Big Cities Africa

Africa’s urban future

Cities are places where rights become tangible – where legislation and its ability to improve the lives of citizens can be explicitly measured. And municipalities, rather than being impenetrable warrens of bureaucracy, must become the vehicles to make the vision of the future a concrete reality.

Cities are the economic and creative hubs that keep a country connected to the globalised world, while the sense of permanence that they create allows us to embark on long-term projects. Equally, cities frame and channel the currents of change that take our society forward as we achieve improved livelihoods and realise more of our dreams.

A recent KPMG report, The role of cities in Africa’s rise, identifies the current shift from rural to urban centres as the largest migration in human history. This strong urbanisation trend will see more than 50% of Africa’s population living in cities by 2030.

Africa’s megacities

A megacity is defined as a metropolitan area that is home to 10 million people or more. This takes Africa from having three ‘megacities’ – Lagos, Cairo, and Kinshasa – to nine megacities spread across the continent, potentially including:

  • Maputo, Mozambique
  • Accra, Ghana
  • Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Luanda, Angola
  • Nairobi, Kenya.

Infrastructure’s impact on urbanisation

Urban dwellers’ access to infrastructure, services, information, and opportunities provided by cities has a direct and measurable economic impact on per capita income. Urbanisation is often associated with rising incomes and better living standards, but a lack of resources and inadequate infrastructure alongside poor planning and management pose enormous challenges to prosperity.

If things continue unchanged, this will lead to the majority of Africans being confined to urban settings such as informal settlements, backyard shacks, and bad buildings. 72% of urban dwellers in Africa presently live in slums and this figure will continue to rise as city governments contend with burgeoning organic growth and having to make provisions for the influx of migrants seeking a better life.

Improved access to services

It bears stating that people generally come to cities seeking jobs and social support, such as improved access to services like health care, education, and public amenities. However, on arrival in cities, it becomes apparent that these services aren’t always available, or that the state is not able to deliver them effectively in the places where they are most required. This means that these individuals will remain without security of tenure, or access to basic infrastructure, nor any opportunity to contribute to the growth of the economy.

The above reality is a problem in that large portions of urban population remain underserved. However, the same crisis in turn creates an opportunity for thriving informal economies. Informal settlements and informal trading represent a sophistication that is not yet reflected in legislation or policies. And, while informality is often equated with illegality, this is not always the case.

Urban planning for Africa’s future

Current urban planning trends are focused on addressing the liveability and sustainability of cities while addressing basic human needs. As African planners, our task is made different by the lens we choose to view the cities of the future.

The shift and changes of our informal sector should be regarded as pointers to urban opportunities that must be understood. And the survival strategies of the poor must guide the principles and practicalities of our developmental policies.

While there is the burden of providing for the unemployed and underserved masses, unemployed youth should be regarded as an untapped resource. As much as we have challenges, there is much we can focus our energies on to drive us towards the local futures that we want.

David Okwara

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