“Time Travel: The Reality of the Africa(n) Dream”

KONZA CITY, KENYA (Vision 2030) / 5,000 Acres / Home to 30,000 Residents / www.konzacity.co.ke

Courtesy of techpost.ug

Courtesy of techpost.ug

Courtesy of transforming-kenya.com

Africa faces an interesting saga; global lifestyle says go forward, local mindset says hold on, existing systems says backward.  Many African countries find this conflict that seem to arise between the realities the people face at home, the dreams the leaders aspire to achieve locally in line with the pressures of globalization, and the expectations of both the Diaspora and non-African foreign stakeholders abroad. There’s usually a sense of doubt, extraordinary skepticism, and a hint of misplaced pragmatism whenever the African attempts to conceptualize things beyond the existing realities of the African’s world inside Africa. If the world limited itself to the shortcomings of itself and the people in it, there would likely be no Galileo Mission to Jupiter, nor NASA’s Voyager Missions to Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Why venture into such ambitious missions at all, with all that humans on earth have yet to focus on and fix; why extend our imaginations, and stimulate the potential in our abilities, to create what we imagine, and make real our dreams of what can be, that seems all but impossible?

The way it seems, Africa has set its eyes on a new dream; time travel, and the time machine fuelled by the drive of capitalist thought and a growth complex, rolls right through on the wheels of technology, industry, and urbanization.

The media has been crowded with anticipation in recent years, of the next wave to hit the African landscape. Skyscrapers, massive buildings, droves of apartments, condos, houses, advanced road networks, expert engineered highways, leisure capitals, tech hubs, architectural masterpieces, and the list goes on. The two images above depicting the new Konza City in Kenya, begins to tell the story of a new Africa that looks more like Dubai than Kroo Bay.

TATU CITY, KENYA (Vision 2030) / 2,400 Acres / Home to 70,000 Residents / www.tatucity.com

TATU CITY, KENYA (Vision 2030)

Africa has been experiencing a set of emerging trends recently such as rapid urbanization and decentralized governments, privatization of state services, the infamous brain gain of highly skilled nationals from the Diaspora, steps towards broadband connectivity with fiber optics, and economic booms. According to Ernst & Young’s 2013 Competitive Survey, the African economy has tripled since 2,000 and Malawi, Angola, and Mozambique are among the top fastest growing economies in Africa. According to South Africa IOL’s BusinessReport,  Nigeria is now the continent’s second largest economy following South Africa.

The atmosphere that big dreams spring from is clearly ripe in Africa. The critics however, have a list of laundry items that they believe will create setbacks for Africa’s time travelling visions and make any effort towards making these dreams reality, unsustainable. According to some, these are mere figments of the imagination; lovely aesthetic remedies of the African futurist cramped into well-designed simulators and multimedia presentations. Clearly, to them, Africa is simply not ready to travel this far.

LA CITE’ DU FLEUVE, DR OF CONGO (Vision 2025) / 500+ Acres / www.lacitedufleuve.com

Courtesy of skyscrapercity.com

Critics such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s ‘Informal City Dialogues’ have dubbed these ‘New City’ phenomenons, which are Government-led and spearheaded by Chinese and other foreign contractors, as worrying, naive, and utopia fantasies. Nextcity.org stated that these countries “risk exacerbating the problems of spatial fragmentation, and social and spatial polarization.” CNN and other international media have also weighed in with lengthy documentaries outlining the deplorable conditions the poor live, in the midst of these high-end dreams of Africa’s time travelers.

Some of these critiques are quite valid, such as the theory that these new developments may become exclusive to the elites and widen the gap between the haves and the have not’s. However, is this enough to cease this new wave of drive and ambition of Africa? Granted, some of these projects are extremely costly and may take much longer than anticipated, should Africans simply remain mediocre in their imagination and ambitions and proceed as overtly cautious risk-takers, especially factoring in global competition, which is very real. Must Africa remain stuck in the past for fear of moving forward?

APPOLONIA, GHANA (Vision 2020) / 2,000 Acres /Home to 80,000+ Residents / www.appolonia.com.gh  

Apollonia Ghana

History has not designed a corroborative blueprint to support the critics entirely.  Take Europe’s “Garden City” movement that eventually became the inspiration for many cities today. Travelling back into the late 19th Century and early 20th, we come across Sir Ebenezer Howard, an English Writer and Thinker whose publication on a planned city termed “Garden City” was not too far from that of what we see in the ideas of urbanization for these new cities in Africa. He envisioned a new type of community; a new type of city.  While he dreamed big, his dreams did not falter into the abyss of suspended imagination.  He took action, much like these African governments and private sector partners who are making an effort to bring these new cities to reality. After Howard’s unsuccessful attempts at creating his vision, over the decades others drew from his inspiration and built modern cities that continue to exist as popular urban communities to-date.  Cities such as Sunnyside, Queens; Radburn, New Jersey; Baldwin Hills Village, Los Angeles; Alto da Lapa, Brazil; and Pinelands, South Africa are some of the many cities around the world today that were inspired by Howard’s Garden City.

The challenges are high for Africa, probably much higher than any of the Governments and private sector contractors have anticipated. Some of the New Cities may never be completed, others may not rise up to the expectations of Diaspora Returnees who relocate with their families, to their country of origin, anxious to establish a lifestyle similar to the one they leave behind in the West. There is always a thousand reasons why risk must be a factor great enough to end a journey.

However, it is about time that Africa travels in time on its own terms.  At this point, these New Cities seem to be Africa’s Voyage missions to the urban galaxy; exploring and discovering a terrain yet to be unlocked completely.

EKO ATLANTIC, NIGERIA (Vision 2016) /2,000+ Acres / 250,000 Residents / www.ekoatlantic.com

Courtesy of ekoatlantic.com

There are still several paramount concerns that remain, such as the colonial land tenure systems, fragile political systems, education & illiteracy, and of course the gap between the haves and the have not’s.  The contracts drawn with private sector contractors should be free of corrupt deals or at least at as best as possible. To assume that a foreign country like China or Russia would lend its expertise and resources to Africa’s governments to rebuild whole city infrastructures, sometimes from scratch, without their interest considered at the negotiating table is unrealistic. At the end of the day, the companies seek profit and the best deal they can get their hands on. The accountability falls on the desk of government officials who make deals on behalf of the people, to make them with the interest of the people as priority.

Must Africa put a halt to its time travel machine and play it safe by being realistic and face the exact problems it has today? Maybe, that would be ideal in a world where Africa existed all to itself, and dreams were dependent on education and the economy. In this world however, the reality remains the same, whether or not Africa decides to hold on to its dreams. The global advancement in technology, industry, urbanization, and economy will still continue to occur.

Africa needs its own Ebenezer Howards; those who dare to create lovely aesthetics of the African futurist cramped into well-designed simulators and multimedia presentations; and go all the way to bring it into reality. It may or may not work now, though it is assurance that there is a future filled with risk-takers and ambitious dream chasers ahead, who dare to transform the continent and rebuild it from scratch.  Those ahead in time may be more responsible, plan better, be more competent at negotiating and drawing up contracts, and more realistic with the local socioeconomic realities thoroughly considered. These utopia fantasies of today, will provide blueprints for sustainable cities tomorrow; the same way Howard’s Garden Cities of yesterday, provide the blueprints for great cities around the world today. In the meantime, Africa has travelled into the future, and if it continues along this journey, it may soon cease to be stuck in the past.