OECD Secretary-General

Remarks at OECD-UN Habitat event on Africa: The New Urban Agenda


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

New York, 18 September 2016



Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,


I am delighted to join you for today’s discussion on the New Urban Agenda and what it means for Africa. This discussion is timely. Habitat III is just around the corner. We all have our work cut out in the run up to Quito.


At the OECD, we’ve been working hand-in-hand with UN Habitat on National Urban Policies in preparation for Habitat III. This is about the policy choices that can make or break thriving cities. Much of our work has been focused on getting meaningful data, and untangling the complex governance challenges that cities present.


Africa’s rapid urbanisation calls for fresh policy thinking


Africa’s cities present their own challenges, and their own opportunities. African countries are at an early stage in their structural transformation. Yet, they are urbanising fast.


The size of Africa’s urban population almost doubled in the last decade, growing from 237 million in 1995 to 472 million in 2015. We expect that it will almost double again by 2035. Already by 2020, Africa will have the second highest number of urban dwellers in the world after Asia.


In many cities, the rate of urban expansion is double the rate of population growth. Over the first decade of this century, Accra’s density, for example, decreased at an average annual rate of nearly 2.5%. Algiers’ density has decreased by 4.3% per year. Such high rates of urban expansion reduce what the ecosystem can supply, such as arable land, fresh water and waste absorption.


As in other regions, local capacity for urban planning and better services can be a challenge in Africa. Governments find it difficult to recruit and retain African talent for local careers. And we know that without adequate planning, urbanisation can generate development challenges. For instance, air pollution is on the rise, even though much of Africa has yet to industrialise. Our research in this year’s African Economic Outlook suggests that air pollution cost Africa 447 billion US dollars in 2013. This is one third of the continent’s GDP!


Financing African cities: a pressing challenge of the 21st century


Despite some of the challenges and needs that I have just mentioned, we have yet to address fully the financing of African cities’ development needs. Basic urban infrastructure in Africa is estimated to cost between 29 and 60 billion US dollars a year.


African municipal governments alone do not have the resources to tackle these challenges. At around 40 US dollars per capita per year, the revenues of cities such as Dakar and Nairobi, for example, fall short of the financial needs generated by urban growth. The financial situation of intermediary cities and towns is even weaker.  


So African cities will need to find new solutions, build capacity where it is needed, and strengthen the accountable and transparent institutions that are central to basic service delivery.


The OECD can help countries to develop homegrown policies


So, how do we achieve this in practice? Africa’s urbanisation cannot follow a single blueprint. The OECD does not have ready-made solutions for Africa. But what the OECD can do is bring together leaders, methods and policy experiences from around the world. To give you a recent example of how the OECD is helping to build these bridges – this past March, the OECD and the Ford Foundation launched the Inclusive Growth in Cities initiative, creating a global coalition of Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth. This includes mayors from six African cities.


Our African friends and partners can leverage experiences like these to develop innovative solutions tailored for Africa’s urbanisation. Consider this an invitation to work together, to share experiences, and to identify fresh solutions where they are most needed. This is what we do best at the OECD, and through our Development Centre. In short, let’s partner to build African cities that are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Thank you.


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