The Urbanization Challenge in Africa: Growth and Management of Its Large Cities
|Author||CISSE Djibrilla Alhadji|
|School||East China Normal University|
|Keywords||Urbanization challenge urban governance and management Africa|
The African continent is acknowledged as one of the fastest urbanizing regions of the world today. This process is occurring within an overall framework in which, at an average of about 4.8 per cent annually (U.N-Habitat, 2003), Africa maintains its lead as the region of the world with the fastest rate of population growth. All major projections for the future suggest not only that this rapid rate of population growth will continue but also that it will be accompanied by an equally rapid rate of urbanization that will centre around a number of mega-cities, mostly urban areas that are already centres of high population density.Among the most significant socio-economic, cultural and political processes that both shape and define the context for urbanization and urban governance include the quest for broad-ranging political reform across Africa which began in the late 1980s and around which struggles continue to crystallize; various experiments in decentralization, devolution and local-level administration that impinge directly on the content, structure and quality of city governance irrespective of the reasons for which they were undertaken; issues of taxation and representation in city administration and in the urban space; experiments in the creation of autonomous agencies of government as part of new public sector management approaches; the emergence of non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, and neighborhood associations that have become an active part of city life and which play a role, either formally or informally, in the overall governance of the urban space; serious problems of economic accumulation that carry consequences for urban livelihood, including issues of employment, income distribution and equitable access to resources; intensifying demographic shifts that make the urban centre the site for the reproduction of Africa’s youthful population; growing problems of environmental sustainability which also bear on the quality of livelihood; and the challenges of balancing urban policing and citizen security with respect for civil liberties and human rights.High levels of urban poverty, unemployment and crime combine to create a politically volatile situation that can easily erupt into civil unrest. Already, one out of three countries in the continent has experienced or is still experiencing armed conflicts.While poverty and inequalities are probably largely imputable to conflicts, high poverty incidence also creates the conditions for poor governance and higher probabilities for conflicts and man-made disasters. As a result of conflict-generated poverty and the commensurate destruction of physical and social infrastructure, cities in war-torn countries experience a higher rate of growth of slum dwellers and displaced persons.While many of the problems caused by rapid urbanization have to be addressed by individual cities, urbanization also needs to be seen in the overall context of national development. Decentralization, the promotion of secondary cities, and strengthened rural-urban linkages could help to broaden the geographic spread of urban populations. In addition, urban policies that improve security and service delivery, reduce unemployment and stimulate economic development will help to improve the well-being of urban populations, in particular the urban poor. For all of this, accountable, responsive and responsible governments at both the central and local level are essential.Rapidly growing urban centres imply an increased, though not necessarily unidirectional rural urban population flow which deserves to be studied in terms of its recent contours. But a process of migration from small towns and peri-urban centres into big cities is also taking place.The review of the literature reveals that poverty, the growth and development of the informal or parallel economy has become an inseparable part of urbanization in Sub-Saharan African countries. Urban poverty often has a broader meaning of cumulative deprivation, characterized by squalid living conditions; risks to life and health from poor sanitation, air pollution, crime and violence. The high incidence of poverty in Africa is the primary development challenge facing the continent today.The challenges of planning the use of urban spaces in the face of massive population pressure has produced, across the continent, new poles of marginality and exclusion in leading urban centres side by side with new market niches and a sprawling informal sector. New populations settling in expanding urban settings are confronted with claims of indignity by earlier settlers which carry implications for all aspects of their rights and often result in violent communal conflicts. With existing infrastructure either in a state of generalized decay or not expanding quickly enough to accommodate growing urban populations, the pace and quality of urban life in most African countries is called constantly into question. The weakened capacity and reach of the state means that whole swathes of the urban space are not covered (adequately) by the apparatuses and agencies of government at all levels, leaving such spaces to self-constituted local militias and informal administrative brigades that arrogate to themselves powers of taxation and policing.The future of urban life throughout Africa is dependent on the systematic pursuit of environmentally sustainable economic development. Cities will be the key drivers of economic growth and poverty alleviation in Africa. Urban areas generate 60 per cent of Africa’s economic growth.The conclusion is that the rapid urbanization is one of the most pressing governance challenges facing African governments. The challenge is to address current problems while at the same time creating the policy environment that will allow cities to become more effective centers of economic growth and progress. Cities have to be made governable, livable, and economically viable. In addition, though the evolution of urban Africa will take its course, there are choices to be made. To invest in the development and better management of African urban areas is to ensure the progressive development of the region and to tackle the urbanization of poverty, which is a reality.