Paris, 29 September 2016
As the world prepares to adopt a new urban agenda for the next 20 years at the Habitat III United Nations conference in Quito next month, Africa’s mix of demographic boom and fast urbanisation grabs the attention of its leaders and partners.
The number of people living in African cities, which nearly doubled in 20 years, from 237 million in 1995 to 472 million in 2015, is expected to double again in the next 20 years. By the mid-2030s, more than half of Africans will be city dwellers.
Such rapid urbanisation represents immense opportunities for accelerating Africa’s economic transformation: growing cities provide new markets for food producers, create enabling conditions for industrial development and foster social innovation. Besides, two thirds of the investment needed by 2050 to bolster Africa’s urban infrastructure have yet to be made: this is a huge economic prospect for domestic and foreign investors, and could create millions of jobs.
Moreover, as they develop, African cities can avoid past missteps -such as car-centred urban sprawling - and promote more ecological models of service delivery. All African development partners and actors including multinational companies operating in Africa should collectively integrate these concerns in their programmes notably by prioritising the use of green technology with an inclusive access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy (goal 7 of the Sustainable Development Goals).
And yet, because it is often coupled with slow economic transformation, insufficient planning and inadequate investment, Africa’s fast urbanisation generates too many of the disadvantages- such as pollution, slums, lack of productive jobs, unequal access to public goods - and not enough of the advantages. Seizing Africa’s urbanisation dividend therefore requires bold and ambitious policy reforms. National urban strategies should foster rural/urban linkages, prioritise the development of intermediary cities and promote the participation of urban communities in city planning.
Rising up to the challenge of turning African cities and towns into engines of growth and sustainable development will not come cheap. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the financing needs for basic urban infrastructure and services delivery today is estimated at USD 29-60 billion per year, and at least twice more by 2035. Municipal governments of African cities do not have the resources to tackle the challenges of rapid urban growth by themselves. Bridging the gap requires harnessing innovative financing instruments while strengthening local tax collection capacities and access to credit.
These topics are at the heart of today’s 16th International Economic Forum on Africa: “African cities for Africa’s development”, which was opened by Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - read his speech- and Dr Rene N’guettia Kouassi, Director of Economic Affairs Department, African Union Commission.
High-profile leaders from Africa as well as from OECD and other partner countries, including Marcel Alain de Souza, President of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments for Africa (UCLGA), gathered in Paris to share their experiences and visions with more than 500 Forum participants.
Co-hosted for the first time by the OECD Development Centre and the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club in partnership with the African Union Commission (AUC) for the third consecutive year, the Forum also provided the occasion to renew the 2014 Memorandum of Understanding between the OECD and the AUC, with a view to deepening high-level dialogue and co-operation on a citizen-driven pan-African agenda of integration and transformation. Areas of co-operation include a continent-wide, geo-localised dataset on African cities, known as Africapolis; increased comparability of African revenue statistics; innovative policies for making the most of natural resources and insertion in global markets; and promoting Africa’s sustainable urban development.
The debates build on the conclusions of the African Economic Outlook 2016, a joint report by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Further reflecting the OECD’s commitment to supporting better policies for better lives in Africa, the OECD Emerging Markets Network (EMnet) is holding a meeting on “Investing in Growing African Cities” tomorrow and the Development Centre’s publication Education and Labour Market Togo: How to upgrade the skills? is launched today in Lome in the presence of Mr. Octave Nicoué Broohm, Togo’s Minister of Higher Education and Research.
Follow the discussions on Twitter with #AfricaForum.
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