Strategic projects and tactical interventions for urban development in West Africa

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Makoko Neighborhood Hotspot

Slum dwellers are city dwellers, yet they are largely excluded from urban services and infrastructure. The Makoko Neighborhood Hotspot was designed as a technical and social infrastructure for one of Lagos' best-known urban slum settlement  – Makoko. It should serve as an infrastructure hub providing urban services and as a business incubator promoting renewable energy and biogas linked community toilets. Last but not least – its purpose is to serve at large  as a community empowerment tool and learning centre. The Hotspot represents more of a concept than a project even though the architectural design aspect was carefully and ambitiously developed. Its conceptualisation and building phases confronted the poor and underserved Makoko communities with a series of tough and difficult decision-making processes. Budget constraints and other limitations finally led to a smaller Hotspot than initially projected. However, after the completion of the structure and its inauguration in December 2015 ( the second phase of the project ended recently with the formation of the “Makoko Neighborhood Hotspot Multipurpose Cooperative Society Limited”, officially registered at the Lagos State Department of Cooperatives. It will serve as the operational and administrative body of the Hotspot with its 20 members and a 7-strong management committee, compromising positions of the president, secretary, and treasurer, among others. As the baales, the traditional rulers, are already well entrenched in the day-to-day decision making processes and their endorsement is important to guarantee the acceptance and efficiency of the new body, the explicit aim was to include also 'ordinary people', i.e. young people and especially women as members of the cooperative. Unfortunately, for the time being, with one exception, all the cooperative members are male. However, it is stated in the bylaws of the cooperative that the empowerment of women in business and economic matters is a key objective of the established cooperative. A further goal is the minimum of thirty percent women as cooperative members, as management committee, and as future staff running the biogas reactor, the community toilets and the solar plant. Judging from past experience, this will not be easy given the fact that the traditional power structures in the community are deeply rooted. With the support and advise of a small external supervisory board serving in an honorary capacity and containing two women and one man, it is hoped that the set targets will be achieved and the operation of the cooperative and especially of the management committee will be effective.


Makoko Neighborhood Hotspot

One of the key tasks of the committee will be the hiring, payment and supervision of employees. For this purpose, three business plans were drafted to ensure the sustainable set-up and long-term operation of the envisioned Hotspot activities. The planned business activities will provide the badly needed infrastructure for approximately 15 families (or roughly 120 people). As a business incubator the Hotspot should serve as pilot or prototype approach that could later be replicated in other parts of the community. Ideally, one day there could be a network of such Hotspots, providing urban services to the entire neighbourhood: Community toilet waste  and sufficiently available fish waste - as previous research and consultation with the women in the community revealed - will provide the feedstock for a mini biogas reactor. The produced gas will be filled in rucksacks and sold against a small fee. One rucksack provides cooking gas for several hours and can replace the widely used firewood that harms the health of the people and pollutes the air. In the pilot phase, the necessary gas cookers will be distributed for free to the participating families. The pour-flush toilets can be used against a small fee, as it is already common practice in Makoko. A mini solar plant on the roof of the Hotspot will provide the energy for a solar freezer to produce ice blocks and for bulbs to light the building. As Makoko is one of the many communities that live essentially off-grid, the women use ice blocks to preserve food, including the freshly caught fish. For now, women have to go to the market or other places outside the community to purchase the ice. In future, the ice blocks will be sold at the centrally located Hotspot, which will save the women in the neighbourhood valuable time and costs. Cell phone charging services will be offered as an additional income source.

The mentioned features should provide urban services, create jobs and generate income as well as test and promote the use of renewable energies in the community. This needs confidence and trust, and the new technologies have to be affordable. The necessary knowledge will be provided through intensive training in the beginning and trust will be built as the Hotspot will hopefully proof successful and reliable in providing its services. For this purpose, the current prices in Makoko, e.g. for the purchase of firewood and the use of toilets, were analysed. Consequently, competitive sales prices are the starting point for the calculations, on which the business plans are based. The necessary investment costs, hence costs of materials, maintenance tools, work wear and training units need to be raised with public and private donors. However, in the future, the replications of further Neighborhood Hotspots should become attractive for investors and no longer rely on donation and subsidies. In the long run, local governments in collaboration with community organizations should assume the maintenance and operation of such Neighborhood Hotspots.


After the approval of the bylaws and the election of the management committee, June 2016

One of the long-term goals of the Neighborhood Hotspot initiative is to inspire government on how the dramatic lack of infrastructure for large parts of the population could be approached, namely with strategic yet low-cost interventions. Including the urban poor and giving them access to goods and services is not only an act of humanity and social justice but it increases the share of taxpayers and consumers, which again increases the overall welfare. As the share of Lagos residents living in poor and underserviced neighbourhoods includes two-third of the overall population, low-tech, flexible, low-cost and strategic yet precise interventions should seriously be considered – opposite to the often implemented top-down, investment intensive and heavily donor-driven and/or elite-driven big-infrastructure solutions as they are favoured by the World Bank and similar institutions, especially as they have mostly failed in (West-) Africa. They often do not respond to the cultural context of the respective communities and they disregard the amazing capabilities of the people to organize themselves. Small-scale 'game-changers' though may be an approach in the large and growing slums in Lagos and elsewhere. 'Game-changers' are small and strategic projects with the greatest possible leverage that break the vicious cycle of poverty, unemployment and the lack of basic infrastructure. 'Game-changers' are tailor-made in the sense that they react to specific situations, hence to individual locations, to individual people and to their living culture. In spite of being specific, they address larger, systemic problems by involving key people on all levels, including local and regional authorities. As Lagos is a self-help city and its growth has been happening for decades with only minimal participation of planning professionals as the German development planner Otto Koenigsberger wrote in 1983, the question is indeed how planners can or should participate in Lagos' urban development. Lagos State Government’s answer to this question is for now a large-scale, new-towns development, de facto working as gated communities with their own infrastructure and targeting wealthy people. The implementation of big infrastructure in densely populated neighborhoods is expensive and laborious if not impossible, as they require the resettlement of the respective residents, which again causes substantial costs (if such a policy would exist at all). So, obviously, the poor are being left behind. Strategic and tactical operations could not only fill this gap as mentioned, they do tap into the self-help principles and development logics of the city. The West African 'condition' – an unprecedented urbanization process insofar as it is driven by poverty and not by economic opportunities requires and deserves different approaches. In a context like Lagos where already in the 1980s the infrastructure was insufficient to supply the population, let alone its maintenance and extension in order to keep up with the rapid population growth, tactical operations and projects may just be one of the ways out of the difficult overall situation. The Makoko Neighborhood Hotspot was designed to deliver approaches towards these urgent issues. At the same time it is an incremental structure in itself that is able to adapt during the current learning process and to the future needs of the people.