Archives for posts with tag: Economics

Today I wrote a response paper summarizing and comparing this article by Filip De Boeck and this powerpoint presentation by Vanessa Watson. I’m not satisfied with what I wrote so I’m going to attempt to hash out my ideas a little better here. So the Watson presentation is intended for her architecture students at the University of Cape Town and in it she runs through the big African planned “future cities” or what she calls “fantasy cities,” showing glamorous designs of them, and then on the next slide shows the “reality” of the actual slums that make up most of the area of these cities. I haven’t been in her actual lecture, but her criticisms seem to be, 1. these cities create islands of wealth that don’t help most of the city’s poor, and 2. the designs of these cities are transplanted from the West via Asia and are not fitted for the realities of African cities. Both points seem fair and accurate, but then the De Boeck piece seeks out the voices of Kinshasa’s urban farmers who are surprisingly attracted to the skyscraper-centric plans, saying “Yes, we’ll be the victims, but still it will be beautiful.” The dream of these new cities can also be alluring and captivating even to the urban poor who will not have access to them…the thought of one day being part of an international megacity frequented by the world’s who’s who evokes pride in one’s hometown and offers hopes that that wealth may find its way throughout the city. These are the similar sentiments to what Wole Soyinka expressed when he said Eko Atlantic is “[r]ising like Aphrodite from the foam of the Atlantic.” Many African urban dwellers desire symbols of beauty and pride to rise from the centers of their cities—buildings that are “so beautiful that it makes one dream.” In this light of these local reactions, current plans for shiny business districts of African cities might rather be looked at as monuments to the potential of the surrounding city, not as unsustainable parasites of corporations. Yet Watson is absolutely right that many of the “monuments” that are being sold by international corporations and architectural firms to African politicians are problematic in that they segregate cities often more than their colonial predecessors did:  De Boeck describes how Belgian colonial planners divided Kinshasa between the white island of wealth—La Ville—and the surrounding ocean of poverty—the black townships—with railroads and army barracks. Now the new wave of planned cities are gated island or 40 km away from the old city, taking the colonialist exclusionary model even further than before. Yet they’re still beautiful and desirable to the urban poor….their allure stimulates dreams for the future….and dreams are what keep everyone going. And also if you were an African doctor or lawyer or business person who might be tempted to leave for opportunities elsewhere where it is safer and stabler to have a family and raise kids (the brain drain), wouldn’t you be more likely to consider staying if you could have a home in Eko Atlantic or Cité du Fleuve? The ways in which the urban poor of Kinshasa have navigated and adapted to their infrastructurally scant neighborhoods (as described by Koolhaas and De Boeck) and the construction of Eko Atlantic and Cité du Fleuve can both be seen as different manifestations of the very human drive to create order and predictability in life. For me this is where the state comes in–as both a creator and moderator of human impetus for stability and security. Here again, the mayor of Lagos, Fashola, seems to be doing a better job at this than his counterparts in much of Africa, including in Kinshasa. Fashola has attracted investment in the glamorous dream of Eko Atlantic but he has also raised tax revenue by not just promising but delivering services, including housing and bus lanes to improve traffic. And the success of Fashola’s incrementalist approach of improving services and infrastructure for neglected, “informal” communities suggests that De Boeck’s prescriptions for slow and achievable planning goals for Kinshasa’s slums are dead on. When rapid changes come to poor neighborhoods, they’re more likely to be uprooted and turned inside out after years of self-organization than to be improved. But the political will has to be there, and the planners, lawyers, business people, and doctors have to be (live) there too….and in subtle but significant ways they will appropriate and alter this “imported” architecture as their own.

Kigali:  “Fantasy and Reality”

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I recently had a chance to read McKinsey’s 2010 report on Africa’s economic outlook and another on what, in their view, makes a “good city.” Here are a few things that stuck out to me:

MGI Report on Africa

-Currently there are 52 African cities with more than 1 million people (as many as Europe)

-By 2030 50% of Africans will live in cities (already more Africans (40%) live in cities than Indians (35%), and the continent is not far behind China’s 45%)

-From 1990-2008 African trade with Europe and N. America declined (51% to 28%, and 16% to 15% respectively) while trade with China grew from 20% of total African trade to 28%

-China’s infrastructure commitments in Africa now surpass the World Bank’s (11.6 billion in financing in 2006 and 2007 versus 4 billion from the WB over that same period)

-The African labor force by 2040 is expected to be 1.1 billion (Larger than China’s or India’s, and every continent’s outside of Asia)

-Effective education is still sorely lacking in Africa (test scores have actually declined or stagnated for much of the continent) while its governments spend nearly 20% of their budget on education versus 11% for OECD nations.

-Africa’s largest oil exporting nations (Nigeria, Angola, Libya, Algeria) have dangerously undiversified economies compared to their international peers (Malaysia, Indonesia)

-23% of Africa’s largest resource deals now have an infrastructure or industrialization component, up from 1% in the 90s. For example, China’s 2008 deal with the DRC for cobalt and copper included 2.9 billion to construct 3200 km of railways, 31 hospitals, 145 health centers, and 2 universities (I’d like to know how much of this has been completed).

-African daily oil exports to China have quickly risen from 1% in 1995 to 13% in 2008 (the US and Europe receive 30% and 37% of Africa’s oil respectively)

-African governments (65%), private sources (25%), and foreign aid (10%) combined are currently investing around $72 billion per year in new infrastructure across the continent. Still the continents infrastructure is only somewhere between one half to a fifth of Russia, Brazil, China, and India’s. The report estimates that the continent needs to invest $118 billion a year to catchup and keep pace with its economic growth ($46 billion more per year than it currently invests). Chinese and private investment could help reach this goal, as both sources are increasingly at double digits rates.

-In 2008 37% of Africans had mobile phones, 39% had access to electricity, and 63% had access to improved water sources, versus 48%, 84%, 89% average for each those categories in Russia, China, Brazil, and India.

A few thoughts on the report:  it’s troubling how critically lacking Africa is in basic education compared to other areas of the world…this lag is what I would predict to continue to create instability in many African countries–under educated citizens are more likely to be easily manipulated by politicians who play up “tribal” or other divisions to instigate violence. This lag can be traced to the state colonialism left Africa at independence when many African countries (like the DRC in particular) had less than a dozen university educated citizens in the whole country. Now many of the few educated Africans leave the continent for better opportunities for them and their families in America and Europe, creating a serious brain-drain—I’m curious if this recent narrative of “Africa Rising” is bringing many of those doctors and business people home like what happened in Rwanda once Kagame stabilized the country and opened it up for businesses. The article also seems to find optimism in Africa’s rapid urbanism primarily because of the consumer focused business opportunities it creates when so many potential customers are bunched closely together in a city. Is this what cities are to businesses? Places to export resources and sell people cheap stuff? Doesn’t that sound like the model of the slave trade in west Africa? Why don’t business perspectives like McKinsey see cities as places where services can be more effectively delivered or hubs for better education that can lead to more stable nations and thus better business locations? Again it’s going to come back to well educated and savvy leaders in Africa who can make business deals that provide substantial infrastructure and education improvements in exchange for resources. Highlights from McKinsey’s city report will be up soon.

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