Gabon: Focus on urban housing
Following major delays over the past few years, progress is finally being made on urban real estate and related infrastructure projects that will help Gabon overcome its housing shortage. The housing deficit is estimated to be around 200,000 homes, the majority of which – 160,000 – are needed in the capital, Libreville.
While the government had planned to construct 5000 housing units per year beginning in 2010, with work overseen by the National Agency of Infrastructure (Agence Nationale des Grands Travaux, ANGT), that ambition has been moderated, with a more manageable target of 1000 units announced for 2013. The authorities plan to invest CFA396bn (€603.69m) in housing projects in the 2012-17 period, but although the ANGT began issuing contracts in late 2011, progress up until now has been slow.
In order to reduce housing pressure in Libreville, the government has identified one of the capital’s northern suburbs, Angondjé, as a key area for development. The development model for the Angondjé district is based on the Smart Code, an international urban development model that includes parks, educational and health infrastructure, administrative centres and roads. Different categories of housing units are to be proposed, thereby offering a range of prices.
The first 1000 units were promised to be delivered by the end of 2012, however, as of February 2013, only 21 model houses had been built, local media has reported. In a sign that major works on the project could begin soon, the Ministry of Investment Promotion, which is also in charge of public works and housing, has declared that the demolition of certain edifices neighbouring the Sino-Gabonese People’s Friendship Stadium would begin immediately.
So far it is unclear how many households will need to leave their homes for construction to begin, and given the critical housing shortage, the authorities are faced with the challenge of finding temporary residences for displaced families. Nevertheless, Libreville’s growing population continues to be suffused by rural migrants, meaning there is little room for manoeuvre, as further delays will only exacerbate the problem.
Indeed, the housing shortage in Libreville has been affecting the city’s development on a broad scale. For example, two years ago the authorities began clearing informal shops and houses from the streets and sidewalks in several of the city’s neighbourhoods, in a bid to improve traffic flow and encourage better-quality construction. However, according to Yannick Mokanda, the director-general of the National Planning and Surveying Agency (Agence Nationale de l’Urbanisme, des Travaux Topographiques et du Cadastre, ANUTTC), “As long as there is a social housing shortage, cleaning up neighbourhoods and following through with evictions merely displaces the problem to other parts of Libreville.”
The Angondjé housing project has been slow to take off for other reasons as well. To begin with, the acquisition of land titles has been an arduous process, taking up to 10 or even 15 years in some cases, though the creation of the ANUTTC in 2012 should simplify the process and reduce the timeframe to six months. Additionally, there has been some confusion among certain ministries as to the demarcation of certain plots in the area. Even when property ownership is clear or settled, removing squatters has been a constant challenge for developers.
Beyond that, the authorities have faced significant challenges in providing viable plots equipped with water, electricity and road access. Fortunately, progress is currently being made on this front as SEEG, the state water company, has undertaken significant works in northern Libreville to build three water reservoirs over the coming months, including a 2000-cu-metre tower in Angondjé, as well as building pipes to increase the city’s water supply from the Ntoum 7 treatment plant.
Despite challenges in the Angondjé housing project and others, Gabon’s residential housing capacity is increasing. The state-owned National Real Estate Company (Société Nationale Immobilière, SNI) is currently building 930 units at Nkok, 20 km from Libreville, out of the 3808 it is building across the country, and building on the Gabonese Development Bank’s Cap Esterias project, which aims to construct 5000 units over the 2013-18 period, is set to begin soon.
As Gabon continues to benefit from high oil prices and consistent economic growth, the ambitious housing goals set by President Ali Bongo Ondimba as part of the country’s emergence strategy are largely attainable. What remains to be seen is the feasibility of project costs and whether certain bureaucratic obstacles will be overcome.