Africa’s Urban Challenge

Every day, thousands of people arrive in Africa's cities seeking a better life, only to realize that they must raise their children in a slum. But for how long will members of the new generation of urban poor – soon the majority in developing countries – allow themselves to be marginalized?

NAIROBI – My mother, like her mother, her grandmother, and so on, was born into poverty in the rural village of Rarieda, Kenya. I, too, was born in the village, and lived there until it was struck by a brutal famine when I was two years old. With no food, money, or opportunities, my mother did what thousands of African villagers do every day: she moved us to the city in search of a better life. But, given the lack of jobs and housing in Nairobi, we ended up in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums.

Located just a couple of miles from downtown Nairobi, Kibera is a heavily polluted, densely populated settlement composed of informal roads and shacks with corrugated tin roofs. Kenya’s government does not recognize Kibera, there is no sewage system or formal power grid. Its residents, estimated to number anywhere from a few hundred thousand to more than a million, do not officially exist.

Kibera is just one example of the consequences of the rapid urbanization that is gaining momentum worldwide. More than 44% of developing-country residents already live in cities. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that by 2050, only 30% of the global population will remain in rural areas. But few have stopped to consider this shift’s implications for families like mine.

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