More Futuristic African Cities in the Works

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


It has been well documented that China is undergoing the largest migration in human history from rural areas to cities. But this urbanization trend is occurring across the global South, including in Africa, as well. According to the UN, more than half the world’s population already lives in cities, and 70 per cent will live in urban areas by 2050. Most of the world’s population growth is concentrated in urban areas in the global South.

These emerging urban areas represent vast opportunities for innovators. Innovators will be needed to build them, and in turn they will provide modern facilities for innovators to operate in and engage with the global economy. And they will connect innovators to 21st-century information technology.

But while the government in China engages in significant planning and preparation to facilitate movements to urban areas – often building entire cities from scratch (,29307,1975397,00.html) – that has not been the case in Africa. People in Africa are on the move because they are seeking out opportunities, but much of this movement has been poorly planned and not well thought out.

But now more and more African governments are grappling with how to call time on chaotic and haphazard development and build sustainable, planned cities that will significantly improve human development and quality of life.

Across Africa, a host of ambitious new cities and urban developments are in the works.

Kenya’s Konza Technology City ( is planned as a new centre 60 kilometres from the capital, Nairobi. Calling itself a “world-class technology hub and a major economic driver for the nation”, it offers a high-tech vision full of ultra-modern buildings and houses in order to spur the future growth of Kenya’s technology industry.

It is hoped Konza will create 100,000 jobs by 2030. There will be a central business district, a university campus for 1,500 students, a residential community, and parks and wildlife in green corridors.

The groundbreaking ceremony occurred on January 2013 but the Kenyan Ministry of Lands and Housing has halted operations to allow for greater community engagement, according to Urban Africa. A dispute had erupted with the current landowners who wanted to be better consulted about the development and had accused the government of locking them out of the physical planning process.

Tatu City, Kenya ( bills itself as “by Kenyans, for Kenyans”. It is being built by Rendeavour (, the urban development division of Moscow-based Renaissance Group (, one of the largest urban developers of land in Africa. It joins Konza Technology City as a flagship project for the government’s Vision 2030, hoping to turn Kenya into a middle-income country and a role model for other countries in East Africa.

Tatu City is 15 kilometres from Nairobi. It will take up 1,035 hectares and will be completed in 10 phases. Construction began in May 2012 and is scheduled to be completed by 2022.

It is selling safety and a “beautiful urban environment” just a short journey away from Nairobi’s existing Central Business District. Tatu City wants to be “a model of the African city of the future” as a “dynamic mixed-use, mixed-income environment that will be home to an estimated 70,000 residents and 30,000 day visitors”.

Just 25 minutes from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, it promises to be one of “the most modern, well-planned urban developments in East Africa”.

In Ghana, a number of innovative projects in development reflect the country’s impressive economic growth and information technology achievements in the past decade.

Two cities are being designed by Rendeavour. One, Appolonia, is being built in the Greater Accra area while the second, King City, is being built on the west coast of the country where there is an oil and gas boom underway.

Both will have houses, retail and commercial centres, schools, healthcare facilities and other social services.

“Our objective is to provide the basic infrastructure, planning and necessary management framework in creating satellite cities that reverses the current trend of unplanned development and urban congestion in most of Africa’s growing cities,” Tim Beighton of Rendeavour told CNN.

These projects are in an advanced stage, with all plans completed and approved by the government, according to their websites.

Appolonia City of Light near Accra ( – due to break ground in the third quarter of 2013 – capitalizes on Accra’s status as one of Africa’s fastest-growing urban areas. The Appolonia development will be a “planned, sustainable, mixed-use and mixed-income city” to build a “work-live-play” community for 88,000 people living in 22,000 homes.

It will be built 30 kilometres northeast of Accra’s central business district and will have retail, commercial and industrial space combined with tourism, social and recreation facilities.

King City in Takoradi ( calls itself “Western Ghana’s new holistic city”. It will offer homes, shops, offices, industries and public places. The plan includes building 25,000 new homes and, importantly, over 30 per cent of the city will be allocated for green space. It will take up 1,000 hectares on the outskirts of Sekondi-Takoradi.

Elsewhere in Accra, the Hope (Home Office People Environment) City ( is a much more ambitious concept. It is one of a cluster of projects in Africa focused on building the infrastructure for a 21st century, high-tech future. Costing US $10 billion, it will be built outside Accra and is focused on boosting Ghana’s already established reputation in the field of information and communications technology. It will be home to 25,000 people and create jobs for 50,000. There will be six towers including a 75-storey, 270 metre building that hopes to be the highest in Africa.

It is being financed by RLG Communications, a mix of investors and a stock-buying scheme.

There will be an assembly plant for high-tech products, business offices an information technology university, a hospital and restaurants, theaters and sports centres.

The design is hyper-modern and tries to create a vertical office environment that is dense and reduces the amount of time it takes to get around and circulate between businesses in the complex.

Eko Atlantic on Victoria Island in Lagos, Nigeria ( is a coastal residential and business development that calls itself “The New Gateway to Africa”. To ease pressure in an already crowded city, it is being built on 10 square kilometres of reclaimed land from the Atlantic Ocean. It will be able to house 250,000 people and give work to 150,000.

The story began in 2003 when the Lagos State government was looking for a solution to protect the Bar Beach area of the city from coastal erosion. Land is being reclaimed from the sea and it will make up an area the equivalent of Manhattan in New York City. Just like Manhattan, it is hoped Eko Atlantic will become the new financial centre for West Africa by the year 2020.

Kilamba, or Nova Cidade de Kilamba (, 30 kilometres outside Luanda, Angola is being built by the China International Trust and Investment Corporation ( It is on a vast scale and is designed to be home to 500,000 people with apartment blocks and commercial spaces. It has cost so far US $3.5 billion and is part of a government pledge to provide a million new homes within four years. Kilamba has come in for criticism for not being affordable enough for ordinary Angolans and for having much of the site unoccupied. With the apartments too expensive for ordinary Angolans, the government has decided to take action and ordered the prices to be reduced and made more affordable, according to Angola Press .

La Cite du Fleuve in the Democratic Republic of Congo ( is  a more conventional luxury housing development built on two islands in the capital, Kinshasa. Kinshasa, despite its problems and the turmoil from an ongoing civil war, is one of the continent’s fastest-growing cities. Developed by Hawkwood Properties, La Cite du Fleuve will need to reclaim 375 hectares of sandbanks and swamps to be able to build a collection of riverside villas, offices and shopping centres. It is is planned to take 10 years to complete.

And finally, Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, wants to transform itself into the “center of urban excellence in Africa”.

The 2020 Kigali Conceptual Master Plan ( hopes to create a regional hub for business, trade and tourism, by building a mix of commercial and shopping districts with glass skyscrapers and modern hotels, parks and entertainment facilities.

Critics, however, believe these new cities and modern developments are tackling the problems of urban development by bypassing most of the population. They argue they are just developments for those with money who can buy their way out of the chaos and lack of planning of current African cities.

“They are essentially designed for people with money,” Vanessa Watson, professor of city planning at the University of Cape Town, told CNN. She believes most of the plans are unsustainable “urban fantasies” detached from the reality of African poverty and informal living.

But while it is easy to criticize these ambitious projects, they reflect not only optimism for the continent’s future but also a clear recognition the continent will not be able to get wealthier without modern cities and infrastructure in keeping with a 21st-century economy.

Published: August 2013


1) Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization: SI’s fourth issue goes to the many new cities under construction to build the new 21st century world emerging in the global South. Website:

2) Urban Africa: Urban Africa is a digital entry point for knowledge sharing, interactive exchange and information dissemination on urbanization in Africa. Website:

3) Arrival City: A third of humanity is on the move. History’s largest migration is creating new urban spaces that are this century’s focal points of conflict and change — unseen districts of rapid transformation and febrile activity that will reshape our cities and reconfigure our economies. Website:

4) Global Urbanist: The Global Urbanist is an online magazine reviewing urban affairs and urban development issues in cities throughout the developed and developing world. Website:

5) Africa Renewal: The Africa Renewal information programme, produced by the Africa Section of the United Nations Department of Public Information, provides up-to-date information and analysis of the major economic and development challenges facing Africa today. Website:


Cited in Beyond Gated Communities by Samer Bagaeen and Ola Uduku (2015).

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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Undercurrents: A Cancellation At CBC TV Raises A Host Of Issues For The Future

By David South

Scan Magazine (Canada), April/May 1997

The screensaver on an Undercurrents researcher’s computer terminal bears a maxim that might strike a chord in a lot of CBC units these days: “Only the paranoid survive.”

The quirky media and technology show will fade to black at the end of March. Its cancellation raises a host of issues for a CBC deeply troubled by budget cuts, an ageing audience, a dearth of alternative programme concepts and an inability to plan for a future.

In the show’s pilot, Wendy Mesley – Undercurrents’ host and progenitor – set the tone for this accessible look at the relationship among technology, media and society: “Like it or not we are living in a wired world where OJ Simpson, Big Brother, even your bank machine, all converge … we’ll explore all the issues, the undercurrents of the information age.”

To those who loved it, Undercurrents was a program that satisfied a vital public need, and an ambitious concept for a public broadcaster that some say had grown a little musty. The show promised avant-garde production and investigative journalism that critically explored today’s new media and technology culture. Youngish researchers and producers were hired from outside the CBC. They brought with them experience and new ideas from specialty channels, TV Ontario and CTV. Some came straight out of journalism school.

Critical reaction to the first programs was mixed. John Doyle, a critic with the Globe and Mail’s Broadcast Week, lauded Undercurrents when it launched, calling it “a superb example of  solid CBC-TV journalism and original reporting.” Others were less flattering. The Toronto Star’s Greg Quill accused the show of “flirting with infotainment.” At the Vancouver Sun, Alex Strachan wasn’t impressed by a report on a weekend conclave of computer geeks in the California desert for a kind of Hackerstock. “It sounds interesting,” he wrote, “but it isn’t.”

What hurt more was schedulers playing musicial chairs with the show’s slot. Switching Undercurrents from Tuesday at 7 pm to Friday at 7 pm midway through its life left viewers confused and sent ratings plummeting just as network programmers were casting about for places to apply a whopping 30 percent budget cut. As a result, some feel the show never had a fighting chance.

In the end, it was the show’s precarious financial arrangement that killed it. Undercurrents was never funded from the general current affairs budget. Instead, it drew on a special reserve of cash created by the network. When it came time to mete out the cuts in December, the special funding bubble burst. Rather than cut further into the budgets of flagship current affairs programs, executives chose to drop Undercurrents.

Executive producer Frances Mary (FM) Morrison acknowledges that gratitude for her program’s special funding obscured a recognition of its fragility. “That was really our Achilles heel,” she says. “We were just this little orphan that didn’t have its own money. We weren’t adopted into the larger family.”

With the network funding gone, Undercurrents’ budget (rumoured to be over a million dollars per season) was nowhere to be found. Discussions about chasing a corporate sponsor went nowhere because the show needed more money than any sponsor could have provided. “It was never an issue of $100,000 or $200,000,” says Morrison. “It was the issue of our entire budget. [CBC] would still have had to come up with the rest of it.”

CBC TV’s news, current affairs and Newsworld director Bob Culbert and former current affairs head Norm Bolen both say they wanted the show to stay on the air but couldn’t find a way to fund it withou seriously hurting programs like The Fifth Estate, Marketplace and Venture.

Bolen, now VP of programming at the History and Entertainment Network, says it came down to choosing between The Health Show and Undercurrents. The Health Show won because it had a “bigger audience, a broader demographic and was bringing in revenue from sales of programming to the specialty channels.”

Mesley has another theory. “The majority of people who worked on this programme are not traditional CBCers… They can’t bump, they don’t get huge severance packages. Of course, if you want a future, those are the wrong reasons for letting people go.”

With its intensive focus on issues like the abuse of computer-morphed images, surreptitious “data-mining” of consumer purchase records, or media “freebies,” there’s no question that Undercurrents has met a need in this media-saturated world. But controversy over the cancellation centres on the age-old question of CBC and the youth audience.

Morrison and Mesley both say they intended the show to appeal to a younger-than-usual CBC audience. But CBC executives weren’t convinced it was an audience the network could, or should, go after. According to Culbert, a youth mandate was something the production team brought to Undercurrents. “It started as a media ethics show targeted at a classic CBC audience. Nobody sat around one day and said ‘let’s invent the show that will go after younger viewers.’”

Bolen expresses a profound lack of faith in the under-30 audience. “People under 30 don’t watch information programming, okay? Let’s get that straight. I sure wouldn’t spend the rest of my life trying to get an audience that doesn’t watch a certain genre of programming. This is a business where you pay attention to reality. People under 30 watch trashy American sitcoms, which I’m not in the business of doing, and which the CBC isn’t in the business of doing.”

“I think that’s bullshit,” says Reid Willis, producer and director of CityTV’s Media Television. “People under 30 are interested in what’s going on in the media. The 20 to 30 group is more media savvy than the generation that preceded them.” But Willis thinks the lack of information programming pitched at a young audience is down to a lack of interest from advertisers.

Mesley and Morrison remain convinced Undercurrents did appeal to a younger audience, but felt it was sabotaged by the schedule shuffling. In the show’s first slot, Tuesdays at 7 pm, its average audience was 499,000. The biggest night came on Sunday, October 22, 1995 when a repeat aired at 9:30 pm got an audience of 865,000. But Undercurrents’ debut in the 96/97 season in its new 7 pm slot on Fridays was demoralizing for the crew. Morrison reports the audience for the season opener at 438,000 and 434,000 for a strong programme the following week.

She says the numbers built as audiences found the programme’s new location, peaking at 678,000 on December 6. According to CBC audience research figures, average minute audience for the 96/97 season to February 2 stood at 518,000 viewers.

“Friday at seven was not a good place for Undercurrents,” claims Morrison. “It’s an older audience. In fact the audience for Air Farce [which followed Undercurrents at 7:30] is quite old, surprisingly old. I was actually astonished to find out how old that audience was.”

CBC audience research bears Morrison out, reporting that the 18-34 demographic for both Air Farce and Undercurrents has been identical this season – a mere 14 percent of the total audience.

Fridays at seven is also a heavily competitive slot packed with overhyped American tabloid TV shows like Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, Hard Copy and A Current Affair. Morrison says focus groups told her that audiences in that time period surf around looking for stories they like and then switch around with no loyalty to a particular programme.

“People build a menu. We took a leaf out of the tabloid book in terms of our presentation in order to survive in the seven o’clock environment.”

Undercurrents’ jerky camera work and flashy graphics didn’t endear itself to everyone, a fact the show’s producers recognized early on. “I can point to stories where we sabotaged ourselves with stylistic extremes,” admits Morrison.

But Mesley bristles at accusations the show was all style and no content, or a clone of Media Television. “We are the antithesis of Media Television. Obviously everyone has adopted their style from rock videos.  But they get nearly all their video as handouts. We are not saying, ‘This is hip.’ We are not saying, ‘This is the latest consumer thing you can add to your collection.’ We are saying ‘Think about this.’”

Undercurrents’producers express pride in the show’s innovations. They cite its lead role in web page design at the corporation., its efforts at promoting a more playful visual presentation, and its success in promoting an acceptance of media stories elsewhere in news and current affairs. But what seemed to enliven everyone interviewed for this story was a love of the public broadcasting ethos, where stories are told because they are important, not because advertisers say they are important. Many of the young researchers and producers at Undercurrents had done time at the privates, and appreciated the freedom and extensive resources offered by the CBC. But they felt they had come to a CBC whose values were in peril.

“It will be like C-SPAN here,” quipped an Undercurrents freelancer who has done time at the specialty channels.

Others who thrived in the upbeat atmosphere at Undercurrents say they’re not too keen to look for work elsewhere in the CBC. One such is 25-year-old researcher Bret Dawson. “It’s not a happy place,” he says.

It’s not clear what, if any, programming will replace Undercurrents. If the current trend prevails, it looks like any new programming will have to survive on a smaller budget, generate outside income and prove it can draw in viewers in short order. Under those conditions, people at Undercurrents and elsewhere wonder how long CBC’s commitment to innovative new programming  can hold out.

CBC TV’s Undercurrents host Wendy Mesley. Scan Magazine was published in the 1990s for Canadian media professionals.

In 2021 Wendy Mesley commented on the story in a Tweet.

More from Scan Magazine:

The Big Dump: CP’s New Operational Plan Leaves Critics With Questions Aplenty

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