to banking, finance, telecommunications and “Nollywood”, the Nigerian film entertainment industry. Much like Tokyo, Lagos is not actually a distinct city and is comprised of many municipalities comprising of the Lagos State. The municipalities are connected via roads(which are usually packed), commuter suburban train, and a new rail network that is currently under construction. Personally, I always thought of Nigeria as the India of tomorrow and Lagos, in my mind wouldn’t feel that different from Mumbai. It’s poised for the future and you might find yourself living there in the future to chase its economic boom.
PS. Do yourself a favor and follow @instalagos for some insight into Lagos life.
If you guys have any questions, or comments, please leave me a note on the comments. I’d love to hear feedback about future posts or anything I might’ve missed on this one. Cheers!