Unlocking Urban Potential in Africa

Certain challenges specific to the African context must be addressed in order to fully benefit from the opportunities presented by urbanization.

Habitat III begins next week, from October 17-20, during which time policymakers and urban leaders will descend on Quito, Ecuador, to adopt the New Urban Agenda. While sub-Saharan Africa and its cities share much in common with the rest of the world, the region is rapidly becoming the fastest-urbanizing one on the planet and faces unique obstacles of its own. As Africa-tied urban actors gather in Quito, they should keep the below recommendations in mind.

The Context

Recent discussions of global economic growth have agreed on a single fact: It’s slowing down. The global economy is expected to grow by just 3.2 percent in 2016, and even developing Africa is expected to grow by only 3 percent, compared to an average of 5.5 percent over the period 2000-2015.

Indeed, despite this downturn, a recent World Bank report highlights a relative bright spot: cities. According to this report, 72 percent of the world’s 750 largest cities have outpaced the growth of their national economies since the early 2000s. And among these cities, a few outpaced their national economies on rates of private sector job creation, productivity, and income per capita growth. The top 10 percent of these cities-that outperformed their countries on: private sector job growth, productivity growth, and disposable income per capita growth- saw an average annual growth rate of 13.5 percent in GDP per capita (compared to 4.7 percent growth in GDP per capita in the average city). Since the proportion of urban dwellers in Africa is expected to grow from 36 percent in 2010 to 50 percent in 2030, harnessing Africa’s urban potential could present the continent with a vast opportunity for growth. Job creation—along with improved infrastructure, increased food security, and a reduction in slum-dwelling—are just some of the potential benefits of successfully managing African urbanization.

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