Lesser known African cities from four corners of the continent remind us why they shouldn't be overlooked

And you've probably never heard of them before.

LIKE many other parts of the world, Africa’s capital cities are hogging the limelight. 

They draw in international visitors and investments, whilst local governments and cities - which are key agents of change and transformation in their own right - watch from the sidelines. Over the next week however, the focus will be on them as the Africities Summit, to be held in Johannesburg from November 29th to December 3rd, will scrutinise how local governments can become an important agent to ignite Africa’s possibilities. 

In anticipation of this Mail & Guardian Africa presents four cities - at least two of which you probably haven’t heard of if you are not a national of the country where they are located - from all corners of the continent which remind us why these centres should not be overlooked and of the incredible stories they have to tell. 

Kisumu, Kenya

Founded in 1901 with the Kenya-Uganda railway, Kisumu is now the principal city of western Kenya and the third largest city in the country. It was put on the map because of its location - it has direct access to Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world. Both location and trading activities continue to attract more people to the Kisumu area making it one of the country’s fastest growing urban centres - its current population is estimated at about 460,000 people.

Although reviving Kisumu Port has been prioritised by the Kenya Government in order for Kenya to grow more business within the East Africa’s communities, the city’s more recent success has less to do with the lake itself and more to do with investments being made in other areas. 

The location of Kisumu city has made it ideal location for the establishment of university campuses, drawing students from all over the region, of which there are at least 22. These institutions bring some great perks, for example the Great Lakes University of Kisumu is set to build a school of fisheries and aquaculture, a project which aims to equip the fishing community in the area with skills in fish farming, research on the depletion of species in Lake Victoria and which will boost food security in the region.

Being such a large urban centre, the city is also keeping up with the times and diversifying. Earlier this year it opened the Lake Hub, currently the only start-up tech hub in Kenya with a physical presence outside the capital. The hub brings together programmers, creatives, and entrepreneurs in Western Kenya and connects them to resources, partners, and mentorship. Their “client-list” includes startups like MobiDawa, which provides targeted information on how to take medication,  e-Kodi, a real-estate app, and Sokonect, an agricultural app to help farmers make maximum profit. 

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Founded in 1471, the city of Chefchaouen served as a base for Moroccans to fight off the invading Portuguese and it also used to dominate certain trading routes. During the 15-17th century the city grew with the arrival of Jews who were expelled from Spain. The Sephardi Jews painted every building and home in the old city cool shades of blue, most likely because it’s a colour of divinity in Judaism - representing the sky and heaven. 

The tradition of painting the city walls blue lives on and has played a fundamental role in ensuring urban planning is done sensitively due to the city’s valuable natural and cultural which attracts visitors. 

To this end, and recognising that the city plays a key role as the economic heart of a larger rural area, the Chefchaouen Development Agency was set up. It began pushing for cultural and alternative tourism, created a centre for small and medium enterprises to revitalise the production of fabrics and a fair trade “souk” was founded which establishes a link between the city and rural population. 

It should be noted that, aside from its magnificent blueness and welcoming locals, that tourists are drawn in by the region’s thriving marijuana industry - the other key economic mainstay of the city and a key income earner for many farmers. Today, nearly all of Morocco’s cannabis production can be found in the Rif Mountains and Chefchaouen city is at the epicentre . 

Here, though marijuana is illegal, it is commonplace to smoke it. There are even tourist offers of trips to the plantations of marijuana where visitors will find lines of green fields stretching for kilometres. Farmers will even show them how they produce hashish from kif, the THC crystals extracted from marijuana.

Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana

Sekondi-Takoradi (often called “Tadi”), is a city comprising the twin cities of Sekondi and Takoradi - former fishing settlements on the Gold Coast. Today, Tadi is the largest city in Ghana’s western region and a major industrial and commercial centre. It is also slowly making its mark on the international map because it has become West Africa’s newest oil city. 

With oil being discovered off its shores in 2007, the transformation of Tadi shows just how much change can happen in a short period of time for boomtown. 

Physically, it has received a facelift to welcome international guests - since 2007 at least 41 global resource corporations have been involved in the oil industry in the city - with the area attracting some good hotels and restaurants, and as a result land and housing prices have risen by at least 200%. It also however means that the city needs more space. The government, recognising this, now plans to develop “King City”, a satellite settlement on 2,400 acres of land in Takoradi, which is being planned over the next 10 years for 160,000 people. 

Whilst some have concerns that the oil curse will hit this city hard, there has been considerable civil?society oversight in the oil industry here. There exist over 110 civil?society groups involved in scrutinising deals, over 150 private FM radio stations, 20 TV stations and 114 internet service providers, all of which act as watchdogs. 

Walvis Bay, Namibia

Despite not being a capital city, and all of the support and attention that comes with it, Walvis Bay is a key Namibian port city which provides a key role to the country’s economy. Here, with more than 50 years in existence the fishing industry, the city has developed into a leading force in the world’s fish supply market. 

With more than 2 kilometres of landing quays, cold storage, processing and canning facilities the fishing industry, locally the industry creates approximately 8,000 jobs and generates 10% of the country’s GDP. High value fish and related products are processed for export purposes to niche markets in Europa, Australia, the United States and Hong Kong.

But it’s not all fishy business. Walvis Bay is also home to one of the largest solar evaporation facilities in Africa, processing 30 million tonnes of sea water each year to produce more than 700,000 tonnes of high quality salt.

Because it’s been endowed with these resources and has such a key position in international trade, local authorities and businesses are taking great care in pushing an integrated urban spatial development framework that will be key in the transformation of the town to an industrial city. This includes availing land for at least 40,000 new houses, the establishment of at least 33 primary schools, eight secondary schools, four police stations, 20 day-care centres and 10 clinics by 2030. 

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