East Africa hasn’t urbanized at the same rate as the rest of
the world. While over 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities,
the East African region of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi – the
members of the regional intergovernmental organization East African Community –
will only reach an urban population of 31 percent by 2030.

But while the countries as a whole aren’t following the
urbanization trend at the same pace as other places, some of their biggest
cities are among the fastest growing in the world. Of the projected top 20
fastest growing cities in the world from 2010 to 2025, five of them are located
in East Africa. Kampala, Uganda is expected to grow by 99.5 percent, followed
by Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (85.2 percent), Kigali, Rwanda (79.9 percent),
Mombasa, Kenya (79 percent), and Nairobi, Kenya (77.3 percent).

To deal with the strain of urban population booms some of
these cities are turning to satellite cities as part of their solution,
according to a report, State of
East Africa Report 2012
, from the Society of International

Four satellite cities have been constructed or proposed in
these East African countries: Outside Nairobi, Tatu City and Konza Technology CityKigamboni adjacent
to Dar es Salaam, Kakungulu in
But will these satellite cities actually address the
problems associated with high rates of urbanization or will they make things
worse? I emailed one of the reports co-authors, Ahmed Salim, in Dar es
Salaam, to get his take on the complex, “double-edge sword” of
satellite cities.

Why is there a focus on using satellite cities to improve
The interesting thing about the satellite cities project is
that there is no clear indication that the region’s governments and city
managers all decided one day to deploy satellite cities as a solution to rapid
urbanization. Satellite cities are driven by business developers and as a
result are being promoted by businesses and are consequently labeled as the
future of well-organized urban spaces.

These satellite cities hope to tackle two different aspects:
accommodating urbanization and creating modern cities to complement
development. They also seek to embrace their respective countries’ advantages.
For instance, Konza City in Nairobi, Kenya is a multi-billion dollar ICT city
park. The Kenyan Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and
Communication expects Konza City to be Africa’s home of computerization, the
equivalent of Silicon Valley in California, complete with skyscrapers, business
centers, international schools and hospitals. It is no secret that Nairobi
aspires to be the technology hub of East Africa. 

Another reason why there is such a focus is explained by the
Government of Tanzania which claims that satellite cities would hope to bring
urban services closer to residents and consequently decongest the city center.
This strategy implies that the only way to improve city conditions would be to
have less people traffic. Perhaps only then can authorities focus on developing
the original cities.

Do you think this is the best solution? Shouldn’t existing
cities invest in improving existing infrastructure, transportation and housing
to deal with rapid urbanization? 
Having satellite cities is a double-edged sword. It is
advantageous especially in terms of development and thinking about the future
in an innovative manner. However, the criticism, which your question implies,
concerns why would the authorities invest in new adjacent cities when current
ones are not up to par? If the argument to build satellite cities is to expand
the city and accommodate the growing population it makes sense to build
satellite cities. If we are talking about sustainability, satellite cities may
not be the best solution because it deviates away from improving the ‘older’

The question is, would improving existing infrastructure,
transportation and housing really deal with rapid urbanization? Improving
infrastructure and transportation may ease up the pressures of the movement of
people but I doubt it will necessarily deal and accommodate with rapid
urbanization. Hence, an alternative like satellite cities. 

You mention in the report that these satellite cities could
become enclaves for the rich. What do you think will be the long-term impact of
this out-migration on the urban cores?
I think one of the long-term consequences would be a type of
nouveau apartheid or segregationist society. Most of the satellite cities are
geared towards a certain class of people, and this is clearly marked by the
potential costs of living and working within these cities. As the report
indicates, “the poor and vulnerable populations in the mother cities face
an increased risk of further marginalization and impoverishment […]” 

mother cities would be left with drastic economic and even human capital loss.
For instance, skilled and qualified workers would migrate to these satellite
cities for a chance at sustainable and well-paying jobs. Regular cities would
face an economic deficit and would potentially be seen as lost cities because
of the perceived notion that only the poor live there. We may see the first
instance of metropolitan cities turning into slums. This may sound extreme but
not necessarily far-fetched. 

Article by Tyler Falk who is a fellow at The Atlantic Cities


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