- The aim of the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) was formally to adopt the “New Urban Agenda”, a 23-page document intended to guide national governments globally in pursuit of sustainable urbanisation, and discuss its implementation.
- The role of urbanisation as a (potential) driver of sustainable development has been recognised at the highest level in Africa. The African Union’s Agenda 2063 development plan recognises that urbanisation “can provide transformative opportunities for Africa, but also [presents] serious challenges”.
- The 65-page Habitat III Regional Report for Africa prepared by UN-Habitat and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) drew on national reports from 26 countries. It was circulated for comment in February 2016 at a regional high-level meeting held in Abuja, Nigeria. The objective of the report was to inform the Habitat III process. It asserts that if Africa is to exploit a “unique opportunity to reverse [persistent negative] trends”, urbanisation “needs to be well planned and sustainable”.
- The Regional Report for Africa comprises an introduction and six chapters encapsulating the challenges and opportunities presented by rapid urban growth. The lead author was Dr Beacon Mbiba (Senior Lecturer, School of the Built Environment, Oxford Brookes University), who recently spoke at Africa Research Institute, and the team leader Dr Edlam Abera Yemeru (Chief, Urbanisation Section, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa).
- In a somewhat curious – no doubt political – disclaimer, the draft report states that “views expressed in this document do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations HABITAT, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa or Member States of the United Nations and the African Union”. Despite the disclaimer, in the light of this comprehensive and realistic report no government on the continent can justifiably claim not to be aware of the major drivers, opportunities and pitfalls of urbanisation in Africa.
Africa Research Institute (ARI) has a long standing interest in urbanisation. In this inevitably subjective summary, ARI’s director Edward Paice selects salient facts and features from the report.
For ease of reference, the salient points selected have been grouped under the headings:
- Economy and finance
- Housing, services and social inclusion
-African cities already contribute between 50% and 70% to the continent’s GDP. The African Development Bank’s Urban Development Strategy document suggests the contribution is 55%.
-Rapid urban growth represents an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate the structural transformation of Africa through industrialisation, high value added services, higher agricultural productivity and the transition of informal employment into formalised employment. These are imperative to ensure economic growth translates into more inclusive development through increased – and decent – job opportunities and enhanced fiscal space.
-At present, rapid urbanisation in Africa is taking place amidst high unemployment and under-employment, insecure and unhealthy jobs, poverty and rising inequality: it is therefore “delinked” from economic growth and industrialisation, contrary to the experience of other world regions. Urban growth has also, in most cases, been unplanned and poorly managed and thus is characterised by informality, inequality and poverty while posing risks for the environment.
-All stakeholders concur that Africa has to turn its youth bulge into a demographic dividend and avoid turning it into a demographic albatross. Urbanisation needs to play a central role.
There is a greater appreciation across Africa that urban growth and urbanisation can no longer be ignored
-Given the scale and speed of urban growth in Africa and the related implications, urbanisation cannot be seen as a local development issue or a sectoral issue only. It is a national development and strategic issue that requires a cross-sectoral approach and mainstreaming in national development plans.
-For Africa to harness the significant potential of urbanisation and urban growth and to mitigate the real and likely debilitating negative effects, concerted policy interventions will be needed in at least four interconnected spheres: urban financial health; urban institutions and governance; physical health, spatial planning and design; political will.
-Since the early 1990s urban population growth has been consistently high, at 3.49% a year vs. total population growth of 2.46%. The annual rate at which Africa has urbanised is therefore 1.03% a year. From a policymaking point of view, it is important to distinguish between urban population growth and growth in urbanisation levels.
-Population growth is rapid in both urban and rural areas, driven by persistent high fertility rates in some populous countries – in particular Nigeria, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Uganda. Major infrastructure investment is required in both domains – it is not a choice between the two.
-Rural to urban migration has declined from accounting for 40% of urban growth in the 1970s to below 30%. Natural population growth in city populations is now the predominant driver of urban population growth. Reclassification of peri-urban areas and rural settlements as urban areas is a further factor contributing to urban population growth.
-Ghana, Zambia and Tanzania are among the larger African countries where the urban median age is below 25 years.
-The annual growth of Rwanda’s urban population – 6.68% – is the highest in Africa. Its capital city, Kigali, has 48% of the country’s total urban population.
-Africa’s population continues to exhibit “circularity”, characterised by rural-urban, urban-rural, urban-urban, rural-rural and cross-border movements that are not as pronounced in other parts of the world.
At current growth rates, Nigeria’s population living in urban areas is projected to increase by 208 million by 2050 i.e. more than the combined current national populations of Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe
-The urbanisation level of 40% in 2010 is expected to reach 60% by 2050 with the number of urban dwellers increasing from 400 million to 1.26 billion.
-Since the 1990s a number of countries, including Zambia and Lesotho, have experienced periods of de-urbanisation, when the percentage of the population living in cities declines. The main drivers of this phenomenon are economic crises, high urban costs of living, better service provision in rural areas than cities and health crises such as HIV/AIDS.
-Three of the continent’s “megacities” – Cairo, Lagos and Kinshasa – each have populations larger than those of Africa’s 36 least populous countries.
-The momentum of urbanisation is likely to shift from megacities to intermediate cities and small towns which suffer significant infrastructure, governance and finance deficits that need urgent redress. The bulk of the growth will be absorbed by informal settlements and informal economies.
-27 African states have conducted credible censuses since 1996. However governments report limited capacity to expand and maintain improvements in the collection of vital data.
Economy and finance
-Between the 1960s and 1990s, Africa’s urbanisation occurred at much lower levels of income and economic growth compared to other continents. Consequently, governments were left with insufficient capacity to finance capital investments in urban infrastructure, housing and services.
-Africa’s urbanisation has been characterised as growth in “consumption cities”, where industrialisation and manufacturing are declining or yet to develop; and by informality, urban sprawl, increasing inequality and persistent slum formation. As many governments have recognised, removing this structural weakness is a priority as economic growth since the 1960s has been jobless growth or with jobs created in low productivity informal and service sectors.
Throughout Africa, power deficits present in 1996 have worsened
-Economic growth since 1996 was higher than average population growth, a marked contrast to the two previous decades. The real GDP growth per capita (2.4% a year) has outstripped the growth in urbanisation level (1.1%) for a significant number of countries, but it has remained lower than the 3.5% urban growth rate.
-In Sub-Saharan Africa, informal employment comprises 66% of all non-agricultural employment. In Kenya, for example, as much as 76% of the labour force is now in the informal economy.
-Rather than existing as marginal activities at the periphery of urban economies, statistics demonstrate that informal economy workers and enterprises make up a substantial proportion of core workers and enterprises in African cities and are engaged in some of the most critical sectors.
-Urbanisation has not enhanced the linkages between the rural and urban economies required for broad based development. As economies mostly remain export-oriented, the growth in demand for basic foodstuffs has been met through rising imports valued at US$25 billion a year. Growing urban populations generate real opportunities for agricultural production and value addition.
-Africa’s structural transformation will not happen without the continent taking charge of financing its development. Yet Africa’s debt burden endures, and when combined with systemic and sustained illegal financial out-flows the continent is a net creditor to the world.
Africans could be more than able to finance their own development; it is a damnation of Africa’s financial leadership that “Africa is rich but African are poor”
-Improvements have been observed in municipal finance and local revenue generation but this has not matched the level of the investments required to respond to rapid urban growth. In many urban centres, potential revenues have not been fully exploited.
-As urbanisation intensifies in a country, and especially if income levels increase, land becomes increasingly important in financing sustainable urban development. Local and national authorities still have a long way to go in terms of maximising urban land value capture through appropriate policies, legislation and taxation.
-An increasing number of municipalities have informal economy policies that have benefited both the workers and the local authorities. However, municipalities face pressure from economic and political interests that see the informal economy as a “problem” and ignore the jobs and income that it generates.
-For structural change to happen, policies, strategies and regulations are needed that will make Africa’s emerging small and medium towns not just a collection of new consumer markets for global goods and sources of cheap labour, but a place for innovations and thousands of new, competitive and highly distributive SMEs.
Housing, services and social inclusion
-Recent UN-Habitat data shows that the proportion of Africa’s population living in slums has been falling, from 62% in 1990 to 40% in 2014. There are significant regional and national variations. However, the high proportions and numbers of people living in slums remains of grave concern. Slums are the most extreme embodiment of multi-dimensional exclusion in African cities.
-The housing crisis is acute. Access to public transport and public space are crucial factors for social inclusion and poverty reduction.
-Poor urban services and unhealthy environments affect the poor, women and children the most. At the lowest income levels, health indicators for poor urban residents are often equivalent to, or worse than, those of their rural counterparts.
-WHO/UNICEF data shows that Africa’s urban population with access to improved clean water and sanitation has risen in aggregate terms, but declined in proportionate terms since 1996. The urban population using piped drinking water accessed on the premises declined from 53.9% (127 million people) in 1995 to 50.3% (166 million people) in 200 and was about 45.5% (215 million people) in 2015.
-Few African governments have implemented programmes to provide legal security of tenure, equal access to land and housing for all and protection from arbitrary evictions. In most countries, the majority of urban residents are still slum dwellers who occupy land whose rights and records are largely secured by informal systems not recognised by governments.
-Since 2000, Social Tenure Domain Models (STDM) based on participatory approaches and techniques to land information and record management have proven to be cost-effective, flexible, affordable, pro-poor and gender sensitive.
-Participatory community policing to prevent crime and to support/ complement national police forces is a common initiative in many countries, although with varying degrees of effectiveness.
-African states need proactive and sustained national policies to deliver housing and services.
-In the context of Agenda 2063, Africa has a unique opportunity to configure its infrastructure to lead in the emerging low carbon economy as opposed to replicating the fossil fuel dependent models used thus far.
-A major trend and environmental challenge facing urban Africa is spatial expansion and urban sprawl. There is a pressing need for compact city strategies and designs.
-Urban Africa faces increasing water scarcity due to droughts and lack of investment in water infrastructure. Aquifers are depleting fast.
-National and local governments have insufficient resources to manage the growing waste problem. Waste management is often one of the largest budget items for urban authorities.
-It seems the biggest hurdle to make planning interventions to reduce the ecological footprint of cities and address urban sprawl is a combination of lack of political will, weak institutional governance and inappropriate laws, rules and regulations.
-The Habitat Agenda recognises that sustainable human settlements can only achieved through decentralised, accountable, citizen driven and financially secure local authorities. It calls for decentralised and locally accountable urban governance embracing increased citizen participation in decisions on issues affecting them; to select and de-select those who represent and those who govern them; and increased fiscal autonomy.
-Incomplete decentralisation has compromised delivery of sustainable urban development.
Most urban areas remain financially weak and dependent on central governments
-Weak local government finances are compounded by a culture of political patronage; corruption is tolerated at all levels of governance.
-“Cost recovery” or “pay as you go” services appear to penalise the poor more than the rich. If they continue to expand as in other parts of the world, local governments would have to invest more in participatory governance – such as participatory budgeting – to enhance the chances of success for such programmes.
-Performance related grants to urban authorities have been piloted in many countries since the 1990s with some positive results.
-Urban planning and management laws are often discredited because they are outdated and not socially necessary or relevant. New compacts are needed to design socially necessary and relevant regulations for urban management that are binding to both leaders and ordinary citizens.
-Most African governments at national and local levels face technical, human and financial limitations to plan for and manage rapid urbanisation.
-Countries are not taking urbanisation into account in their national development plans as a transversal mega trend.
-Land, which is poorly managed by urban authorities, needs to be viewed as potentially the main source of revenue to increase income available to spend per capita.