Africa’s housing revolution needs more than bricks and mortar

February 23, 2021
4 mins read

Infrastructure development must be linked to a broader system of financial inclusion, a strong regulatory and institutional framework to govern service delivery and construction, resilient economic demand for services, long-term low-cost capital, and technology and innovation.

These conditions hold if Africa’s housing revolution is to become a reality. UN-HABITAT defines affordable housing as “housing which is adequate in quality and location and does not cost so much that it prohibits its occupants from meeting other basic living costs or threatens their enjoyment of basic human rights”.

What this simply means is that the cost for the average African consumer of meeting all of the above criteria is prohibitively high, while the cost for the developer of building a quality home in a location that is connected and linked to a broader infrastructure network is also high.

In recent years, Africa’s infrastructure evolution, particularly in ICT and energy, has either been defined by disruption or leapfrogging e.g. leapfrogging fixed landlines to mobile telephony or leapfrogging through fossil fuels to alternative energy. In housing infrastructure, however, you simply can’t leapfrog from millions of homeless Africans, past basic brick and mortar, to some virtual housing industry.

A revolution in other sectors like energy will only make sense in a world where Africa’s more than 1bn people have shelter or have a home to go to, and more importantly, one that is connected or close enough to their source of livelihoods. Affordable housing is itself a key driver of many of the SDGs; it influences access to basic services and the health and well-being of low-income households, providing a base for realizing both food security and energy security, sanitation and access to clean water.

The path to Africa’s housing revolution

In 2021, Africa will experience one of the biggest pan-African policy game-changers it has ever known, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement. If successful, the AfCFTA revolution will unleash a new wave of internal migration within Africa, which will lead to a significant rise in not just demand, but due to the predicted prosperity gains, effective demand, for infrastructure, including housing on the continent.

According to the World Bank, if implemented fully, the trade pact could boost regional income by 7% or $450bn, accelerate wage growth and lift millions out of poverty, and with trade liberalization, integrate Africa much more into global supply chains. The protocol on the free movement of persons, right to residence and relight to establishment, all related continental initiatives, will further accelerate this possibility

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