Housing and The Leadership role in Africa and Covid 19

Africa’s urban housing crisis, – the continent’s booming youth population flocking to cities in search of work and struggling to find a place to call their own-characterized and intensified by overcrowding in the slums or informal settlements in cities, with inadequate services has been a major problem since urbanization. The backlog, inequity and access to water and sanitation and its health implications are the front lines of defence against coronavirus.

The recent pandemic has made it imperative that African leaders address the spiralling urban housing crisis in Africa, especially to find solutions to the informal settlements. According to Africa Data and Our World in Data August 2021, since mid- July 2021 there has been an increase in covid related deaths in Africa, however, the impact of the pandemic remains remarkably lower compared to the America’s, Asia, and Europe. It is also widely known that the pandemic is prevalent in urban areas therefore the urgency for African Leaders to prioritise the urban housing phenomenon cannot be overstated.

In the informal settlements, social distancing cannot be practiced as lives are intertwined in the social fabric that fuels community survival. Thus, shared facilities from toilets to wells, boreholes and public transport and crowded lanes in the slums in Accra, Lagos, Nairobi, and Johannesburg means typical Covid 19 prevention measures are not appropriate. The informal settlements here present all the conditions for rapid spread of Covid 19, very high population density, scant access to water and sanitation, widespread poverty, and inadequate health infrastructure.

A first step to resolving this phenomenon is to engage with all stakeholders involved within the housing sector. It is also important to note that a participative model of leadership is essential in ensuring that all stakeholders are engaged and focused in resolving this issue.  A lot of research has been done in this sector; a typical example is the Borgen project which targets development intervention in sub-Saharan African slums.  The World Bank has also funded slum upgrading programs to combat rising urban poverty. To ensure this trend continues, Leaders should formulate strategies to ensure that all stakeholders are actively engaged, local chiefs who tend to have a lot of influence with land tenure issues, local government authorities, cooperatives, innovators in the building industry, estate and property developers’ and the financial sector. In short, the idea would be to create a forum where the participative form of leadership and governance would be the mode of operation.

Finance is and has always been a major problem. The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AFCFTA) and the Trans-African Highway network can facilitate internal migration within Africa and if successful will lead to a significant rise for infrastructure including housing on the continent. Leaders must take advantage of this these new developments and must formulate local, district, regional and national spatial and housings plans. These plans should incorporate the notion of rural and regional development nodes with satellite self-sustainable towns to counter the urbanisation phenomena. Plans must target the affordable housing concept, a holistic approach to the type of building materials to be used should be considered for example the use of discarded shipping containers, mud baked bricks and local roofing materials. The concept of environmentally friendly building materials and methods must be a principal component of the entire process, renewable energy must also be incorporated into the whole programme. 

A public awareness drive an essential requirement of change management and a vital part of Participative Leadership should be part of the project management process. This drive must highlight the finance challenges the housing sector faces. The drive must address certain beliefs that houses should only be built with cement bricks, other concepts should be encouraged, and comparative costs made transparent to highlight savings that can be made using these innovative methods.

As stated earlier, the pandemic, the current world freight issues, the looming energy issues in Europe and the Global warming crisis is a warning especially to African leaders to be more open, innovative and encourage participatory methods of leadership to resolve these issues. IoFAL (Institute of African Leadership) encourages this kind of leadership it entails several tools and practises to ensure success in this type of leadership. It incorporates local cultures into issues of such as, how to lead, conflict resolution and the importance of ethics and morals. 

We at IoFAL are of the opinion that on African issues; urbanisation being one of so many requires a kind of leadership that would gain the trust of its citizens where transparency is prevalent. Unfortunately, the world is facing a myriad of problems and it is important that leaders and managers must be prepared to be innovative. 

by Kofi Asante-Larbi, CIO

Institute of African Leadership, IoFAL