Rapid urbanization is changing Africa

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Africa is the continent’s fastest urbanization of the world, with an urban population rate equivalent to about twice the global average, but above all the regional development prospects depend heavily on the way in which will be managed this process in the coming decades.

This is what emerges in the last “African Economic Outlook 2016”, released on Monday in Abidjan during the 51st Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB), which carried out the study.

The report devotes a special thematic chapter in the development of urbanization in Africa, introduced from the premise that the continent is leading a growing urbanization at a strong pace accompanied by an unprecedented population explosion.

This is demonstrated by the data on the population of cities, almost doubled in the space of twenty years, from 237 million in 1995 to 472 million in 2015. A phenomenon that in contrast to other regions, such as Asia, is currently characterized by a slow structural transformation.

The effects of lack of planning

According to the authors of the report, the lack of planning results in costly and uncontrolled urban expansion. For example, in Accra, the capital and most populous city of Ghana, between 1991 and 2000, the population has nearly doubled from 1.3 million to 2.5 million people with an average annual growth rate of 7.2 %. In the same period, Accra’s built-up area has tripled from 10 thousand to 32 thousand hectares by an average annual increase rate of 12.8%.

It seems clear that urbanization is now a megatrend that is profoundly transforming African societies and represents an immense opportunity, not only for the inhabitants of the cities but also for rural development.

The outlook also highlights that in Africa two-thirds of the investment in urban infrastructure until 2050, have yet to be made. As a result, there is broad scope for wide-ranging urban policies, involving the creation of more productive jobs for the urban population is growing rapidly. All this will be crucial to transform African cities in sustainable transformation engines.

Besides, if supported by appropriate new policies, urbanization can help economic development through increased agricultural productivity, industrialization and increased availability of services. The report also highlights the possibility to promote social development by focusing on a safer and inclusive urban housing.

In addition to numerous and supportable key considerations contained in the pan-African institute’s financial study, we must also consider that very often the rapidly growing urban areas are multiethnic megacities and economic drop sites, migratory and cultural, able to transform unceasingly the space and the social and urban fabric.

Just consider that in many sub-Saharan African countries continually arise new cities and slums home to 70% of the urban population, while the border between metropolitan areas and rural areas are becoming less and less delineated.

Chinese urbanism in Africa

In the African context of innovation and urban expansion, China exerts a very important role. Chinese-made buildings, infrastructure, and urban districts are sprouting up across Africa, and this development is changing the face of the continent’s cities.

A recent Dutch research has tracked in six African cities the export phenomenon of Chinese urban development model to Africa. According to the two authors of the study, the architect Daan Roggeveen and journalist Michiel Hulshof, China, in addition to being Africa’s leading trading partner, has emerged as a powerful alternative to the Western development aid oriented towards poverty reduction.

The Asian giant has acquired this function through the construction of roads, railways, power plants and other infrastructure in many African countries. An activity that has led many Chinese companies successfully financing the construction of important works in African cities, ranging from the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, to the Lekki Free Trade Zone, built in the east of Lagos.

However, while many Africans appreciate this development, many others find it difficult to relate to the local context, such as the Great Wall Apartments in Nairobi: a complex of residential blocks built in the same way of housing units scattered throughout China.

The research team has found that the Chinese urban model presents a paradox because if on the one hand, China is likely to encourage urban development by undertaking projects within budget and on time, on the other hand, heavily penalizes African construction companies unable to compete with Chinese ones.


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