By: Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate
Population experts predict that Africa’s population will double from 1,037,524,058 in 2011 to 1,998,465,920 by 2050.The increase in population has been attributed to high birth rate, the decline in infant mortality, and an increase in life expectancy across the continent.
Population growth, coupled with rises in rural to urban migration has resulted in over populated cities. The growth of cities appears to have taken many city mangers by surprise, as they appear to have very little idea about how to manage the seemingly inevitable growth. City infrastructure gravely lags behind the population growth.
Housing is one of the resources that come under intense pressure when there is population explosion. Housing shortage in most African cities have reached worrying levels. This is evident in the increasing number of slums that are so visible in most cities. People who migrate to the city from rural areas construct their own shelter when there is no supply to meet their needs. These shelters are usually not adequate structurally or physically because owners meant them to be only temporary homes.
In most cities, affordable housing for the urban poor is non-existent. The lack of affordable housing supply and the high demand for affordable housing in Africa has been seen as a business opportunity by a number of business people in the West. For example, there are a lot of businesses in the US promoting prefabricated building methods as a means of providing affordable housing for the urban poor in Africa.
On the face of it, these prefabricated buildings seem to be a way out of the housing situation. What is missed by most of the proponents of prefab houses is that, houses serve more than the function of sheltering people in Africa. For most Africans, houses are an expression of their status in society. Houses are regarded as properties that must be passed on to future generations. As a result of this very important function of a house, mass produced houses that look alike, and lack any aesthetics does not serve the African vision of home ownership.
Some of the prefab houses being designed today have been estimated to cost between $10,000 -$20,000. By Western standards these houses may seem suitable and affordable. But by African standards these are not suitable even if they are affordable. Most Africans would not mind living in tin houses temporarily while they spend $20,000 over the long term to build their own suitable homes.
Some of the prefab houses would pass for boxes, and I feel even though their intended recipients are poor and are supposed to be content, the houses are lacking in an important way: they are not reflective of the identity of the owner. Instead, they are mass produced, cookie-cutter houses. Most people will be reluctant to buy these houses.
I feel the solution in meeting the grave demand is to empower the poor in the cities economically. When their incomes grow, they will save to build their own houses.
Incremental building is the common method among the poor and the middle class. This is the prevalent method due to limited access to mortgage services in many parts of Africa. By economic empowerment either through job creation or funding of houses through Housing Microfinance, capital will be made available to the poor and the middle class for them to construct suitable houses over a relatively shorter time frame.