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A new African dream: The benefits of satellite cities for East Africa

29th May 2013

By: In On Africa IOA

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Over the past few years, increased urbanisation has led to the growth of the informal housing sector (slums) that are characterised by lack of formal housing, poor sanitation, poverty and high unemployment levels. East African governments in the countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have all been overwhelmed by the high rates of population growth in their main cities. All four countries are currently in advanced stages of planning or building satellite cities adjacent to their main urban areas as the new face of their nation’s urban spaces. This CAI paper discusses the emergence of satellite cities as the new vision for urban expansion in East Africa. It discusses the benefits that satellite cities can bring to a growing urbanisation problem by offering a planned solution to development.

Urbanisation in East Africa

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It is estimated that Africa will be home to the second largest urban population in the world by 2050.(2) Urban cities in East Africa, in particular, are expected to burgeon over the next few years. Five of the top 20 fast-growing cities are in East Africa. This includes Kampala, Uganda (expected to grow by 99.5%); followed by Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (85.2%); Kigali, Rwanda (79.9%); Mombasa, Kenya (79%); and Nairobi, Kenya (77.3%).(3) According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s World in Figures 2010, 3 of the top 20 cities with the world’s highest rate of urbanisation were the East African capital cities of Kigali, Kampala, and Dar es Salaam.(4) Kenya is currently the country with the highest urbanisation rates in East Africa.

The demands of such a rapidly growing populous most often include development-related problems such as infrastructure congestion (roads, schools, utilities, public goods and services etc.), increased job competition, crowding, informal housing or slums, and increased vulnerability of health to epidemics. The growth also leads to changes in land and building uses which may lead to environmental degradation. As such, despite benefiting from expanding national economies, African countries have the highest rate of urbanisation in the world but the lowest rate of urban economic growth.(5)

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In order to escape the malaise of urbanisation, some residents move away from the city (counter-urbanisation). Some developers have tried to resolve this by building higher structures on sites that have already been used within the city. Others have considered building in new areas, which has given rise to the emergence of satellite cities. Satellite cities offer a viable way for countries to meet the demands of urbanised cities. Satellite cities allow a city to grow in ways that sustain long-term viability of their urban areas. They allow a city to develop social, political and economic systems capable of responding to environmental and demographic changes.

What are satellite cities?

Satellite cities are a relatively new development. They can be defined as large planned, integrated, purpose-built developments nearby larger cities that are designed to curb urban sprawl to the suburb and supplement ‘mother city’ expansion.(6) They are typically well-organised urban spaces that are self-contained and separate from the mother city, and gated to some degree. They contain living spaces such as villas, condominiums and their accompanying infrastructure, consumption spaces such as shopping malls, office space, and private hospitals, schools and other facilities, as well as recreational spaces. Satellite cities are targeted towards the emerging new middle-class in African cities and expatriates. The construction and management of the cities is often managed by the private sector investors. However, government support is typically needed for the success of these large scale developments.

East African governments, which often don’t have the budgets to take on such large scale housing projects, have so far been in full support of satellite cities. As self-contained, self-sustainable cities that promise to bring recreation, living and consumption space, they are a seemingly auspicious solution to urbanisation problems. Major satellite city developments are scheduled to be built in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and the DRC. 

The development of satellite cities

In Kenya, a major development outside of Nairobi called Tatu City has been planned as an integral part of Kenya’s overall development strategy.(7) It aims to complement, but not compete with, Nairobi as a decentralised self-contained unit. Financed and managed by Renaissance Partners, it has the full support of local and national government and will be home to about 62,000 residents.(8)

Another development in Kenya is the technologically focused Konza Technology City. Similar to Tatu City, Konza is envisioned as a satellite city that is focused on technology-related employment. The project aims to capitalise on Kenya’s growing reputation as the ‘Silicon Savannah’, the equivalent to California’s Silicon Valley.(9) This US$ 3 billion project was conceived by an international team of experts in collaboration with the Kenyan Government, which realised the potential that the Kenyan Information Technology (IT) sector holds.(10) They aim to foster the growth of IT in the country with the help of the private sector. This provides an opportunity for Kenya to offer IT services as a driver of economic development. The city includes provisions for schools, hospitals, and infrastructure such as roads and utilities and will therefore increase quality of life factors in the city.

Tanzania’s development goals includes a housing development partnership between the Government of Tanzania and UN-HABITAT called Action Plan.(11) Satellite cities are an integral part of their development goals in terms of addressing housing shortage problems. Six satellite cities are being planned outside of Dar es Salaam with the aim to reduce growth of informal settlements (slums), stimulate planned development, and decongest Dar es Salaam.(12) One such city is Kigamboni City which is being built outside of Dar es Salaam in the Temeke municipality. The city has been envisioned as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with a public organisation, Kigamboni Development Agency (KDA) overseeing its planning, implementation, and management.(13) The government is making efforts to sensitise existing land owners about the project, conduct proper valuation and compensation, provide resettlement and relocation services and obtain, and issue property deeds for all stakeholders.(14)

In Uganda, Kankugulu satellite city has been planned along the Kampala-Entebbe highway outside of Kampala. It is managed by real estate developers, Akright Projects. It contains 2,500 dwellings and is expected to be home to nearly 144,000 people.(15) The city has a stadium, a business centre, shopping malls, schools, golf courses, hospitals and hotels. Many of the satellite cities are ‘green projects’ and environmental factors are being considered by developers. Many of the projects use natural resources and incorporate the national landscape. Uganda Human Settlements Network has visited the site with a keen interest in ensuring that the environmental concerns are adhered to.(16)

For countries with conflict-ridden pasts, such as DRC and Rwanda, satellite cities are becoming a viable option for shaping new urban futures. In the DRC, La Cite du Fleuve (River City) is one of the most innovative projects being built outside of Kinshasa. The city is being built on two islands on the Congo River and will include schools, shops, apartments, and offices.(17) It is financed by international investors and is touted to increase the standard of living for many in Kinshasa. The Rwandan Government, with other smaller scale housing development projects currently under operation, is also considering taking the satellite city with real estate investors, Renaissance Partners.(18)

As a result of larger satellite cities, growth and interest of smaller satellite towns and gated communities, which are similar to satellite cities but are smaller scale projects with fewer offerings, has been spurred. In Kenya, this includes the towns of Migaa, Thika Greens and Eldoret. In Uganda, it includes Namugono, Palm Villas, Munyonyo and Tirupati.(19)

The promise of satellite cities

Satellite cities are being touted as the new vision for East Africa’s future. All cities aim to become “An inclusive, vibrant economy; environmentally responsible development; and an infrastructure resilient in the face of continued population growth and natural disaster.”(20) Satellite cities not only have the potential of meeting the goals of all growing cities, but they could also address the malaise of urbanisation woes found in East African cities. They address congestion of capital and metropolitan cities, provide new schools, hospitals, housing, and create jobs. They allow for governments to participate in tangible and visible development projects that will benefit the populous. The use of private investors allows governments to concentrate on providing related services like water, electricity, and roads.

The use of private funds from foreign and local investors reduces costs that are associated with large scale projects such as satellite cities. This allows governments to concentrate on allocating money to other development projects. The primacy of private investors, with government support, ensures that a lot of the bureaucracy that can be found in purely government-led projects is avoided. Real Estate investment is also a way to attract foreign direct investment and foreign exchange within a country, thereby bolstering the foreign exchange rate. Technologically-focused satellite cities like Konza also offer a way for African nations to take an alternative route to development, much like India.  According to Roscoe, the manufacturing phase is the next stage of development for countries in the five stages of development. The ability to tap into the service sector as a means of economic development challenges such traditional models of development. Technology cities also allow the rest of the country to benefit at national levels. Konza, for example, has the potential to turn the Kenyan economy into a knowledge-based economy.(21) Nations require sufficient knowledge, data, and techniques in order to draft sustainable policies. Technology cities which are equipped with schools, technology and labour, enable nations to make better projections about their countries, which should affect policies positively.

Criticising the notion of satellite cities

There have been some criticisms regarding the notion of satellite cities. Much of the concern has to do with resettlement processes and the argument that satellite cities will widen the gap between rich and poor.(22) Other concerns have touched on effective planning laws, and the creation of hegemonic ‘Western-looking’ designs in spaces in the Global South. There have also been concerns about potential areas of exploitation by real estate development companies. Further, concerns have been raised about the accessibility of these new urban spaces to the poor due to the cost of rent in these new housing investments. Satellite cities that have emerged in the Southern African country of Angola, for example, have been struggling to find tenants due to rent prices and the difficulty in obtaining housing bank loans.(23) In the satellite cities in North African countries like Egypt, developments were associated with former dictator Mubarak and have therefore posed problems for ideological and political reasons.(24) Other criticisms stem from pessimism and scepticism that such a large scale project could be successful in East Africa.

However, in spite of these sentiments and aforementioned concerns, satellite cities are booming for various reasons. The benefits of satellite cities seem to outweigh the concerns. Many of the criticisms for satellite city projects are not insurmountable and simply need to be addressed:

  • Resettlement and relocation plans should be well structured, as they were in Kimgaboni in Tanzania
  • Satellite cities should include affordable housing. The Uganda project makes use of differential pricing to accommodate income levels (25)
  • Home loans should be more easily accessible to the population
  • Designs should incorporate local landscape and environment, as in the Uganda project, where landscaping was done with the aim of preserving the environment
  • Attempts should be made to make use of East African aesthetics and designs in terms of colours, motifs, names and so on.(26) This should incorporate designs by East African artists, graphic designers and architects
  • Projects should not be seen as an ownership of one regime, therefore a public private partnership is the way forward for such projects
  • Law and policies should be enforced to avoid exploitation in labour and resources by developers

Concluding remarks

Satellite cities offer East Africa a multitude of benefits that will effectively bring change to African cities and countries. They allow for East African cities to build infrastructure, become economically viable and meet the demands of their population. They help cities to become autonomous and decentralised units that are sustainable cities of the future and they also have the potential of combating the woes of urbanisation by improving the quality of life for many people living in the East African region.

Written by Sitinga Kachipande (1)

NOTES:

(1) Contact Sitinga Kachipande through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Optimistic Africa Unit ( optimistic.africa@consultancyafrica.com).This CAI discussion paper was developed with the assistance of Charlotte Sutherland and was edited by Kate Morgan.
(2) Birch, E.L. and Wachter, S.M., 2011. “World urban urbanization: The critical issue of the twenty-first century”, in Birch, E.L. and Wachter, S.M. (eds.). Global urbanization: The city in the twenty-first century. University of Pennsylvania Press: Pennsylvania.
(3) Falk, T., ‘How satellite cities are reshaping Africa’, The Atlantic Cities, 9 May 2012, www.theatlanticcities.com.
(4) Birch, E.L. and Wachter, S.M., 2011. “World urban urbanization: The critical issue of the twenty-first century”, in Birch, E.L. and Wachter, S.M. (eds.). Global urbanization: The city in the twenty-first century. University of Pennsylvania Press: Pennsylvania.
(5) ‘Upgrading urban communities. A resource for practitioners’, The World Bank Group, http://web.mit.edu.
(6) Percival, T.D., ‘Articulating intra-Asian urbanism: The production of satellite city megaprojects in Phnom Penh’, Online dissertation, August 2012, http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk; Investor Words website, www.investorwords.com.
(7) ‘Greater Horn Of Eastern Africa (GHEA) outlook #18: Are satellite cities the (official) future of GHEA’s urbanisation?’, Society for International Development, 2010, www.sidint.net; Tatu City website, www.tatucity.com.
(8) Ibid.
(9) ‘Greater Horn Of Eastern Africa (GHEA) outlook #18: Are satellite cities the (official) future of GHEA’s urbanisation?’, Society for International Development, 2010, www.sidint.net; Konza Technology City website, www.konzacity.co.ke.
(10) Ibid.
(11) ‘Greater Horn Of Eastern Africa (GHEA) outlook #18: Are satellite cities the (official) future of GHEA’s urbanisation?’, Society for International Development, 2010, www.sidint.net.
(12) Ibid.
(13) Haonga, M. ‘Agency to run, build Kigamboni City’, IPP Media, 14 January 2013, www.ippmedia.com.
(14) ‘Greater Horn Of Eastern Africa (GHEA) outlook #18: Are satellite cities the (official) future of GHEA’s urbanisation?’, Society for International Development, 2010, www.sidint.net.
(15) “Greater Horn Of Eastern Africa (GHEA) outlook #18: Are satellite cities the (official) future of GHEA’s urbanisation?’, Society for International Development, 2010, www.sidint.net; Akright Development website, www.akright.biz.
(16) ‘Mainstreaming environmental issues in housing development: Drawing lessons from Akright Kakungulu housing estates’, Uganda Human Settlements Network, 20 September 2012, http://ssauhsnet.blogspot.com.
(17) ‘Greater Horn Of Eastern Africa (GHEA) outlook #18: Are satellite cities the (official) future of GHEA’s urbanisation?’, Society for International Development, 2010, www.sidint.net; La Cite du Fleuve website, www.lacitedufleuve.com.
(18) ‘Greater Horn Of Eastern Africa (GHEA) outlook #18: Are satellite cities the (official) future of GHEA’s urbanisation?’, Society for International Development, 2010, www.sidint.net.
(19) Ibid.
(20) Birch, E.L. and Wachter, S.M., 2011. “World urban urbanization: The critical issue of the twenty-first century”, in Birch, E.L. and Wachter, S.M. (eds.). Global urbanization: The city in the twenty-first century. University of Pennsylvania Press: Pennsylvania; Laursen, K., ‘Are satellite cities the key to the future?’, The Atlantic Cities, 13 May 2012, www.theatlanticcities.com.
(21) ‘Inside Silicon Savannah: A dream come true’, The East African, 23 January 2013, www.theeastafrican.co.ke.
(22) Falk,T., ‘How satellite cities are reshaping Africa’ The Atlantic Cities, 9 May 2012, www.theatlanticcities.com.
(23) Redvers, L., ‘Angola’s Chinese-built ghost town’, BBC News, 2 July 2012, www.bbc.co.uk.
(24) Shenker, J., ‘Desert Storm’, The Guardian, 10 June 2011, www.guardian.co.uk.
(25) ‘Mainstreaming environmental issues in housing development: Drawing lessons from Akright Kakungulu housing estates’, Uganda Human Settlements Network, 20 September 2012, http://ssauhsnet.blogspot.com.
(26) Laursen, K., ‘Are satellite cities the key to the future?’, The Atlantic Cities, 13 May 2012, www.theatlanticcities.com.

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