Tag Archives: Sub-Saharan Africa

Affordable Housing in Zambia: A Myth or Reality

Daniel Apton Phiri, Associate – AHI Zambia/Southern Africa

In the last 20 years, Zambia, like many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, has experienced a “housing boom” albeit driven mainly by the private sector and individual developers using their own resources.  During the same period very few social housing and upgrading schemes have been implemented implying that nearly 70 percent of the population – mainly the urban and rural poor – have not benefited from this “housing boom”. The government has largely paid lip-service to housing provision, especially for the poor, as reflected in meager budgetary allocations and low prioritization of the sector. The poor have to fend for themselves and use their initiatives to construct homes in informal unplanned settlements which results in a plethora of urban challenges such as poor services and basic infrastructure.

Low Cost Houses built by NGO (Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Zambia)

Affordability is a key issue although the definition of “affordable housing” is clear. There are several on-going housing projects ranging from low cost institutional tied housing to high cost gated estates but most of these schemes are not affordable to the average Zambian. Constructing a simple low cost house requires a minimum investment of US$10,000 (UN Habitat estimate, 2012) while currently a formal low cost house is selling between US$20,000-US$50,000 on the Zambian Market. House prices in new estates are pegged from US$50,000 upwards while incomes for potential home owners remain on average are very low.

Typical House for the Urban Poor in unplanned areas

The demand for “affordable housing” in Zambia still remains very high with an estimated 1, 3 million housing units required to meet the shortfall by 2025- a big challenge for our government. The question that begs answers is “what should be done in terms of policy and other measures to make housing affordable to two-thirds of the population who urgently need decent affordable shelter?”

Low Cost Formal Housing


The future of shopping in Africa: Malls

By Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

From Accra, through Lagos, Nairobi, to Cape Town, the way of shopping for the middle class is being revolutionized. The days of the open market will soon be a thing of the past. Malls are taking over from open markets. In major cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, real estate developers are building regional malls to cater to the shopping needs of the middle class. Enclosed malls with clean floors, metal or steel shelves glass doors are competing strongly with the open markets that we have been used to.

Growing up in Ghana, I shopped at Kaneshie, Makola and Sukura Markets for grocery and personal items. At these markets, the sellers, predominantly women, displayed their wares on tables under sheds. Some sellers also put their items like vegetables in baskets and placed them on the ground. One could hear the screams of the women calling in a number of local languages to get the attention of shoppers. Sometimes I returned from the market with different kinds of scents on my body or even my clothes soiled with palm oil or juices from tomatoes. These were the pleasures and hazards of going to the open market.

Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the middle class is growing in number and in their purchasing power. With increased income comes a demand for a corresponding “NEW” way of life. The shopping malls are fast becoming the “new” way of life for the middle class in Africa. This “New” way of life manifests in forms such as wearing internationally branded clothes, shoes, dressing accessories, home appliances, electronic gadgets etc.

And these are the items that the emerging shopping malls are offering the Sub-Sahara African middle class. Mall shopping is fast becoming a status symbol. For example in Ghana, it is becoming trendy for young men to take their girl friends to the Accra mall to score points.

Developers are tapping into this growing interest, and developing shopping malls across most capital cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the mall developments are led by real estate developers ambitious to capitalize on improved investment opportunities, while some are also initiated by established retailers who desire to expand into other countries.

This is especially interesting as an example of multi-national property development in Africa, mainly financed from Southern Africa. While this phenomenon has not reached the affordable housing sector  – yet. As the commercial and luxury markets become more crowded, there might well be business knowledge transfers from these companies into the residential sector.

While their prestige is declining in the developed world, shopping malls seems to be the trend in Africa, and it appears they have come to stay. Given the rate at which malls are springing up on the continent, it is only a matter of time that the malls will supplant the open markets. Whether this is a good thing or otherwise will be judged by posterity.

Traditional building methods in Southern Ghana

Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

From the Nzima pile dwellings of Nzulezo in the far West of Ghana near the border with Ivory Coast, to the Ewe villages in the hills of the Volta Region, indigenous people use building methods and architecture which evolved from their environment, receiving their form through the geology, topography and climate of the area, and influenced by the social and historical development of the region. Throughout the rural areas and the fishing communities along the coast, these traditional construction methods are still employed.

Left: houses at Nzulezo
Right: Atakpame house in Ghana

There are three typical types of wall construction in this area, the wattle and daub wall, the Atakpame wall, and the wall from sundried bricks.

The desired shape of the building is marked out with the help of pegs and strings. Holes are dug into the ground at regular intervals along the outline of the building. Vertical posts which are to carry the roof structure are inserted into the holes and stabilized with stones rammed around the base. The framing process is executed with the laying of the floor slab. The horizontal and vertical members of the framework are tied in before the mud is applied. When the framework is completed the roof is built. After the roof, wet molded mud balls are pressed and worked into the framework of the walls to a thickness of 150 to 200mm. Generally, the walls are only smoothened, but in some cases they are rendered with a soft mud and sand mixture. The framing method of construction allows the builder to complete the walls when he has the necessary help in a few days, since he need not wait for each course to set and dry before he lays the next one as in the Atapkame process. The walls also require no cover during rain, as the roof is already completed.

Wattle and daub houses

The origin of this building process can be traced to the town Atakpame in Togo. Although building with molded wet mud balls is common in the northern part of Ghana, the “Atakpame” method refers to a rectangular wall laid out by the builder with pegs and a string. A pit is dug near the building place, the mud mixed with water, kneaded with bare feet, and then molded into balls of about 200mm diameter. Courses of up to 600mm in height are laid, each course covered with palm leaves and allowed to set and dry out gradually before the next course is added. Wet mud cannot bear its own weight and would slump otherwise. Each course is properly leveled out on the top. Openings for windows and doors are noted and left during construction. The wall thickness is generally about 300mm. After five courses a wall height (excluding the foundation) of approximately 2.50m has been reached. When the last course is still wet, holes are made into it every 600mm at the top through which ropes are drawn for fixing the wall plate of the roof framework. Another way of supporting the roof is by driving short forked sticks into the top of the wall over which the framework is laid and tied. Lintels over doors and window openings are pieces of the Fan Palm. The walls are generally not rendered and the pronounced horizontal lines of the courses are clearly visible. Quite often, a plaster mix of mud and bitumen is also used for rendering.

Mud is dug up From a borrow-pit close to the building, mixed with water, and kneaded. The mixture is then pressed into wooden casts. The size of a brick is approximately 200 x 90mm. A drying shed is erected with timber posts, beams and a thatched roof. Under this the bricks are left to dry slowly. This may last, depending on the weather, up to two weeks. The bricks are laid with mud-sand mortar, or a weak cement-sand mortar where cement is available.

Images courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zug55/1903220848/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Susu – a culture of saving in Ghana

By Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Susu collector and customer in Ghana (Courtesy Barclay Media Center)

In Ghana, “susu” refers to the process of putting money by. Like many emerging economies, Ghana has a less developed financial market and an exclusive credit industry; “susu” is one of the few processes available to the informal population for insuring themselves in emergencies. The “susu” is done either by an individual who puts money away in a secret place in his/her room, or in a group setting where a trusted group member becomes responsible for keeping the group’s savings, or a susu collector is assigned to do the collection and keeping of the “susu” proceeds.

The “susu” idea is so pervasive that one is unlikely to encounter an informal sector family in Ghana without the habit of putting money by in one form or another. This habit though, is more popular with women – mothers in particular. Parents inculcate the “susu” habit into their children by providing them with “susu boxes” at an early age. Children as young as 7 years old are encouraged to fill their “susu” boxes to cater for their Christmas and birthday supplies. I remember that, as a young boy growing up, I had a “susu” box in which I deposited my change and gifts I received from adults.

The “susu” habit develops other desirable personality traits in children and adults. It entails a lot of self discipline and commitment to set aside, either daily or weekly, portions of one’s meager earnings for the unforeseen. “Susu” also requires one to be prudent with his/her income to be able to sustain a savings habit. For individuals who keep their “susu” proceeds themselves, in their homes, the ability to restrain themselves and delay gratification is also important to main the account for the duration of the determined time or period.

“Susu” does not only provide economic means in emergencies, but also helps socially to develop a very disciplined group of people.

We would be excited to hear about other informal forms of savings from around the world.

Land title and affordable housing development in Africa – Part 2

By Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Last week I asked the question: Is the ‘clean and clear title’ and freehold as understood in the global North truly a prerequisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem? And what are the ways in which more complex forms of tenure can be developed and financed?

NO. Neither a freehold nor a clean and clear title is a necessary requisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem. In my view, the two components of the affordable housing ecosystem – microloan for incremental building and large scale investment by developers in affordable housing is not impeded in any way by the absence of freehold or a clean title.

Microloans for households for incremental building do not require the land as security for the loan. Micro lenders employ strategies such as regular visits, site inspection, and group lending to secure their loans. This means loans can be made to low-income people for home improvements and new constructions in the face of communal land ownership with minimal risk to the lender.

Investments in large scale developments are not subject to increased risks as a result of communal land ownership. In most Sub-saharan countries, long term leases for  large tracts of land for development can be obtained for 99 years; this about twice the life span of most housing projects. The 99-year leases are also renewable.

Also, large scale affordable housing developers can negotiate Joint Venture (JV) partnerships with communal land owners for the land to serve as a contribution from the land owners in return for an equity stake in housing development. This arrangement has the potential of increasing the success and sustainability of the housing project.

It is clear that a clean and clear title is not a necessary requisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem in the global south.

Evans Essienyi is a building technologist and real estate developer experienced in structuring low income housing projects, designing affordable houses, financing options and project development in developing countries, especially Ghana. In the USA, he was elected a Legatum Fellow at MIT, dedicated to creating innovative, sustainable, for-profit enterprises that promote prosperity in low-income countries.

Land title and affordable housing development in Africa – Part 1

– in need of reform, or simply a more nuanced understanding?

By Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Affordable housing is an emerging priority in Africa. In particular, Sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing fundamental and profound changes in demographics as the 21st century moves towards its second decade. In 1983, just 21% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population of 400 million was urban, by 2003, 36% of its 700 million people lived in cities and towns. From 1990-2003 urban growth rates increased by 4.6% per annum, almost twice as much as overall population growth rates, (Stephen Giddings, 2007). At this rate of urbanization, urban managers in Africa have huge problems to grapple with; one of the most pressing being the provision of adequate affordable housing. Most analyses conclude that the development of adequate affordable houses at scale in Sub-Saharan Arica is hindered in three main categories: policy and regulatory, physical and technological and housing finance.

In my experience, the absence of clean and clear title impedes the assembling of large tracks of land at the scale require for massive housing developments. Land Tenure in most sub-Saharan Africa is Customary.  Customary land is land which is owned by Indigenous communities and administered in accordance with their customs and traditions. For example, in Ghana traditional land-owning authorities (stool chiefs, clan heads and skins) hold allodial (absolute ownership) title to land on behalf of their people. Thus outright ownership of land is still a rare form of land tenure in Ghana (Asumadu, Kwame Dr. May 2003).

Land in Kenya is slightly more complex, and is owned by four different kinds of groups: the government, county councils, individuals and groups (Kameri-Mbote, Patricia Dr. 2005).

In Southern Africa, the two principal forms of land tenure systems are customary and statutory tenure (ECA/SA/EGM. Land/2003/2). None of these forms of tenure allows clean and clear title for ownership.

Question for thought: Is the ‘clean and clear title’ and freehold as understood in the global North truly a prerequisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem? And what are the ways in which more complex forms of tenure can be developed and financed?

Continued in Part 2 next week

Evans Essienyi is a building technologist and real estate developer experienced in structuring low income housing projects, designing affordable houses, financing options and project development in developing countries, especially Ghana. In the USA, he was elected a Legatum Fellow at MIT, dedicated to creating innovative, sustainable, for-profit enterprises that promote prosperity in low-income countries.