OP-Ed Africa’s secondary cities can drive sustainable economic growth


The COVID-19 pandemic and the current shock to the system from the war in Ukraine has left African economies hanging by a thread.

national debt has reached levels of distress across the continent, with even once-high performing economies such as Ghana, Egypt and Tunisia on the brink of defaults, bailouts or both.

Next weeks 9and Africities Summitin Kisumu, Kenya, will therefore take place in a particularly gloomy macroeconomic context.

Yet Kisumu itself – a vibrant, up-and-coming city that has become a hub of international trade – should give delegates real reason to be optimistic.

Indeed, Kenya has benefited from being a early adherent of New urban agenda: UN-Habitat’s arsenal of solutions to help States, city planners and communities manage urban challenges and needs, whether planning, financing, waste management and housing.

These solutions have obviously been helpful in Kisumu, and I believe the Agenda could not be more relevant for African policymakers navigating such perilous economic headwinds.

Why? Because if urban areas make up 55% of the world’s populationthey represent more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

In other words, our cities are an engine of economic growth – growth that Africa badly needs and needs now.

However, if we must make the most of the undeniable dynamism of our urban areas, choosing to live in a city cannot be a zero-sum game. No African should ever have to expose himself to environmental and social conflicts to climb the economic ladder.

Simply put, our mission must be resilience and sustainable the economic growth of our cities: the key that can unlock a more prosperous, equal and secure future for all Africans.

Our team at UN-Habitat has never underestimated the challenge ahead.

The world’s urban centers are veritable hotspots of vulnerability, with more than 1 billion people now live in informal settlements, placing themselves at the mercy of extreme weather events.

As new cities emerge in Africa, we must learn to ensure that the challenges are well anticipated with good planning and the provision of basic services. The best approach might be to find a balance between big cities and secondary cities. Secondary cities are under less pressure and can develop sustainable urban solutions more quickly.

Quick and often one-size-fits-all solutions like slum clearance and community relocation have proven redundant in the face of such a challenge.

UN-Habitat advocates an inclusive and participatory approach, with our staff going to the field to support stakeholders in everything from building the climate resilience of city centers to setting up employment and training programs professional.

RISE-UP: Resilient Settlements for the Urban Poor – one of UN-Habitat’s flagship programs – exemplifies this holistic, research-driven approach to generating sustainable socio-economic progress in African cities.

Since 2019, the RISE-UP The team has compiled a database of places at serious risk from extreme weather events, whether it’s an informal settlement in West Africa or a coastal town in Southeast Asia.

With this data in hand, UN-Habitat lobbied for and then mobilized large-scale investments to build, increase and strengthen the climate resilience of every vulnerable community. This is an essential step in consolidating their economic viability.

As an example of RISE-UP at its best, UN-Habitat reported on the severe threat of flash floods and high winds to schools in Mozambique in 2020. Our field officers then worked day and night to ensure that classrooms from Maputo to Beira could resist it.

Given the global political and economic upheavals, it is important to stay firmly on the path of sustainable urban development and ensure support for the development of secondary cities in Africa. And that’s what I’m going to focus on in Kisumu next week.

“With these communities in mind, it is imperative that organizations operating at the supranational level like UN-Habitat stay the course. While governments’ focus on sustainable economic growth may waver, ours will not and we have the expertise to move them forward, despite the undeniable obstacles they face.

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