The Urbanization Challenges in East and Central Africa

The East African region has had an unprecedented relocation of youth from the rural areas to cities in search of jobs and better standards of living. In East Africa even small towns have had a population surge. It is predicted that by 2030 East Africa will have 40% of people living in urban areas with Nairobi, Kampala, Dar el Salaam and Kigali having the highest growth rate.  As the urban population continues to grow, the pressure mounted on the public service delivery systems increase tremendously straining the current infrastructural capacity and consequently compromising the quality of service delivery. The resultant effect has been manifested as below:

  • Growth of Slums

Many East and Central African cities are experiencing a high growth of slums and slum population that are living in abject poverty. The current high urban poverty and youth unemployment are all consequences of urbanization of poverty that has been characteristic of the rapid urbanization in Africa. The high rate of rural migration has not been induced by increased industrialization and growth of the productive economy, rather a displacement of rural poverty that has fueled the high rates of urban poverty, growth of the informal sector, and proliferation of slums, insecurity and crime.

  • Increasing poverty and Inequality

The growth of slums, increasing poverty and inequality is mainly attributed to absence of urban development strategies, infrastructural investment and inclusive socio-economic programs. Most East African cities are characterized by insufficient basic infrastructure, water and sanitation facilities. In Kampala for instance it is only 7% of the population that is connected to main sewer line.

  • Limited or even Lack of physical development plans

Throughout the region even small towns have experienced a surge in urban residential areas with limited physical development planning that would guide land use and spatial growth. As more people come to the cities there is need for public spaces that facilitate social interactions which is a result of spatial planning that has however been given little attention.

  • Inefficient Urban Management  

Weak Urban Institutions have contributed to poor Urban Management coupled with absence of national urban agendas to define policies and programs; the result has been a dysfunctional urban management system responsible for the current distortions that have characterized African cities.


  • Environmental degradation

Sustainable Environment management has also been threatened by the survivalist approaches to urban settlements. Many of the rural migrants have settled in the lowlands that had been planned as water catchment areas. The poor garbage disposal practices in most informal settlements have resulted in blockage of most storm water drains increasing city flooding and loss of lives. The rate of depletion of natural resources as a result of city expansion is affecting the natural ecological zones and affecting the flora and fauna resulting in increased pollution (water and air) and related epidemic outbreaks. 

  • Low levels of Municipal Financing
Low level of municipal financing that is as a result of fewer transfers from the central government and limited capacity to mobilize local revenues is a major area of concerns. Most of the challenges in the cities would be addressed if East and Central African Cities had a mechanism to mobilize local and foreign financing through better revenue administration systems and issuances of bonds or adoption of alternative financing mechanisms like the Public private Partnerships.

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