This House believes African cities need to invest more in housing to replace slums

Rapid, unplanned, urbanisation across Africa has been synthesised with the prevalence of slums. Slums are officially defined as a household lacking either durable housing, sufficient living space, access to safe water and sanitation, and security of tenure (UN-Habitat, 2007). However, across Africa the definition and recognition of slums remains political. Slums are recognised as unhealthy landscapes and geographies of neglect. Previous attempted solutions to slums have included slum upgrading schemes offering in-situ service provision and improvements, mass evictions, and recognising slum dwellers as secure owners including granting the right to build. In Sub-Saharan Africa’s attempt to meet the 7th Millennium Development Goal[1] - improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers - relative reductions have been made in the percentage of urban slum dwellers. However, the share of urban slum dwellers in SSA is still higher than any other world region, at 62%, with the slum-dwellers experiencing a greater depth of deprivation (UN, 2012, p.50).

However, is the solution a matter of fixing supply or demand? This debate turns to two factors. Firstly, exploring what the slum dwellers needs are, and what solutions can enable just and inclusive cities to be maintained. Considering the diverse strategies of investments made into the housing sector what changes are felt; are needs met? Secondly, the role of urban governance - identified as a key factor in both the prevalence of slums and their subsequent future (UN-Habitat, 2007; etc). It needs to be understood how urban actors influence housing markets and the sustainability of outcomes. In a Marxist ideology, housing is the source of reproduction, sustaining the economy, and fundamentally needs to be provided by the state; however, are housing schemes introduced improving the lives of slum dwellers or are they being built as a result of other motives? As housing inequalities grow what intervention is needed? There remains a danger of assuming investing in housing will be the means to end all slums.

[1] MDG 7 is to ensure environmental sustainability. 


Cost-effective planning for ‘Slum Cities’

We live in a planet of slums (Davis, 2006), and slums remain a key, and growing, characteristic of contemporary African cities. Slums articulate the infrastructural deficit across African cities - investments are needed.

Slums are a key urban challenge; and need to be tackled, removed, and replaced. “Slums represent the worst of urban poverty and inequality” (Annan, 2003:v).

Slums represent an increasing concern. They are often in unstable environments so are at high risk of being affected by climate change which will further increase costs unless effective strategies are implemented today. Providing safe and secure housing provides a means to tackle articulated problems. Planning will organise the structure of housing communities, follow laws to provide adequate toilets for the population, and enable space for service provision - whether hospitals, police, or schools. Investing in housing will help alleviate chaos; and implement ordered planning for ‘Cities Without Slums’[1].

[1] The ‘Cities Without Slums’ Campaign was developed in 1999 by the Cities Alliance; and subsequently included in the MDG. 


Are slums really a key challenge? Estimations on the problem of slums may vary depending on which definition is used. Second, the language of the ‘slum’ matters when analysing and applying solutions (Gilbert, 2007; Jones, 2011). The emotions and stigmatic connotations attached to ‘slum’ enables dangerous aesthetic intervention.

Working towards a ‘city without slums’ neglects how and why slums have occurred and suggests governments can apply quick solutions to rid the problem. National aims to remove ‘slums’ has forced governments to focus on the physical problem - infrastructure and housing deficits - rather than understanding who lives in slums and solutions are needed for the dwellers. There remains a need to understand slums as a space of African urbanism. Slums will be cyclically reinforced unless aspects of power, poverty, and politics, are considered.

Upgrading housing: tackling the disease burden

Slum upgrading involves in-situ investment to improve informal settlements; and integrate slums into the city. Two forms of slum upgrading may be classified: the provision of basic services (i.e. housing and sanitation) and the provision of secure land tenure. 

The burden of disease is higher in slums due to inadequate sanitation, overcrowding, and a lack of ventilation. Diseases and infections - including diarrhoea, cholera, malaria, TB, and tropical diseases, remain prevalent throughout due to stagnant water and a lack of services. Research indicates higher rates of child and elderly mortality in Nairobi’s slums, in comparison to the rest of the population (Kyobutungi et al, 2008). Improving housing does not just mean building but also ensuring planning standards are followed to create sufficient living space and facilities to reduce the ill-health disadvantage. 


Unfortunately housing upgrade programs do not always equate to reductions in disease. The vital components including the need for improved community sanitation, access to services - including water and health-care are often ignored. Ananya Roy (2009) shows how the informal nature of India’s state constricts effective planning, and is continuing to ensure slums are kept off the map - limiting access to services.

Gender empowerment

Slum dwellers, particularly women, are affected by violence and crime. COHRE (2008) indicates women living in slums are at risk of violence and illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, due to insecurities experienced on a daily basis in personal and private spaces. Figures show that in Nairobi slums 1 latrine is shared amongst 500 people (Cities Alliance, 2013). Fearing to go to the toilet at night due to risk of rape, women’s geographical experience of the city is constrained[1]. Therefore investing in houses, including building indoor toilets, provides empowerment, safety, and prevents gender based violence.

[1] See further readings: SDI, 2013.


To tackle gender discrepancies an engendered strategy is required on land, not only housing.

For example, Gulyani and Connors (2002) illustrate the Kalingalinga slum upgrading project in Zambia resulted in negative effects for women. Following investment in slum upgrading the proportion of female-headed households declined with a rise in the proportion of renters and relocations. Slum upgrading raised living costs to women, and without legal land rights female-headed households were forced to relocate and resettle. 

Tackling hazardous environments

Reports are frequently raised on fire outbreaks and hazards in slums. For example, a fire in Khayelitsha township[1], Cape Town, resulted in five deaths and significant damage. The use of highly flammable materials, in a desire for fast construction, places slum-dwellers prone to risk.

National investment in housing, by providing materials, such as bricks, or training on how to build stable house designs, will ensure safety. Haphazard building can be controlled by investing in housing designs and inspections.

[1] See further readings: Lobel, 2013.


History and tradition is reflected in the building styles adopted across Africa. Upgrading schemes changing the design of housing styles, are both replacing traditional knowledge and practices, but also potentially eco-friendly designs. Investment in housing by private and public actors is failing to incorporate traditional practices, meaning cities are being built through modernist planning ideals.

Slum dwellers need the right to build. Dwellers need to be provided with an enabling environment to use their own capacities to meet their own housing needs[1].

[1] See further readings: Turner, 1978.

Ensuring supply = demand

A key issue ensuring the growth of slums is the demand for housing is failing to be met. Investment is required to supply housing.

Taking the case of Social Housing programs provided by PAHF (Pan-African Housing Fund) demand is being met by providing affordable houses. 41.5mn US$ has been confirmed by PAHF, of which will be dedicated to fulfil the need for houses. Investments are focusing on urban areas across Sub-Saharan Africa, and are operating through partnerships[1]. If slums are ever to be halted there need to be many more such projects ensuring the supply of houses outstrips demand.

[1] See further readings: PHATISA, 2013.


Slums are not simply an articulation of inadequate supply of, and a hyper-demand for, housing. Alternatively, slums emerge through deterioration, crime, globalisation, and poverty. Therefore provision of housing does not provide the means for all solutions and may themselves again deteriorate into slums. Slums are heterogeneous; therefore their emergence is far from a universal causality.

Secondly, it remains debatable as to whether the needs of informal settlement dwellers are met through housing schemes, such as PAHF. In previous cases, such as in South Africa’s NUSP[1], inhabitants have been forced to relocate, causing disruptions to livelihoods. Finally, emphasis needs to be placed on building ‘homes’, not ‘houses’.

[1] See further readings: NUSP, 2013.

There are schemes to finance homebuilding

Affordability is a key challenge for slum-dwellers to enter the housing sector - challenges range from being able to access capital required to buy property, to the volatile prices in Africa’s property market. Improving housing in slums enables dwellers a choice to exit and move up the property ladder. Different approaches have emerged of how provide a means to access finance and generate property markets.

First, housing micro-finance schemes are presenting a flexible means to access credit[1]. Second, cooperative loans, such as Nigeria’s FMBN (Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria) are acting to increase homeownership by providing a secondary mortgage market for low-income families and make finance available. The aim is to ensure repayments are equal to rent costs paid.

[1] See further readings: Riecke, 2013.


Finance markets being promoted are introducing risk when insurance, and safety-nets, remain minimal. Investments in housing finance schemes needs to raise questions. Firstly, who organises micro-finance schemes? The idea of positive social capital within the community needs reflection; participation in microfinance is not democratic or available to all (see Jones and Dallimore, 2009).

Second, the provision of loans, and finance, raises concern over future repayment and whether the housing bubble proposed will remain stable. Employment within the informal sector means income is volatile and unpredictable - can housing payments be adapted to irregular income realities when profits are desired?

Incorporating slum dwellers into a financial-market will not remove slums and may simply get the dwellers into debt.

Investment is needed: but by who?

Housing is required, however, a crucial component within the debate is who needs to provide funding and be involved in decision making; does it need to be the government? The consequences of investment are influenced by the actors involved. With the need for quality control adamant, greater recognition of who is investing, and for what purpose, is needed. Allowing everything to be done by private firms will often mean evictions and houses just being made so as to increase rent or to sell to those who are not long term residents.

Otiso (2003) provides a case of slum upgrading in Mathare 4, which showcases the need for a tri-sector partnership - involving public, private, and voluntary actors, for upgrading to meet need and resolve shortages in housing. The question might go further; can the community fund upgrading itself, if so is it the best allocation of funding and how is payment to be kept equitable?


As long as the stated objective is to tackle the issue of housing and remove slums, informal settlements, and squatting, who is investing is not important. The end goal is a key concern. The stated objective of the investor needs to work harmoniously towards removing slums for practical change to emerge.  

Housing politics: who stays in slums?

What kind of city is desired versus being implemented by urban housing investments? The effect of decisions to relocate and design housing policies present implications for the social life of cities and whether existing inequalities are sustained.

For example, issues around housing in South Africa refer to a history of racial inequalities. While in Kenya concern is raised over ethnicity and political clientalism. Further, slum upgrading schemes need to provide an opportunity to change gender inequalities. For example, the precarious position of women in households may remain unchanged unless joint-titling is provided. Widows need to be assured the houses built will enable their freedom to stay out of slums following the bereavement of the male-head in the household.  

Ultimately slums remain through upgrading programs. Whether the program provides houses in-situ or through relocation, slum dwellers are contained and kept in poor housing. Ultimately upgrading can often be beneficial to a small group not to all.


Organisations, such as SDI and Cities Alliance, have recognised the diverse experiences of slum-dwellers and their multiple needs. The different programs are catered to local contexts, and work towards developing equal, and just, initiatives for the urban poor. The aim is to stop cyclic reinforcement of slums.

Alternative: Replacing slums by providing opportunities

Slum dwellers need to be granted rights to occupy and security of tenure. Slum-dwellers need to be provided with opportunities to progress - recognised as right-holders, or obtain a greater income.

A useful method may involve regulating the informal economy - where a large proportion of slum dwellers work - to provide minimal wages and employment conditions. Such a proposal will enable dwellers to enhance financial capital and reduce vulnerability through labour security. They will then have the money to upgrade their home. Alternatively, establishing a rental market provides an opportunity for replacing slums. A key myth within discussions on the housing problem suggests dwellers want to be homeowners and the rental market remains negative. However, renting enables flexibility to inhabitants and provides an income to landlords. Such funds can be invested within microfinance, community, schemes and individual developments to replace ‘slums’.


Slum dwellers in Nairobi are shown to pay high rents for low-quality housing - a reality identified by Gulyani and Talukdar (2009). Estimations show around $31mn USD was paid in the form of rents, by poor slum dwellers in Nairobi in 2004. Nevertheless the high-prices did not lead to the materialisation of improved housing. If a landlord can charge high rents in poor housing stock why should he invest in new buildings? Moreover if not done systematically the slum as a whole will never be brought out of poverty rather the poorest areas will simply move around to where those who have not had opportunities are staying.


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Cities Alliance, World Statistics Day: A Look at Urbanisation, 2013,

Gilbert, A., ‘The Return of the Slum: Does Language Matter?’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 31, 4, pp 697-713, 2007,

Gulyani, S., and Connors, G., ‘Urban Upgrading in Africa: A Summary of Rapid Assessments in Ten Countries’, Africa: Regional Urban Upgrading Initiative, The World Bank, 2002,

Gulyani, S., and Talukdar, D. Informal Rental Markets: The Low-Quality, High-Price Puzzle in Nairobi’s Slums, Springer, Netherlands, 2009,

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