African cities: Key challenges and rising urbanisation

Under the theme “Delivering on Africa’s Promise”, the 23rd World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa will provide an important platform for regional and global leaders from business, government and civil society to deepen the continent’s integration agenda and renew commitment to a sustainable path of growth and development.

Following on from The role of cities in Africa’s rise and The emergence of the African city, we look at the key challenges in cities and rising urbanisation. While megacities like Lagos and Kinshasa have captured the world’s attention through their size and impressive rates of growth – both will overtake Cairo to become the two largest cities in Africa within the next few years.

Apart from Africa’s megacities, a next generation is emerging quickly. Cities like Luanda, Nairobi, and Addis Ababa are some of the fastest growing cities on the continent, driving dynamism and progressive change for their countries and Africa as a whole. These are the new investment locations and centres of innovation that are inspiring the next phase of exponential growth in Africa.

Transforming the urban landscape

Mining towns like Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tete in northern Mozambique are reportedly the fastest growing economic nodes on the continent. But apart from the virtues of growth, they carry the true characteristics of a frontier town, including significant social problems and stubbornly high levels of poverty. Meanwhile, capital cities like Luanda in Angola and Maputo in Mozambique are growing at such a rate and attracting investment for buildings and infrastructure that their urban landscape is literally transforming the overnight.

Addis Ababa in Ethiopia is another example of a second tier growth dynamo. It has emerged as the so-called administrative capital of Africa, hosting the African headquarters of every major multilateral organisation and Non-Government Organisation (NGO) in the world, including the African Union with its sleek new headquarters donated by China. More established cities like Cape Town, Nairobi, Accra and Dakar are reinventing themselves and building their competitiveness in an effort to benefit from and contribute toward Africa’s rise.

Nairobi is arguably the best-connected city on the continent in terms of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) – and especially mobile phones – but is still severely hamstrung by poor road and rail infrastructure. Efforts are underway to improve this area of the city’s infrastructure as Nairobi positions itself as the epicentre of regional integration in East Africa and champions Kenya as an African hub for Asian business and investment.

Emerging cities as investment prospects

Accra in Ghana was recently flagged by Mastercard as the African city with the highest growth potential. Currently at the centre of one of the most progressive growth stories on the continent (in Ghana), Accra is seen as a safe-haven investment hub for the rapidly growing West African region and an ideal springboard into the lucrative Nigerian market.

Clearly, while megacities like Lagos and Cairo are impressively exciting destinations with enormous investment prospects for the future, other emerging cities are showing encouraging signs of growth and demonstrating exciting new dynamics. Some of the future prospects from this next tier of leading African cities include:

Key Challenges in Cities and Rising Urbanisation

*Estimates based on research by the Centre for Dynamic Markets, the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).

The challenge of urbanisation

While cities do bring with them great economic growth prospects and coordinated development, and urbanisation is often associated with rising incomes and better living standards, lack of resources, inadequate infrastructure and poor planning or management pose enormous challenges to city life…

What are your thoughts on the role of cities in the rise of Africa? Do you feel that the continent is capable of effectively, and successfully, managing the infrastructure deficit and high demand on resources? Share your views in the comment box below.

David Okwara

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