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Cooperation between Europe and Africa towards housing

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How can we foster strong partnerships between Europe and Africa regarding housing?

The aim should be to mitigate informality and foster innovation as well as sustainable growth.

Where is the best place to start? What plans are in progress? Here’s what’s happened to date and where there are further opportunities to investigate.

The five pillars of the European Commission

The European Commission is the executive branch of the European Union. It plays an active role in developing the EU’s overall strategy and policies. Internationally, it helps to negotiate development cooperation agreements and is represented around the world. European Commission has an extensive toolbox of instruments to support partner countries on international and development cooperation.

The European Commission is at the beginning of a financial framework that goes from 2021 to 2027. The programming has recently concluded, and they are now looking at five pillars in which they divide their work:

  1. The Green Deal
  2. Innovation & digital entrepreneurship
  3. Sustainable growth & jobs
  4. Migration agenda
  5. Peace, security, and human development

Within the five pillars, there is always a theme of integrated urban development. But housing is not a standalone topic. It must be reviewed in the wider picture, which also includes the provision of essential services, in particular public transportation, water sanitation, and energy.

What is required?

It’s also crucial to create jobs. Not just within the construction sector, but all the indirect roles related to housing.

When looking at sub-Saharan Africa, there must also be an acknowledgment that the production of formal housing is minimal. The market can only address a small part of the population that can afford the proper dwellings. Real estate development is unlikely to address the poor. But it’s vital for these people to be protected against eviction and human rights abuse.

On the topic of housing, slum upgrading must be discussed as well. In some of the cities in Africa, more than 50% of the population lives in slums. Providing these people with public services helps change lives.

What does affordable housing mean?

A document by the Center of Affordable Housing Finance in Africa answers this question.

In the case of Kenya, what is considered the most affordable formal market-led housing is about $25,000. That means approximately 12% of the population can afford these properties.

As to delivering affordable housing, it is about focusing on the informal sector. It’s not just people. It’s also the market that is privately led. It’s even families and communities. In Kenya, 65% of the houses are produced in an owner-driven incremental approach. If you put together what the formal public and private developers have to deliver, it’s minute compared to the informal sector.

How Europe is supporting Africa

In Kenya, there is cooperation from the UN, the World Bank, and other European agencies who have identified four focuses areas:

  • Inclusive land management for secure tenure
  • Land-based financing with private developers
  • Participatory slum upgrading
  • Low-cost green housing supply chains for community and homeowner-led incremental construction

By 2027, the goal will be for Europe and the Government of Kenya to help people co-produce 55 square meters of adequate low-cost green houses for EUR 7000 per unit. It’s recognized as a considerable challenge, but the teams and partners are optimistic they will achieve it.

Addressing urbanization

Africa is rapidly urbanizing. Most of the secondary cities are experiencing the highest rates without the capacity to manage them.

The European Union has supported some of these secondary cities to strengthen them. They’re also helping to build capacity for an effective response to migrants. This includes both involuntary and voluntary refugees. They have been giving direct support by providing grants.

For example, some of the projects implemented in Uganda focus on creating seed capital to attract and leverage community savings. They recognize that the majority of the urban poor have low incomes and therefore do not have funds to invest. So, they are mobilized into associations and savings groups to improve their finances and businesses.

Another focus is on how to grow the private sector. Most of these are in the informal economy. They’re either self-employed or operating small businesses. Through their savings groups, they are encouraged to create and register firms that can engage in small cottage industry activities.

How can we create opportunities?

With billions of people living in African cities in the coming years and 100 million units of housing, it’s an opportunity for investment, businesses, and improving living conditions. It’s also a chance to revamp partnerships.

One of the first steps is looking at the building blocks. This includes investigating planning and the relevant tools needed as well as local economic development to unlock the financial potential of cities and urban sectors.

Some of the other areas worth looking into include housing policies. It needs to incorporate other elements such as energy savings and green buildings. Capacity development also needs to be discussed. You can’t sustain an investment if you don’t have the right people in the room.

What are the next steps?

We cannot improve or mitigate informality through reactive strategies. It’s now time to plan ahead proactively. We have the capacity to plan thirty years ahead and provide the pathways that can guide the development of our cities. It will help put a hold on informal settlement growth and the mushrooming of slums.

Now is the right time to start discussions and facilitate the process. Diverse actors and practitioners engaged in the topic of decent, affordable and environmentally sustainable housing must come together. Private sector representatives like business leaders, developers, technology companies as well as public sector stakeholders like policymakers, urban planners, representatives of international organizations, nongovernmental organizations and many more will meet at the Africa Housing Forum this May.

Want to be a part of the discussion? Be one of the first to know when registration for the Africa Housing Forum opens. You can also spread the word on the challenges facing Africa by sharing this article.

They might even be interested in applying to join our Housing Innovation Awards.

Moderator: Mathabo Makuta – National Director for Habitat for Humanity Zambia


  • Samuel Mabala – Country Urban Adviser working with the Cities Alliance / UNOPS, based in the Uganda Country Office
  • Jaime Royo-Olid – Urban Development, Sustainable Transport and Digitalisation Senior Officer at the European Union Delegation to Kenya
  • Oumar Sylla – Director of the Regional Office for Africa at UN-Habitat
  • Paolo Ciccarelli – Head of Unit, Sustainable Transport and Urban Development, DG-INTPA, European Commission

Interested in learning more? Watch other sessions here.