Africa will have 760 million urban residents in 2030 and the figure is expected to increase to 1.2 billion by 2050.
If the population explosion is not matched with growth of megacities across the continent, experts say, urbanization could suffocate infrastructure and usher in challenges in the provision of inadequate clean water, sanitation, electricity, public transport and healthcare.
During the annual meetings of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) that ended on Friday in Kigali, experts on urbanization shared ideas and solutions to the persistent problems facing Africa’s emerging cities.
“Planned urbanization can improve living conditions for the majority, help in the expansion of the middle class, and create conditions for economic transformation. However, many African cities have developed haphazardly, resulting in the decline of public services, slum proliferation, and increases in poverty,” said Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, the Director of Research at AfDB.
“With careful policies and planning, the situation can be changed. If the recent natural resource-led economic boom that we have seen in many African countries is used for structural reforms and urban renewal, African cities could become centers of economic opportunity,” he noted.
Sir Paul Collier, the Director of African Economies at Oxford University, added that in spite of reforms across Africa, many governments have failed to create an enabling environment with adequate infrastructure and institutions to sustain markets that support economic growth.
“Urbanization challenges provide an overview of what has been done so far by governments and their development partners. The work done so far is simply not enough. It is sad that many African cities still thrive on activities characterized on low productivity from the informal sector – thus, many urban dwellers are poorer than countryside dwellers,” Collier said.
Ivan Turok from Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) warned that development must always take into account environmental concerns that sustain the future.
“The challenge now is for African policymakers to ensure that urban development is orderly and that the process is inclusive and emphasizes “green growth” through the protection of the environment.” Turok said.
AfDB statistics indicates that urban growth rates in Africa are among the highest in the world, averaging about 7 percent annually, while some cities have growth rates exceeding 10 percent.
The main characteristic of urbanization in Africa is an influx of jobless youth.