Africities 2015: Africa’s cities need to be sites of sustainable growth

As rapid urbanization continue to change the face of Africa’s cityscapes, much of the success of the post-2015 development agenda will be measured in the continent’s cities. And that success will be largely contingent on the performance of local governments. This was the message from speakers at the opening ceremony of the AfriCities Summit 2015, which started November 29 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Urbanization rates on the continent increased from just 15 percent in 1960 to 40 percent in 2010, noted Jeff Radebe, South African minister in the presidency for planning, monitoring and evaluation. This figure is expected to reach 60 percent in 2050 and triple in the next 50 years, he said.

When well-managed, high levels of urbanization can lead to exponential increases in economic growth and development, said Radebe. But high levels of urbanization that are not managed well can lead to negative consequences, including over utilization of infrastructure and social unrest. At the moment, the continent is seeing a mix of positive and negative outcomes, he said.

“Policy changes will be required to guide Africa’s rising urbanization levels,” said Radebe. He called for a need to invest in proper urban planning.

“The existence and continuous increase of informal settlements in the majority of our cities is to a large extent an indication of insufficient planning for growth coupled with insufficient resources to provide housing options for our urban dwellers,” Radebe said.

Thabo Manyoni, chairperson of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), pointed to projected rates of growth in Africa and Asia, which are predicted to account for 90 percent of urban growth over the next 35 years. Like Asia, with its young population Africa has potential to expand its labour force and middle-class, he said. But with just 28 percent of Africa’s labour force occupying stable wage-earning jobs and 60 percent of urban dwellers in Sub-Saharan Africa living in informal settlements, there is a relatively small potential tax base for urban governments, making it challenging to deliver service delivery and infrastructure needs, he said.

Manyoni highlighted the importance of cities as sites of sustainable growth. “The success of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) will to a large extent be determined in the world’s cities, which lie at the fulcrum of employment creation, poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth and environmental sustainability,” he said.

Speakers emphasized the need for strong and accountable local governments in guiding development and sustainable urban growth.

“In recognising the role of cities in the development of countries we must build local government associations committed to citizen participation, transformative development, good governance and unity,” said Parks Tau, mayor of the city of Johannesburg.

Brendon Bosworth is the editor of

Photo: Parks Tau, mayor of the city of Johannesburg, delivers his opening address at the launch of the Africities Summit 2015.


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