Prioritising Africa’s megacities

Whilst Africa is often perceived as a mysterious, underdeveloped continent, it’s quickly becoming one of the most valuable emerging markets for infrastructure. In fact, infrastructure development – in the form of megacities – is one of the key strategic priorities for senior African leaders. What’s driving infrastructure development in Africa?

Currently, The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) estimates that over 750 million people worldwide live in urban areas without adequate shelter and basic services. As the number of people moving to cities swells, though, the need to develop infrastructure is intensifying. And nowhere more so than in Africa.

Reports UN-Habitat, although Africa is predominantly rural (only 37.3% lived in urban areas in 1999), the continent is experiencing the fastest rate of urbanisation in the world, with a growth rate of 4.87%. By 2030, Africa (along with Asia) will have more urban dwellers than any other urban areas in the world – with an estimated 760 million urban residents.

Megacities throughout the world

By 2050, this figure is projected to grow to a staggering 1.2 billion. These immense numbers of people will drive the growth of urban agglomerations called megacities.

UN-Habitat introduced the term megacity in the 1970s to describe a metropolitan area with a total population in excess of 10 million people. A megacity can be a single city or comprise two cities which have merged together to form one very large urban area – for example, Johannesburg and Pretoria in Gauteng Province, South Africa.

In 1950, the world had just one megacity – the original concrete jungle, New York. By 1975, there were five; but today there are approximately between 23 and 28 megacities on different continents throughout the world, depending on which source is consulted – for example, 23 according to UN-Habitat and 28 according to The Principal Agglomerations of the World.

Megacity contenders

Right now, there are two metropolitan areas in Africa with megacity status – Cairo, Egypt (a population of 15,700,000) and Lagos, Nigeria (a population of 12,700,000). Whilst these two megacities offer developers and entrepreneurs great opportunities, they are by no means the only hot cities to keep an eye on.

Future African megacity contenders include:

As the recession continues to bite at the mature economies of Europe, the Americas and, even, the East, it’s Africa – given its enormous wealth of natural and labour resources and growing consumer market – which stands on the cusp of economic prosperity. And at the heart of the African revival is infrastructure.

Investment in infrastructure development

The African Development Bank estimates that Africa will require US $93 billion worth of investment each year if it’s to meet the demand for infrastructure development. Recognising the potential of the African market, foreign investment is flowing into Africa, to the tune of US $55 billion annually.

But developing megacities and other infrastructure doesn’t only benefit foreign investors, but Africans, as well. Increased urbanisation has the potential to:

  • Create conditions for concentrated economic activity
  • Offer the prospect of employment
  • Offer a better standard of living and access to more amenities (like sanitation and healthcare)
  • Offer exposure to greater educational and cultural experiences for individuals which, in turn, can uplift whole communities and society at large.

The challenges of developing Africa’s new megacities

Unfortunately, megacities in many developing countries have degenerated into sprawling, poorly equipped, unsanitary slums. Given this tendency, it’s vital that African countries put into place carefully considered, well-constructed strategies and plans if they’re to develop megacities which maximise the benefits for a growing urban population (and by doing this, for the African economy, too).

Some of the challenges to be taken into account include:

  • Developing transport systems – ports, road, rail and airports – across vast areas and often difficult terrain
  • Developing sustainable, cost-efficient and stable power and energy systems to service growing urban areas
  • Providing adequate water and sanitation systems to growing populations, particularly in water-poor areas
  • Stamping out political instability, corruption, war and conflict
  • Establishing world-class finance and banking systems
  • Overcoming inter-tribal conflict resulting from many people of different cultural heritages living close together
  • Developing urban spaces which add to psychosocial and emotional wellbeing amongst megacity dwellers
  • Developing megacities whilst still preserving Africa’s tremendous eco-heritage.
David Okwara

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