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The Economic Power of Africa’s Cities

The African Development Bank has recently pointed out that urbanisation is one of the most profound transformations that the African continent will undergo in the 21st century. Africa’s cities are the most rapidly growing cities in the world; they are the youngest and they are changing fast. Their impact on Africa’s economic, social, and political landscape in the coming decades is likely to be profound.

Urbanisation, therefore, presents immense opportunities to accelerate progress towards the 2030 and 2063 development agendas and for promoting continental integration in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). However, in many places in Africa and beyond, there is a prevailing negative perception of the externalities of urbanisation and its impact on development. This has slowed policy processes to make urbanisation a central part of Africa’s development strategies.

The initiatives to create “smart cities” has slowed due to costs. It is obvious that the urban growth rate in Africa is the fastest globally, and some observers project that Africa will be the only continent experiencing population growth by the end of this century. It is projected that 13 of the 20 largest urban areas (mega cities”) will be in Africa. However, although there are many promises for new cities in Africa, which claim not to be plagued by the challenges existing cities face, these projects all have the same challenges – they prove too costly and unappealing. In 2010, a project in Lagos, Nigeria, called the Eko Atlantic City, promised to house 250,000 people on land reclaimed from the sea, but 12 years later, the city is still empty.

Kenya’s Konza Tecnocity promised to be the biggest smart city in the sub-Saharan region – 13 years after conception, it is empty. The HOPE City in Ghana, Wakanda city in Ethiopia (inspired by the Black Panther movie), Kigali Innovation City in Rwanda, and Senegal’s Akon City — all promised to solve the problems of poverty, urban sprawl, and economic stagnation in their respective countries through innovative tech. None has made any tangible progress. The African think tank, Smart Africa, has two reports underway on smart cities which may help to rekindle interest.

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