[Column] Bob Koigi: Cementing sustainable African cities agenda
The maxim Africa is the future perhaps rings true now more than ever.
African cities are home to some 472 million people and by 2030, the continent’s urban cities will add over 350 million more city residents which will then hit the one billion mark by 2040.
Indeed the continent is said to be among the rapidly urbanizing with one in four humans living in urban areas world over being from Africa.
The uncoordinated and unprecedented growth of urban population has researchers, policy makers and governments worried. Already the city amenities like housing, road infrastructure, water, sanitation and clean air are chocking under the mammoth population.
The unplanned population explosion occasioned by rural urban migration especially among the young population in search of better days is set to balloon to unmanageable levels, researchers posit.
Today numerous city residents are struggling with cyclic food price spikes, infectious diseases, an implosion of slums and informal settlements, traffic jams that continue to cost economies billions of dollars each year in lost revenue and manpower and toxic waste from industries that has affected the quality of air and led to a surge in respiratory diseases.
Studies show that in majority of Sub Saharan African cities, up to a third of the urban population is ultra-hungry and worse off than they were before migrating to the cities.
Yet these cities if well managed, remain a key panacea for Africa’s industrialization and growth in a globalizing economy.
The recently concluded Africities Summit in Marrakech, Morocco, a flagship event of the United Cities and Local Government, UCLG, that brought together more than 8,000 delegates spanning local, regional and national leaders, civil society organizations, trade unions, researchers, academicians and development partners drawn from 53 countries, remains one of the most elaborate and innovative attempts at addressing these African challenges while making bold and sustainable steps at finding homegrown and lasting solutions to African problems.
Under the theme "transition to sustainable cities and territories" and the role of local governments in Africa, the summit has sought to tackle recurrent issues from migration, challenging the ubiquity of informal settlements in the largest cities of the region, the role that the informal sector plays in the African economy, and curbing the inequalities in Africa.
The summit has equally paved the way in realigning individual city ambitions with those of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the sustainable development goals.
The peer review and benchmarking of best practices among cities and the establishment of urban agencies remain one of the landmark moments of the Africities convention by allowing the cities to adopt urban planning policies and strategies that seem to be working well within the continent.
This is the most potent approach to sustainable African cities.
With the number of young people in Africa reaching the working age e exceeding that of the rest of the world by 2035 according to the World Bank, and with the young people’s obsession with cities, one cannot debunk the youthful population from urban growth in Africa.
While they increasingly look for greener pastures in these cities, lack of jobs has precipitated a new wave of crime, migration to other continents and a growing sense of disenfranchisement. Africa hasn’t been keen to leverage on the demographic dividend as the continent with the youngest population.
The lack of clear cut strategies to tap into the young people remains a recipe for disaster. The youth will drive the continent moving forward and therefore allowing them to the driving seat and placing them at the heart of the continent’s agenda is in the best interest of Africa.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to address the issues that comes with a rapidly urbanizing Africa, renewed commitment by both local and national governments, public private partnerships and active participation of those likely to be heavily affected by the urbanization phenomenon like women and youth counts in the continent’s pursuit for sustainable cities.
To quote Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, CGLU’s Secretary General, "sustainable development is the only alternative for African cities. Homegrown solutions embody the future that we all want for this continent: development and prosperity.”
Multiple award winning Kenyan journalist Bob Koigi is the Chief Editor of East Africa at Africa Business Communities