Africa’s urban revolution

Africa’s urban revolution

The pace of urbanisation in Africa is so rapid that the UN estimates that by 2030, some cities will grow by 50% and some will actually double in size. How can Africa cope with this urban revolution, asks Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi.

The future of Africa, as it is in other parts of the world, is urban. In fact Africa has already 52 cities with a population of more than 1m inhabitants; and over 10,000 medium-size cities and small towns, which together represent 60% of the urban population. In other words, most of the African urbanites live in cities with a population of less than 500,000 inhabitants.

Experts from the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the UN estimate that in 2035, half of the population of Africa (800m people) will live in cities, and in 2050, the proportion will rise to 60% (1,265m people). Already African cities contribute up to 60% of the continent’s GDP.

There are contradictory feelings about these figures. Some people are concerned about the capacity of Africa to cope with such a huge urban growth, which is rightly called urban revolution, given the already unbearable deficits in urban infrastructures and shelter, poor service delivery and lack of viable system of local governance.

Nevertheless, the competitiveness of national economies is more and more dependent on the competitiveness and efficacy of the local and regional economies that are driven by cities of different natures and size.

A new paradigm of development gives a particular role to cities and local authorities as the transformation locus and agent of
African societies. From now on, cities of Africa should take the lead in shaping the future of the continent.

The Africa Urban Infrastructure Forum held in Cape Town last year was the first to attempt by the public and private sectors to seriously discuss urban development in Africa.

The second edition of the Forum, to be held in Luanda, Angola, on 19th and 20th January 2015 will offer the opportunity to learn from the experience of that country in tackling the challenge of rapid urbanisation.

Angola itself is undergoing a major urban renewal programme and is keen to bring some of the finest expertise in modern urban planning and financing in the world together to sketch out Africa’s urban future – which is also a way of saying Africa’s future, period.

The President Jose Eduardo dos Santos Mayor of the Year Award will also be presented to those African mayors that are most innovative in addressing the challenge of competitive, inclusive, and sustainable and well-governed cities in Africa. This award, instituted by the UCLGA Executive Committee, will be an annual event and is meant to stimulate African mayors to be forward looking and innovative in managing African cities.

The next Africa Urban Investment Forum in Luanda should be therefore seen as a rallying point for all those who are interested in getting Africa up to the challenge of rapid urbanisation and sustainable development.

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi is Secretary General of the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA).


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Written by Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi

Jean Pierre ELONG MBASSI is Secretary-General, United Cities and Local Governments of Africa - UCLGA, Morocco. Mr. Elong Mbassi has held his current position since 2007. From March 1992 to March 2007, he was Secretary-General of the Municipal Development Partnership, West and Central Africa Office based in Cotonou (Benin Republic). He was Secretary-General of the World Association of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination (WACLAC), Geneva and from 1981-1991, he was CEO of the first Urban Project co-funded by the World Bank in Cameroon. He was Special Adviser to the President of the Planning and Cooperation Agency (Agence Coopération et Aménagement), a Paris-based French public company aimed at supporting developing countries in urbanization and territorial development.

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