Africa's cities can be tough; but there are ways to make them happy places for all

Africa has the highest urbanisation rate in the world. The share of Africans living in urban areas projected to grow from 36% in 2010 to 50% by 2030

MINISTERS for housing and urban development in Africa have converged on Abuja, Nigeria’s political week, this week in preparation for Habitat III, the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in October, in Ecuador. 

While they discuss Africa’s urban future, one of the key conversations needs to be how they can plan for these growing cities to be as inclusive and equal as possible. 

The growing gap between the rich and the poor has become a pressing global challenge. Earlier this year an Oxfam report shared  stark statistics on how runaway inequality has created a world where the richest 1% own more than the rest of us. 

A solution to rebalancing this lies in Africa’s cities. 

Africa has the highest rate of urbanisation in the world and with the share of Africans living in urban areas projected to grow from 36% in 2010 to 50% by 2030, they can become a huge source of growth and economic opportunity. That being said, they can be designed in a way that growth can happen along more inclusive lines, allowing people to both contribute to and share in rising prosperity.

Using 25 economic and social inclusion indicators, the 2015 Mastercard Africa Cities Growth Index (AGCI) has been a great data source in mapping the continent’s economic outlook according to the inclusive urbanisation of its cities and forecasts their potential for inclusive growth. 

Below are the top ranking cities according to their size. 

From this, and other sources, it’s possible to see the trends that created a more inclusive urban environment.

Financial Inclusion

Maputo is ranked as the top large African city with the highest potential for inclusive growth and one of the key factors in the city’s potential for inclusive growth is it’s push for broad financial inclusion. 

Mozambique has a development strategy whose central goal was to implement far-reaching reforms that would increase financial inclusion and the expansion of financial services. There is evidence of this. Since 2007, the number of Mozambique’s 128 districts with physical access to a bank branch or agent bank location jumped from 28 to 65. By improving the range, quality and availability of financial services and products to the under-served and financially excluded it means a more sustainable economic development of the less privileged in society.

The city also hosted the Seventh Global Policy Forum of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion one of the outcomes of which was the adoption of the “Maputo Accord”, proposed by Mozambique’s Central Bank Governor, Ernesto Gouveia GoveRead, and which made financing small and medium enterprises a priority. 

Make slums the new normal

Slum dwellers show just how unequal a city can be as they suffer from insecure tenure, inadequate access to safe water, sanitation, and other infrastructure, as well as poor structural quality of housing construction, and overcrowding. They are often excluded from the city’s formal economy. 

The proportion of city dwellers who live in slums can be staggeringly high in Africa - in most of western, eastern and central Africa, more than 50% of city residents live in slums.

According to AGCI Casablanca is the only North African city at the higher level of growth potential, which the report attributes to Morocco’s relative stability in a turbulent region. But going past the report’s findings, there’s another story of how it became so inclusive. 

In 2004, a national Moroccan programme “Villes sans Bidonvilles” (or “Cities Without Slums”) evolves from the wide sweeping goal of “eradicating all slums by 2012” through making home ownership affordable for the urban poor. This would happen by allowing the private sector to play a lead role in housing supply, increasing affordable housing stock and for the government to produce social housing stocks.

As a result former slums have been transformed. One example is Sidi Moumen slum, which is now all subsidised housing, which has being transformed into what appears to be a flourishing community, connected to downtown Casablanca by a tramway completed in 2012.

Bus routes

Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, is a small city with the highest population growth rate, yet has managed to show potential for inclusive growth. One of the pillars that has supported this is the Namibian government’s determination to deliver change in it’s transport system.  

Residents of informal settlement, located rather far away from the Central Business District, are forced to travel long distances to access basic facilities due to the scarcity of commercial development in townships. 

Before, residents of these townships were at the mercy of expensive, dangerous and unreliable public transport buses. Those who walked were forced them to use unpaved ways along roads or compete for space with motorists. 

The city therefore launched “Move Windhoek”, a transport master plan which includes developing new and modified bus routes and an operational concept that results in an integrated bus network while integrating the taxi industry. The project will also modernise the bus fleet and procure new busses. “Move Windhoek” also promotes the use of non-motorised transport, for instance by supporting events such as the annual “Cycle to Work Day”.

Disaster risk reduction

Urban population and migration to cities are growing and as a result increasing vulnerability to disasters as more people are living in high disaster risk areas due to financial constraints. Rounding up the top five large cities in the AGCI is Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial city.  A key way in which the city shows its inclusive nature is in how it has mainstreamed disaster risk reduction in urban planning practice. 

Seventy percent of the population of Dar es Salaam live in unplanned settlements, 50% of the residents live on an average income of less than US$1/day. With a particular focus on the unplanned settlements dotted around the city that suffer from varying degrees of flooding the city planners are protecting the most vulnerable groups. For example in areas where residents were not compensated and relocated, the government is providing basic physical infrastructures - notably storm water drains. 

Making the informal, formal

Sixty percent of urban jobs in Africa are informal and there is a need to move people into higher productivity, manufacturing jobs – because a city will thrive when people have good jobs, not just barely surviving day to day on petty trading. 

One city that was absent from the Mastercard top rankings is Dakar, in Senegal - yet is has made strides in ensuring the informal sector is preserved, protecting the city’s most vulnerable traders and ensuring inclusion. 

The city created geographic zones which would cater for the city’s informal traders and hawkers - moving these commercial activities to a different area, away from police harassment, and allowing the city centre to recover an administrative function. In one of these commercial zones, the traders had chosen the land themselves. They used an informal contractor and it eventually gave a premises to 3,800 street traders who would pay taxes and be formally incorporated into the city’s economy. 

Public spaces for all

A final consideration at looking at increasing equality - is through public spaces; safe, accessible and inclusive. Streets and public spaces have often been overlooked and undervalued, but are increasingly being considered the backbone of cities for the way in which they can better the lives of people from all walks of life. The Global Network of Cities, Local and Regional governments even say they are “the key to an equitable African city”. 

One city that has successfully integrated public space into the city’s psyche is the Seychelles’ capital city, Victoria. In terms of a city to watch, Blantyre, Malawi’s centre of finance and commerce, is taking strides towards managing it’s public spaces. The government is starting to take steps in redesigning, rehabilitating and tightening security in all public places like bus depots and city parks. The government has also has put in place legal frameworks and policies such as the Malawi National Land Policy and other policies which will ensure that Public spaces are registered as public land.


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