Eko Atlantic is a city that rises “like Aphrodite from the foam of the Atlantic,” wrote Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka. The city is defined by sustainability, luxury, technology, and economic opportunity. It is Africa’s own Dubai; a gleaming gateway to the continent that will revolutionize the city of Lagos, solidifying its place as West Africa’s financial center. The private development, which is located on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean along Lagos’ upscale Bar Beach coastline, is predicted to house 400,000 residents and to provide over 150,000 jobs.

Eko Atlantic is ushering in a wave of futuristic African cities. These modern satellite cities are built on the edge of existing metropolises in the hopes of transforming the country’s economy and its role in the global marketplace. For example, developers are building Hope City outside Accra and Konza Techno City, known as “Africa’s Silicon Savannah,” outside Nairobi, in the hopes to turn Ghana and Kenya respectively into major players in the technology industry. African urbanization is occurring at a breakneck pace, and if done right, presents a valuable and unique opportunity to create jobs and lift millions out of poverty. However, if done wrong, the urban poor could become increasingly marginalized as slums are cleared to make way for housing they cannot afford and the mobile upper class migrates to upscale edge cities such as Eko Atlantic. Africa has the chance to urbanize in a way that increases the total populace’s aggregate quality of life rather than deepening the divide between the tiny elite and the vast urban poor, but corruption and poor urban planning must first be overcome.

A recent United Nations-Habitat report highlights the rapid growth of cities underway in Africa at the moment. According to Anna Tibaijuka, the executive director of UN-Habitat, Africa is currently experiencing the world’s fastest rate of urbanization. Right now, about 40 percent of African people live in urban environments, but by 2030, the number will exceed 50 percent as Africa ceases to be a predominantly rural continent and some cities swell by up to 85 percent of their current size. This transformation is evinced by the extremely high urban growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa of 3.6 percent, double the world average. As people flock to cities to escape rural violence, disease, and poverty, the slums of Africa’s cities overflow. 200 million Africans live in slums, making up 70 percent of urban inha itants, and; of these, 175 million do not have access to acceptable sanitation. In Lagos, so close to the opulence of Eko Atlantic, two thirds of the city lives in slums with limited access to clean drinking water, food, roads, electricity, or housing. It is crucial to ask why slums continue to persist on such a massive scale in the midst of rapid development.

To begin, one must look at the root causes of slum formation in Africa. Historically, a country’s urbanization has been coupled with and driven by its industrialization. Urban migrants are drawn to cities to fill a plethora of newly created industrial jobs, further strengthening the economy and spurring economic growth. This pattern of industrialization-led urbanization has not been repeated in Africa, where there has been a premature rural exodus. The rural sector is comparatively worse off than it was 30 years ago, due to a multitude of reasons such as climate change and increased international competition. As a result, there has been a large migration to central metropolises that are ill-equipped to handle the ballooning number of residents. These cities do not have the jobs, housing, or the infrastructure to accommodate thousands more residents. Migrants end up living in slums and working in the informal economy, which constitutes 61 percent of urban employment in Africa. The conditions in slums exacerbate urban poverty, with high rates of disease due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitation. If nothing is done, slums will continue to grow. Countries need government policies that address social inequality and injustice by providing affordable housing, basic services, and functioning infrastructure. Morocco, Nigeria, and Rwanda have all approached the problem of stemming slum growth differently, and the successes and failures of their policies offer valuable insight for future government policy interventions.

Morocco has experienced huge success in stopping slum growth and eliminating the horrible living conditions of slums through its powerful Cities without Slums initiative. The program, launched in 2004, outlined a strategy for urban development focusing on building affordable housing, developing infrastructure, and creating better sanitation. As of 2011, 100,000 new housing units have been built and about 1.5 million people have been helped out of the slums. Residents now have sewage systems, clean water, electricity, and access to schools and health clinics. However, the government did not achieve all of this alone: cooperation between the private and public sector was integral to success. For example, PMCE bank, one of Morocco’s largest lenders, lends to those without property or regular income. The bank mitigates its risk by only lending up to 40 percent of someone’s income. The government also secures 70 percent of the loan, further incentivizing the extension of capital to the country’s poorest residents.

Property developers are also on board with the Cities without Slums initiative. Addoha, Morocco’s largest property developer, has been very active in building low-income housing. The government incentivizes this focus on low-income housing to stem slum growth by offering subsidies and tax breaks, with up to 25 percent of production costs covered. As seen in Morocco, how incentives are crafted has a huge influence on the behavior of banks and property developers, players that cannot be overlooked. There are many lessons to take away from Morocco’s success. First, the focus on basic services is crucial. Policies cannot just focus on housing but must focus on building a sustainable city. Second, it is important to use secure tenure to restructure slums, as Morocco did. Land laws must be crafted so that the poor are not marginalized and vulnerable groups have access to land. Secure tenure prevents demolition, stabilizing the community and allowing for housing investment. Lastly, a strong political leadership must unite local governments, the business community, and residents in the effort to achieve well-defined goals. Finding the money for urban development is one of the largest challenges governments face when fighting slum growth, and Morocco’s cooperation with the business community offers valuable insight into overcoming this seemingly intractable problem. The case of Morocco highlights how there is a larger chance of success when motivation comes from within the country. To contrast with the success seen in Morocco, the approach the Nigerian authorities have taken has proved less than optimal. In Lagos, where land is scarce and in high demand, there is a history of slum demolition and spatial exclusion of the poor since informal settlements are not recognized. Starting in the 1990s, when bulldozers demolished the Maroko slum, the government has considered slum demolition the solution to stopping slum growth. Recently, parts of the slum of Makoko have been demolished as well, with residents left homeless overnight with no form of compensation or resettlement. This has not proven to be a long-term solution. Instead, the situation of the poor worsens as they are increasingly marginalized and move to an even more undesirable piece of land further from the unaffordable city center and economic opportunity. This is not a long-term solution since the government has not eliminated slums, rather, their location is just changing and their conditions are deteriorating. The government must change its policy to stabilize these communities by providing secure land tenure.

The World Bank has attempted to intervene in Lagos to stop slum growth, but with marginal success. The bank ran the Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance project from 2006 to 2013, extending a US$200 million loan to the country. The objective was to revitalize Lagos’ nine largest slums by rebuilding the infrastructure and drainage system so that residents had access to clean water and solid waste processing. However, as of the project’s closure in 2013, the World Bank reported moderate to unsatisfactory achievement of its objective and the overall implementation process. The Bank faced many setbacks. For example, there were initial delays concerning the building of the big drainage canal that would restructure solid waste removal. Then, all new civil works were suspended due to concerns about lack of compliance with safety standards. Furthermore, during the lifespan of the project, the Lagos state government demolished the slum of Ijora Badia. The World Bank then had to rescue the displaced persons, providing cash and oversight for their re- settlement. In comparison to the success of Morocco’s “Cities without Slums” initiative, we can see that for lasting change to take place, the motivation cannot be external, it must be internal. It must be the country’s own political and business leaders who motivate change, since, as seen in Nigeria, the efforts of external organizations, such as the World Bank, can be easily thwarted by inefficiency.

The Rwandan government has posed an innovative solution to the perennial problem of slum growth. Kigali, the capital of and largest city in Rwanda, has seen rapid growth in recent years with an influx of rural residents looking for a better life. In the face of swelling city slums, the government hypothesized that the best way to prevent further slum growth and improve the quality of life of Rwandans was to dis-incentivize migration to the teeming capital. In order to accomplish this, the Rwandan government has outlined an ambitious and innovative plan to develop Rwanda’s mid- sized intermediary cities, such as Huye, Rubavu, Nyagatare, Rwamagana, Rusizi, and Musanze, and provide economic opportunity there. The government will funnel funds towards vocational and technical training programs for the country’s youth. The hope is that these people will then be able to help construct the needed 35,000 urban housing units a year using newly identified cost-efficient building materials and technology. If the Rwandan government succeeds, it will provide a valuable model of how to handle urban growth in a way that does not overlook and leave behind the lower class.

Looking over these countries, one can begin to sense possible solutions that may hold the keys to success. At the national level, housing and land reform with security of land tenure are important to ensure slum residents do not lose their land. Within local communities, local residents must be involved with the decision making process and local governments must be passionate and efficient in implementing these programs. Housing, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and basic services must all be equally addressed to build a sustainable city. And lastly, the diversification of economic opportunities with the development of intermediary cities, as seen in Rwanda, offers a powerful tool to strengthen the economy. Fixing slums must be a priority for African countries undergoing rapid urbanization since it creates a healthier, more equal, more stable, and stronger country.

In the end, it comes down to whether these policies will institutionalize poverty and ingrain high levels of inequality for generations to come, or if the increased investment and job opportunities will succeed in improving quality of life across all income levels. Sadly, it is possible that with new fringe cities, the best jobs and the most talented residents will leave existing metropolises, depressing their economies for everyone left behind. On the other hand, if intermediary cities become vibrant urban centers in their own right, and if better housing and sanitation revitalize existing cities, it is possible that large numbers of the lower class will be lifted up the social ladder. It is still unclear whether Africa’s urbanization will be a boon or a burden.