TOGO: Problems training urban planners

"While the towns of Africa explode, the African School of Architecture and Town Planning struggles to train the elite battalions supposed to control the metropoles of the continent, between unpaid budgets and student strikes," begins an article by correspondent Grégoire Allix in the French newspaper Le Monde, which chronicles the challenges faced by the Ecole africaine des métiers de l'architecture et de l'urbanisme (Eamau) in Lomé.

Eamau was set up in 1976, after independence, by some francophone countries to train professionals and engineers in architecture and urban planning. It is financed by 14 member states*.

Courses reopened on 9 March after a month and a half of student strikes in protest against conditions of study, dilapidated housing (with 104 beds for 300 students) and lack of security around the school.

The place is of strategic importance, though, as the continent, taken over by "mass and anarchic urbanisation", sees shantytowns proliferate, says Allix.

Sub-Saharan African towns consist two-thirds of unplanned districts without infrastructure or facilities, where 165 million inhabitants live, says Allix, quoting figures from UN-Habitat which estimate that the cities' populations will grow from 350 million in 2005 to 1.2 billion in 2050 when half of Africans will be living in towns, compared with 38% today.

Eamau prides itself on providing 600 professionals, including town planning ministers, to posts in about 20 countries, according to Ambroise Adjamagbo, the school's Director of Development and Research. But Lomé "has collapsed in urban chaos without recourse to its skills", writes Allix.

Adjamagbo explained: "The programme puts the accent on the existing urban fabric, self-construction. We teach how to give the best urban planning where there are no asphalt roads or drainage systems."

Djeguema Adebayo, head of Eamau's African Town research centre which offers a multidisciplinary PhD on African urban development, told Allix: "We think training town planners can help reduce poverty in Africa; incomes of town-dwellers have plummeted because of the too-high costs of badly designed housing and urban services."

But Eamau's ambitious plans have run into difficulties, reports Allix. Unpaid subsidies by nearly all the member countries total 4 billion FCFA (US$8 million). Most students should receive grants, but many do not.

The student protests have led to resurrection of a 10-year-old plan to build a 13-hectare campus with lecture halls, facilities and housing for 600 students. It has the land, but not the required 6 billion FCFA, says Allix.

Eamau has opened up to other financial partners, such as the West African Economic and Monetary Union, the French-speaking University Agency (AUF) and the Union of Architects of Africa. Without new funding, says Allix, "the campus has as little chance of rising from the ground as the shantytowns have of being cleared quickly."

* Member states are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.