African Alternatives

Within the next four decades, the African city population will almost triple. Currently, more than half of the urban population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in slums. Open the curtain to discover two possible futures. Will the African city become ‘smart’ for the privileged few? Or is it possible to think of a wiser and more inclusive future?


Africa’s urban population is expected to triple between 2010 and 2050, reaching 1.2 billion people. The continent will overtake Eastern Asia as the region with the largest urban population in the world. Most of Africa’s urban population live in small cities, which are likely to undergo significant expansion in the coming decades. The scale of development required to accommodate this growth is monumental, and for the most part it is following a car-oriented intensive path. African cities represent the single biggest opportunity for the development of post-fossil cities, and cannot be ignored when envisioning our urban future. These cities have the potential to adopt radically different approaches to development that learn from the successes and mistakes of the rest of the world, and combine these learnings with local wisdom to create inspiring cities that lead us into a post-fossil future.

But first, we must acknowledge the current reality. While most citizens in European cities take infrastructure like piped water and electricity for granted, the same cannot be said in the cities of Sub-Saharan Africa, where over 60% of the population lives in slums. Many governments find it easier to exclude these people from the definition of ‘the city’ that they serve, leaving slum dwellers with no guarantee of meeting their basic needs and no prospects for the future. They experience a daily struggle to access water, energy and food in the midst of extremely uncomfortable, unhealthy and often dangerous living environments. As a prelude to envisioning the Post-Fossil African City, our installation brings to the fore some of the harsh realities of urban life in Africa using a dramatic 'status quo' scene.

This image portrays a street scene from a fictional African city. One can almost hear the sounds of the chaotic intersection — the honking horns of dilapidated cars, the conversations between people and the sounds of street dogs fighting over food. The sky is thick with the stench of exhaust fumes and smoke from the burning of wood and charcoal, while coal fired power stations belch out clouds in the distance. In the absence of services, residents resort to innovative and often illegal means of survival. Makeshift wires connect some to the electricity grid, risking the lives of others in the process. Unroadworthy vehicles provide unreliable, unsafe and often overpriced connections to places of work. A lack of piped water creates a gap for informal vendors and entrepreneurs to sell water at high rates, while poor sanitation threatens the health of residents. Informal settlements extend as far as the eye can see, and are likely to continue to do so unless something changes. In the exhibition, this 'status quo' image is printed on a semi-translucent curtain, indicatin