Africa’s huge urbanisation challenge

By Mel Frykberg Time of article published May 25, 2016

Share this article:

KAMPALA: With two-thirds of Africans expected to live in cities by 2050, how Africa urbanises will be critical to the continent’s future growth and development, a new report presented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has found.

The African Economic Outlook 2016, released on Tuesday at the African Development Bank Groups’ annual meetings, said Africa remained the second-fastest growing economic region in 2015 after East Asia.

The continent’s average growth is expected to be 3.7% this year and 4.5% in 2017, provided the world economy strengthens and commodity prices gradually recover.

“In 2016, the emerging common African position on urban development and the international New Urban Agenda, to be discussed in Quito in October, provide the opportunity to begin moulding ambitious urbanisation policies into concrete strategies for Africa’s structural transformation,” said Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, director of the Regional Bureau for Africa at UNDP.

“We need to invest in building economic opportunities, especially those for women, of which 92% work in the informal sector.

“Cities and towns have a key role to play in that process, but only if governments take bold policy action.”

The report – whose theme this year is “Sustainable Cities and Structural Transformation” – is produced annually by UNDP, the African Development Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Centre.

In 2015, net financial flows to Africa were estimated at $208 billion (R3.2 trillion), 1.8% lower than in 2014 due to a contraction in investment.

At $56bn in 2015, however, official development assistance (ODA) increased by 4% and remittances remain the most stable and important single source of external finance, at $64bn in 2015, the report found.

“African countries, which include top worldwide growth champions, have shown remarkable resilience in the face of global economic adversity. Turning Africa’s steady resilience into better lives for Africans requires strong policy action to promote faster and more inclusive growth,” said Abebe Shimeles, acting director, Development Research Department, at the African Development Bank.

The continent is urbanising at a historically rapid pace, coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom, with the population living in cities doubling from 1995 to 472 million in 2015.

This phenomenon is unlike what other regions, such as Asia, experienced, and is accompanied by slow structural transformation, according to the report’s special thematic chapter.

The authors of the report concluded that lack of urban planning leads to costly urban sprawl.

In Accra, Ghana, for example, the population nearly doubled between 1991 and 2000, increasing from 1.3 million to 2.5 million inhabitants at an average annual growth rate of 7.2%.

During the same period, the built-up area of Accra tripled, increasing from 10 000ha to 32 000ha by an average annual rate of 12.8%.

“Africa’s ongoing, multi-faceted urban transition and the densification it produces offer new opportunities for improving economic and social development while protecting the environment in a holistic manner,” said Mario Pezzini, director of the OECD Development Centre and acting director of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate.

“These openings can be better harnessed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – especially SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities – and the objectives of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

“The benefits could accrue for both urban and rural dwellers, provided governments adopt an integrated approach.”

This approach includes stepping up investment in urban infrastructure, improving connectivity with rural areas, better matching formal real estate markets with the housing demand by clarifying land rights, managing the growth of intermediary cities, and improving the provision of infrastructure and services within and between cities.

Such investments need to be accompanied by productive formal employment – especially for the youth – and sufficient public goods, according to the report.

In 2015, approximately 879 million Africans lived in countries with low human development, while 295 million lived in medium and high human development countries. Africa’s youth are particularly at risk from slow human progress.

In sub-Saharan Africa, nine out of 10 working youth are poor or near poor.

Ongoing endeavours to promote efficient, multilevel governance systems, including decentralisation, capacity building and increased transparency at all government levels, should also be strengthened. – ANA

Share this article: