Ministerial Roundtable Discussions Open in Maputo
Maputo, May 13, 2008-Ministerial Roundtable discussions opened in Maputo, Mozambique, within the framework of the 2008 Bank Group Annual Meetings scheduled to take place from May 14-15, 2008, held on the theme: Fostering Shared Growth: Urbanization, Inequality and Poverty. The ministerial conference was attended by a wide audience, including high-level dignitaries from Africa and other regions of the world, development experts from multilateral, bilateral and non-governmental organizations, as well as the civil society, the private sector and members of the academic community.
Opening the roundtable, Mozambican Prime Minister, Luisa Diogo, commended the African Development Bank Group for playing a significant role in development efforts in her country. She also thanked the Bank Group for choosing Mozambique as the venue of this year’s Annual Meetings. Regarding the widening gap between the continent’s urban and rural areas, the prime minister called for a development strategy that would enable all the key players in the sector to bridge the gap between cities and rural areas by developing the appropriate infrastructure.
Speaking on the occasion, Bank Group President, Donald Kaberuka, said the majority of Africans who lived in absolute poverty were still rural inhabitants. The challenge to policymakers still remained poverty with the rural poor still constituting its focus. He added that recent food riots had demonstrated in an obvious way, the despair in which many people live in urban areas.
He stressed that the phenomenon of urban poverty was often underestimated. He added that the phenomenon was irreversible and it was "on our continent." He informed participants that the African Development Bank group was developing a policy approach to the issues resulting from unregulated urbanization.
"We have no recipes and this reflection comes at the right time. It will require complementarity by all stakeholders, donors, governments, municipal authorities and local governments as well as financial institutions. We would like to be a catalyst in the process, accelerating the conditions for this to happen," he said, adding that " we should not always look at the cities and their teeming poor as simply a problem to solve, but there are opportunities to seize and I am glad this will be discussed here."
The ECA Executive Secretary, Abdoulie Janneh, said that slums constituted a threat to social peace. He called for efforts to transform urban slums into livable parts of the world through the financing of urban development and the provision of adequate resources to local governments that are at the frontline of this challenge.
Africa has, over the years, experienced rapid urban growth, even as long term economic growth has remained stagnant, and even declined in some decades. It is estimated that the continent’s cities and towns will absorb another 12-13 million people in 2008, with the urban population outpacing the rural population from about 2035. While inequalities between cities and the countryside appear to be narrowing, the differences between the rich and poor are becoming more conspicuous as unhealthy, overcrowded slums grow. More than 250 million people - around 60% of the urban population – live precariously in these settlements, and, if current trends continue, the number of slum dwellers will grow to over 350 million by 2020.
Africa’s urbanization is perceived to be driven by rural-urban migration with agriculture representing the key bridge between urban and rural populations. A widespread perception is that the neglect of agriculture pushes farmers off the land and into the cities, although economic reforms implemented by many African countries over the last two decades have reduced this urban bias, especially in public expenditure.
A precondition for shared economic growth and beneficial urbanization is that the central government maintains sound macro-economic policies and a conducive economic environment. Even if efforts to promote agriculture and rural development are successful, at least two-thirds of economic growth will originate in the continent’s cities and towns. This implies that urban development should be given a more prominent role in policy and economic planning processes. Strategies and programmes aimed at addressing rural-urban linkages and the management of the urbanization process needs to be incorporated into poverty reduction strategies.
For the African Development Bank Group, designing an urban development policy is important. While continuing to finance basic infrastructure and slum upgrading programs, the Bank Group can also help in creating an environment where municipalities can mobilize much-needed financial resources through enhanced revenues access to capital markets. The Bank Group can also help in expanding the role of public-private partnerships (PPPs) to mobilize additional resources and improve the management of urban infrastructure service delivery. The main themes for discussions at the Annual Meetings will include issues surrounding urbanization, infrastructure, decentralization and governance, financing municipal activities and investments.