The population shift from rural to urban areas, the ensuing decrease in the proportion of people living in rural areas, and the ways in which societies adapt to this change is called urbanisation. As of 2015, 50 percent of Africa’s population lived in one of 7,617 urban cities – North Africa being the most urbanized region with about 78 percent of its population living in cities.

However, the urbanization rates of the African subregions have varied immensely over time. A report shows that between 1950-2010, Central and West Africa had the most volatile urban population growth rates, whereas East, Southern, and North Africa have been more consistent in their growth rates.

Looking at the immense potentialities for sub-Saharan Africa in urbanisation, some key factors that could facilitate its growth in the region have to be prioritised. These factors include the culture of the people, art forms, architecture, landscape, entrepreneurship, and funding opportunities. 

In a panelist discourse titled The Cities of The Future at the recently concluded Future Summit 2020, the subject was thoroughly explored. The event was organised virtually by the Segal Family Foundation on October 1, in collaboration with Robert Bosch Stiftung, where panelists projected that 13 of the world’s largest urban cities would be in Africa with entrepreneurs playing huge roles in shaping Africa’s future urbanisation. 

But experts pointed out that the continent has a 100 billion infrastructural deficit with about two-third of African cities yet to be built, which could be linked to the total dependence on governments to facilitate the urban growth processes. The involvement of more entrepreneurs in the urban context and private investors and venture capitalists, however, could trigger the needed growth, not only in the sector but also in the economy. Urbanisation would then be creating more employment opportunities which would translate to increased economic activity and growth.

Migration from rural settings occurs as a result of the need for an improved lifestyle but “Africa’s urbanisation does not really correlate with growth,” said Emmanuel Adegboye, Managing Partner of Utopia Lagos. As an urban innovation group focused on building an urban ecosystem for emerging cities, Adegboye said that Utopia has helped channel significant funds to urban innovators. Their presence and work in Nigeria reiterate the desperate need for more urban innovative organisations in Africa’s smart city space.  

So far, Kigali has built an enviable framework for a strong smart city ecosystem in the sub-Saharan African region. The City of Kigali has rapidly grown into a modern one ,in the last two decades and it has not only become Rwanda’s most important business centre, but also the main port of entry. In 2008, the city won the UN-Habitat Scroll of Honor Award for its many innovations in building a model, modern city symbolized by zero tolerance for plastics, improved garbage collection, and a substantial reduction in crime. This shows that most of its over 1.2 million residents have adapted to its urban lifestyle.

Again, the place of architecture in urban development is critical. This is because architecture reflects the future and lifestyle that people envisage. It bears the art forms and cultural heritage unique to people. In fact, the chief flagbearer of any urbanisation can be said to be its architectural forms.

“Urbanisation is really about using architecture to create art forms that people would become proud of,” another panelist, Kofi Bio, Associate Principal (Accra) at Adjaye Associates, said. Bio emphasised the need to build structures with quality materials in a way that would create maximum balance in the surrounding environment. According to him “the relationship between the quality of architecture and the landscape reiterates urbanisation.”

Talent, skill, and a large amount of a young population put Africa in a favourable position to build the cities of the future if access to the needed funds and an enabling environment is provided for. Further commenting, Adegboye said, “I think we have the talent to build the cities we need. We have the largest number of young population and probably have the most entrepreneurial population. A lot more needs to be done for these talents to be maximised.”

The cities of the future should be built with Africans at heart. They should reflect what Africans want to see and should work for everyone and not just a section or class of people living in them.

About Segal Family Foundation.

Segal Family Foundation is a philanthropic non-governmental organisation founded in 2004 on the belief that individuals and communities in Sub-Saharan Africa were just a few opportunities away from realizing stable, healthy, and empowered lives.

Robert Bosch Stiftung

The Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, a charitable institution founded in 1964, is one of the leading private foundations of Europe that is known for its promotion of natural and social sciences, including public health and science, education, society and culture, and international relations. 

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