In 1990, only 10% of Kenya’s population lived in urban areas. By 2012, the proportion had risen to 24.4% and is projected to swell to about 45% by 2050.

What does this demographic morph mean for Kenya?

In the past decade, the much touted Africa Renaissance has predominated global discourse in proportions equal to other such weighty economic trends as the rise of the Asian tigers and the global economic meltdown 2008/09. In the decade 2003 to 2013, Sub-Sahara Africa’s economy grew in real GDP terms by an average of 5.5% per annum (against Kenya’s average of 3.8%).

Urbanization is undeniably as key catalyst of this growth as urban settlement tends, across the globe, to go hand-in-hand with higher purchasing power and thereby consumption spending.

WBank BMI Stats 2014

World Bank BMI Statistics 2014

Urbanization trends in Kenya, however, are cause for disquiet. Largely driven by massive rural-to-urban migration; a high unemployment rate and prevalent cases of low wages in employment, informal settlements have grown to typify urbanization.
Available data indicates that in 2012, the growth of job creation in the economy slowed down to 5.5% from 5.8% in 2011. It is further noted that in the same period, average earning per employee in the economy decreased by 4.8%.  This comes in the face of a rising cost of living especially in the urban areas where day-to-day living is less subsistence than in its rural counterpart.

The country is yet to fully appreciate the possible impact of this urbanization trend –   a growing youthful population constantly migrating to urban centres in search of scarce opportunities of income generation. This coupled with a rising cost of living whose brunt is borne by low income earners poses grave socio-economic challenges for Kenya in the coming decades.

KNBS Nairobi Inflation

KNBS Nairobi Inflation

Within Nairobi, it is discernible that low income earners bear the brunt of the high cost of living. This is a key contributor to urbanization challenges that the country is facing and will continue to face in the years ahead.

Mechanisms towards affordable housing for low income earners will be vital in ensuring sustainable urbanization trends in Kenya in line with Vision 2030.

[Photo: Courtesy of Mutua Matheka Photography]