Urbanization recommended as key to improving living conditions

23/05/2014
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Africa will have 760 million urban residents in 2030 and the figure is expected to multiply to 1.2 billion by 2050.

If this population explosion is not matched with growth of megacities across the continent, urbanization is certainly set to suffocate infrastructure, as well as usher in challenges like inadequacy of clean water, sanitation, electricity, public transport and healthcare.

During the Annual Meetings of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) in Kigali, Rwanda, experts on urbanization shared ideas and solutions to the persistent problems facing Africa’s emerging cities.

On Friday, May 23, in a session titled “Africa’s Cities of the Future”, the Director of Development Research at AfDB, Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, said that African governments must put urbanization and its challenges squarely on their development agenda.

“Planned urbanization can improve living conditions for the majority, help in the expansion of the middle class, and create conditions for economic transformation. However, many African cities have developed haphazardly, resulting in the decline of public services, in slum proliferation, and increases in poverty,” said Kayizzi-Mugerwa, who co-authored the book “Urbanization and Socio-Economic Development in Africa – Challenges and Opportunities”, which was launched during the session.

“With careful policies and planning, the situation can be changed. If the recent natural resource-led economic boom that we have seen in many African countries is used for structural reforms and urban renewal, African cities could become centres of economic opportunity.”

Sir Paul Collier, the Director of African Economies at the University of Oxford, UK, added that in spite of reform attempts across Africa, many governments have failed to create enabling environments, with adequate infrastructure and institutions to sustain markets that support economic growth.

“Urbanization challenges provide an overview of what has been done so far by governments and their development partners. The work done so far is simply not enough. It is sad that many African cities still thrive on activities characterized on low productivity from the informal sector – thus, many urban dwellers are poorer than countryside dwellers,” said Collier, who has published several books, including the development classic, “The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are failing and what can be done about it”, and “Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places”.

Much as urbanization is important, Ivan Turok from Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) warned that development must always take into account environmental concerns that sustain the future of development.

“The challenge now is for African policymakers to ensure that urban development is orderly and that the process is inclusive and emphasizes ‘green growth’ through the protection of the environment,” Turok said.

Urban growth rates in Africa are among the highest in the world, averaging about 7% annually, while some cities have growth rates exceeding 10%.

Associated to urbanization in Africa has been an influx in urban unemployment which exceeds 10% of the labour force in cities – and largely consists of the youth.

The high population growth rates in Africa are largely due to rural-urban migration, which accounts for over half of the growth of most cities on the continent.


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