African leaders are now becoming more concerned about the socio-economic destiny of the continent. With over 50 percent of the African population projected to migrate and live in urban cities by 2050, there is no doubt that this reality is beginning to make sense, especially the need to re-engineer its development blueprint to encourage inclusion, equity, as well as build the required resilience to help people live sustainably.
The search for a solution to tackle this urgent crisis motivated the theme of the 9th Africities summit that is ongoing in Kisumu, Kenya. Africities 9 is organised by the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Africa, an umbrella organisation for cities, local and regional governments, and municipal associations in Africa.
With its focus on: “The Role of Intermediary Cities of Africa in the Implementation of Agenda 2030 of the United Nations and the African Union Agenda 2063,” these two agendas highlight the pressing need to decentralise resources in an inclusive manner to help deal with the incessant relocation of people to urban settlements.
Therefore, those in charge must start to rethink how to re-design the continent’s development programmes. Majority of the 50 percent population that statistics talked about for example are going to be living in informal settlements.
This is one of the reasons why those saddled with authority must begin to look for creative methods on how to solve this problem, otherwise, the future of this population is going to be characterised by inequality and lack of access to basic human needs.
Integrating intermediary cities into a national growth plan can bridge this gap and help Africa to achieve its development objectives. Agenda 2030 and 2063 both advocate for the inclusion of all and leaving no one behind.
But the disparity in the distribution of resources between urban and rural areas remains one of the critical things that have to be addressed if this catastrophe is to be mitigated. Extending development to rural settlements and including people in the planning process will help channel resources into where they are needed.
Kenya for instance adopted a policy in 2010 that empowers county governments to take charge of their urban planning and implementation of development initiatives. This approach has produced fruitful results that have led to the growth of new cities in the country including Kisumu which is now referred to as the Europe of Africa.
“With a devote system of government, Kenya has experienced positive economic growth and development across the country,” says James Ongwae, the Governor of Kisii County.
In his submissions, Ongwae urged the region to explore non-traditional financing methods to avoid the danger of haphazard development when funds stop coming mostly from central governments and donor agencies.
This exploration must focus on the formulation of policies that build people’s resilience in cities and rural areas. The capacity of their leadership must be strengthened to enable them meet-up with the demand of urban expansion.
Addressing the challenges of poverty and inequality should also be taken into cognizance while searching for ways on how to tackle this anticipated disaster. Eco-friendly, adequate data to track projects implementation and the adoption of smart technologies are all the vital elements that are needed to arrest this foretold setback.
“There is a need to develop an African blueprint to guide infrastructural development in cities and rural areas as we are becoming more together,” he stated.
The hosting of this year’s summit in Kisumu is a clear demonstration of the importance of intermediary cities in national development. It is the first time that this event is held in an intermediary city, and the idea is to send a strong message on the need to pay attention to local communities and start preparing them for the task ahead.
The United Nations has a very keen interest in the growth of women and young children across Africa. This interest is informed by the fact that majority of these young children will migrate to urban areas to seek greener pastures. How to deal with their development need is one of the key mandates of the United Nations human settlement agenda.
Access to housing finance In Africa is only 15 percent and depending on where a child is born, it is going to be a major battle to own a home, get a job, and raise a family.
“This is the urban future they will have if we do nothing to address the human settlement agenda in Africa, said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, executive director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).
Discussing the issue of intermediary cities at a time when climate change, conflict, and Covid-19 is revenging the world is quite thoughtful in accelerating growth across the continent. The talk is essential because it would help curb the socio-economic storm that comes with these three factors.
Making resources available to local communities will assist in helping those in need to build resilience and live sustainably. The United Nations Habitat has over the years ensured that those in want have basic access to housing, transportation, and most recently digital connectivity.
“We believe this growth will come from intermediary cities. It is not about reversing urbanisation, but what we need to do is make it equitable,” she added.
There is no doubt that the reality of transforming Africa is a huge task that requires critical thinking and collective efforts to combat. How to manage waste, forest, water, and access to energy are some of the key issues that the continent must overcome to deliver the blue and green economic agendas.
Leaders must always remind themselves that ultimately the goal for all is to see an African continent that shows inclusive growth and sustainable development, and social transformation in the improvement of the standard of living of both urban and rural areas to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and African Union Agenda 2063.
By Etta Michael Bisong, Kisumu, Kenya