How secure are gated communities in Africa?


AS African countries move inexorably toward rapid urbanisation, with populations in the various capital cities set to grow massively, the issue of security will be one of the major problems to deal with. Researchers predict that in 2030, Lagos, Cairo and Kinshasa will each have to cater for over 20 million people, while Luanda, Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg will have crossed the 10 million mark. By 2035, close to 30 million people could live in Lagos alone, turning Nigeria’s commercial hub into the largest megacity on the continent.

When it comes to investments in infrastructure, industrial and commercial structures, and affordable formal housing, African cities have, until now, failed to keep pace with the concentration of people. In Dar es Salaam, 28 per cent of residents live at least three to a room; in Abidjan, that number rises to 50 per cent; and in Lagos, two out of three people dwell in slums.

The well-to-do are turning to gated-communities in their various cities in the hope that they will be better secured than their compatriots living in slums. But is this really the case? Taking Ghana as an example, a global research project on Safe and Inclusive Cities (SAIC) has shown that wealthy gated-communities in the country are less safe from crime than low-income areas in urban areas. Could this be the same for other over-crowded African cities?

Over a three-year period – from 2013 to 2016 – a research team from the University of Ghana Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research undertook a study to discover the link between crime and poverty in urban Ghana, focusing on neighbourhoods in Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi-Takoradi, and Tamale.

The study was part of the SAIC global research programme supporting 15 multidisciplinary teams working in 40 cities across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America to find the connections between urban violence, poverty and inequality. The findings were presented at a three-day conference recently in Nairobi, organised by the African Leadership Centre (ALC) in conjunction with the Department for International Development (DfID) in the UK and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

The Ghana research team, headed by George Owusu, Martin Oteng-Ababio, Adobea Y. Owusu, and Charlotte Wrigley-Asante, noted: ‘In Ghana, crime is not limited to poor areas and this is where the relationship becomes unclear. The relationship between incidence of crime and perception of crime is also complicated.

‘Household surveys show that crime rates in low and middle-income areas were much higher than high-income areas, with personal thefts against individuals most reported.  However, more affluent areas reported a higher sense of fear and perceived crime as a significant issue.

‘In such wealthy areas, ‘fortressing’ (building high walls with barbed wire on top of properties) intended to prevent crime may actually increase it. Links to the community tend to reduce crime over the long term, but ‘fortressing’ seems to weaken residents’ links to the community,’ the report added.

The research team found that low-income areas were made secure by the ‘watchful eyes of neighbours who were more likely to be home.’ They were also not inhibited by the “high walls and other features that tend to limit ‘natural surveillance’ – the ability of residents and passers-by to observe who is coming and going.’

However, the researchers found that the ‘wealthy…enjoyed higher levels of policing.’ They therefore called for equitable policing, regardless of income to ensure greater safety for all neighbourhoods.

The researchers recommended that homes and neighbourhoods should be designed ‘to maximise natural surveillance and the development of community ties’ so that neighbours could ‘look out for one another.’ The team acknowledged that Ghana was ‘experiencing rapid urbanisation and significant economic growth’ that was ‘accompanied by poor urban governance, which could potentially increase levels of poverty and cause a dramatic rise in crime and violence.’

The University of Ghana team looked at why lower levels of poverty were not helping to reduce crime and prevent violence. The answer is that Western theories of how crime and poverty are linked do not adequately explain these dynamics in Ghana, the team found.

The SAIC project, funded by DfID and the IDRC, was meant to give experts in the Global South the chance to find solutions to urban poverty, violence and inequality in their cities. According to the IDRC, in some cities in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, up to 80 per cent of people live in sprawling slums that lack infrastructure, quality basic services and effective governance.

In a policy brief on the research findings, the IDRC said: ‘They [researchers] focused on what works – and what doesn’t – to make cities safer for all citizens, providing fresh insight on issues shared round the world. SAIC results have shed light on strategic areas where further research is needed to reduce both violence and inequality in the burgeoning cities of the Global South. Results have deepened our understanding of vulnerabilities of women and youth and are helping to inform the IDRC’s Governance and Justice Programme.’





Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here