City2City

Revised Write-up

COVID-19 in African Cities: Impacts, Responses and Policies
27 June 2020 - The report proposes several interventions to promptly and effectively address the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic in Africa at the urban level led by national and local governments supported by international and regional development institutions.

27 June 2020 - COVID-19, a global pandemic declared by the World Health Organization (WHO), is crippling the global economy and upending people’s lives thereby threatening sustainable development across all its dimensions. Africa is also facing the dire consequences of the crisis, necessitating timely response, recovery and rebuilding policies and strategies. Globally, urban areas are the epicenters of the epidemic accounting for most of the confirmed COVID-19 cases.

UN-Habitat in collaboration with UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG), African Development Bank (AfDB), and Shelter Afrique have joined hands to produce this new report: COVID-19 in African Cities: Impacts, Responses and Policies.

The report proposes several interventions to promptly and effectively address the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic in Africa at the urban level led by national and local governments supported by international and regional development institutions.

Download the Full Report Here: https://unhabitat.org/covid-19-in-africa-cities-impacts-responses-and-policies

Online Course - Development and Planning in African Cities
22 June 2020 - As African cities grow, learn how development and planning help urban actors to make cities just and sustainable for all.
22 June 2020 - In the next 35 years, Africa will need to accommodate almost 900 million new urban dwellers. Hundreds of smaller cities are doubling in size every 20 years, half of Africa’s urban dwellers live in informal settlements in precarious conditions, and 75% of these are younger than 35.

Development and Planning in African Cities: Exploring theories, policies and practices from Sierra Leone will explore African cities through the lenses of spatial justice and social diversity, challenging myths and assumptions about urban development and demonstrating how different processes interact and shape the development of a city.

What topics will you cover?

Week 1: Introduction to development and planning in African cities

  • What is development? What is planning?
  • Normative crosscutting lenses: spatial justice and social diversity
  • Urban change and the evolution of planning

Week 2: Urban land & informalities

  • Diversity of meanings, values, and functions of urban land
  • Formal and informal urban land markets and tenure systems
  • What are urban informalities? Economic and spatial dimensions of informality

Week 3: Governance & planning

  • Devolution of powers and fiscal autonomy
  • Scales: city-level, metropolitan, regional
  • Participatory planning (planning from below)

Week 4: Urban risk, vulnerabilities & infrastructure

  • Understanding urban risk and coping/adaptation strategies
  • Urban health
  • Co-production of urban infrastructures.

Course Instructors:

  • Andrea Rigon is working on inequalities, diversity and cities in global South. Based at Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London. Founder of Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre. T: @rigonandre
  • Joseph M Macarthy is an urban research expert and a well-established scholar in urban planning and management. He is the Executive director of SLURC and lectures at Njala University.

Who is the course for?

  • The course is open to people from any disciplinary background with a desire to learn about urban development and planning in African cities and potentially to those who would like to pursue a career in urban development or planning.
  • It is suitable for urban professionals who work or may in the future want to work in Sub-Saharan Africa and would like to gain an understanding of how its cities are made and developed.

Start Date: The course is available now and will take four week to complete. The start date is flexible and can be selected on the course website.

To Register and Find More Information on the Course: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/african-cities

Metropolitan Governance in Africa: Peer Learning of local experiences
To highlight the challenges that African cities face and how they are overcoming them, Metropolis and UCLG-Africa decided to design the launch of a Learning Program on “Metropolitan Governance in Africa”. Based on a pedagogical content designed by Metropolis, this learning program aims to introduce the metropolitan reality and how metropolitan governance with a gender perspective can be the key to face the challenges and threats that surround our metropolises.

Metropolitan Governance in Africa: Peer Learning of local experiences (22 February 2021)

During the session “Peer Learning From Local Experiences” city managers of different African cities and metropolises will participate in a peer review of their local experiences facing the challenges produced by the rapid urban growth and the COVID-19 pandemic, giving a particular mention to the role of digitalisation. 

More information will be available here shortly: https://www.metropolis.org/agenda/metropolitan-governance-africa-peer-learning-local-experiences 

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Climate compatible urban development: Building healthier relationships between people, water and carbon across Africa
What does it entail to make African cities climate compatible and climate-resilient? Many African urban residents, businesses, and public facilities currently face a scarcity of clean water, chronic energy shortages, disease outbreaks,https://www.africancentreforcities.net/ and storm damages. This needs to be addressed while adding 950 million new residents to African cities over the next 30 years, and contributing to achieving the Paris Agreement on keeping global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably 1.5⁰C.

Climate compatible urban development: Building healthier relationships between people, water and carbon across Africa

by Anna Taylor | African Center for Cities | Originally posted on 23 November 2021 

What does it entail to make African cities climate compatible and climate resilient? Many African urban residents, businesses and public facilities currently face a scarcity of clean water, chronic energy shortages, disease outbreaks and storm damages. This needs to be addressed, while adding 950 million new residents to African cities over the next 30 years[1], and contributing to achieving the Paris Agreement on keeping global temperature increases to well-below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably 1.5⁰C[2]. We are at a pivot point. Historically, urban people have earned more, consumed more and had a bigger ecological footprint (including carbon footprint). Can we break this correlation? We need new ways of being urban and building our cities. We need to mainstream and scale out these new sustainable urban practices and infrastructures within the next two decades.

We need to be part of shifting to renewable energy sources, restorative water flows and recyclable materials, in ways that create jobs, livelihood opportunities and healthy living conditions for all. Our cities can no longer be sprawling generators of pollution from which people feel excluded and get sick. We have ideas of urban climate resilience, zero carbon cities, sustainable urban infrastructure and urban transitions. Who can we learn from about how this works in practice, in various urban contexts across Africa?

We can learn from the Gahanga Health Centre in the City of Kigali, Rwanda, where rainwater harvesting tanks connected to the internal reticulation system, and a number of energy-efficient lighting solutions, including solar streetlights, energy-efficient bulbs and high-pressure solar water heaters, are being installed to improve the sustainability and quality of healthcare services, especially obstetrics and maternal healthcare[3]. Water and energy meters are also being installed to collect the data required to make an evidence-based case for scaling out these pilot projects.

We can learn from the piloting of small-scale embedded energy generation in Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality, South Africa, that connected a small-scale wind and solar energy generation pilot site[4] to the energy grid using a simple system for net metering[5]. This informed the development and approval by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) of Standard Conditions for Small-Scale (<100kW) Embedded Generation (SSEG) within Municipal Boundaries.

We can learn from the Kigamboni decentralized wastewater treatment plant in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and research done on the social acceptance of new technologies that present an alternative to (the lack of) large-scale, centralized water-borne sewage systems, and thereby reduce risks of cholera and diarrheal disease outbreaks[6]. Similarly, we can learn from efforts in Accra, Ghana, to develop and test localized, on-site toilet waste digesters to reduce the contamination of waterways and coastal waters from the disposal of sewage into the sea[7].

We can learn from the N1 City Mall in Cape Town, South Africa, where a waste digester has been installed to process food waste from grocery shops and restaurants in the mall and turn it into methane gas and fertilizer[8]. The methane is used to produce green electricity and hot water for the shopping centre. The fertilizer is used on the gardens surrounding the mall. This keeps waste out of landfill and reduces waste transportation requirements and thereby carbon and methane emissions into the atmosphere.

We can learn from the Sihlanzimvelo, Transformative Riverine Management and Green Corridors initiatives in Durban, South Africa, in which community-based cooperatives are contracted and upskilled to unblock and rehabilitate local stretches of streams and rivers by removing solid waste and invasive plants, thereby reducing flood risks, and upcycling reclaimed materials[9]. Green Corridor sites provide youth training and development programmes and eco-tourism opportunities, to create income-generating opportunities from ecological restoration efforts[10].

We can learn from the Eco-Village in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, that provides families with low-cost, affordable housing that is energy-efficient, self-cooling and fitted with solar panels to provide electricity and pump groundwater[11].

When thinking about how to aggregate and scale out such initiatives, and prioritize interventions and investments at the city scale, what can we learn from those African city governments that have already made considerable headway in embedding climate change policies and plans. What can Cape Town and Durban’s processes of developing a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan aligned with the 1.5⁰C ambition of the Paris Agreement teach us? What can we learn from the City of Windhoek’s efforts at consultatively developing their Integrated Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan[12]?

Many of these initiatives have their shortcomings and limitations. Incumbent building standards, loan requirements, property rates schemes, municipal boundaries and the financialization of public assets act as constraints and inhibitors. But these initiatives are a start. They demonstrate alternative practices and technologies that offer a glimpse into a more sustainable and inclusive development trajectory for African cities. They show potential for providing more and better livelihood options and living conditions to millions of urban residents across Africa in ways that minimize greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change, and reduce risks associated with flooding, water and energy shortages, water contamination and disease outbreaks. They hint at a radical re-imagining of urban infrastructure, such that they make better use of resources, provide better services, create more jobs and work more closely with natural systems.

What will it take for more cities across Africa to be taking shape in this way? We cannot copy and paste, so we need to invest in the innovation ecosystems and partnership platforms that can incubate and sustain the necessary processes of redesign, financing, implementation, maintenance and ongoing adaptation. City actors cannot do this alone. National, regional and international actors, including utility companies and state-owned enterprises, also have a key role to play in developing infrastructure and providing services to rapidly growing cities that are sustainable, low-carbon and climate resilient. There will have to be radical innovation and strong alignment between industrial, energy, economic, climate and urban policies. The Masters in Sustainable Urban Practice offers an opportunity for mid-career professionals to build and sharpen the knowledge, skills and networks required to be a key player in the sustainable cities innovation ecosystem.

Article and cover image retrieved from https://www.africancentreforcities.net/climate-compatible-urban-development-building-healthier-relationships-between-people-water-and-carbon-across-africa/

Climate Change and the City, convened by Dr Anna Taylor is one of the elective modules of the new Masters in Sustainable Practice. Applications for 2022 are open. The deadline for applications is 31 January 2022. For more information go to the programme page.

[1] https://www.oecd.org/publications/africa-s-urbanisation-dynamics-2020-b6bccb81-en.htm

[2] https://www.c40.org/researches/summary-for-urban-policymakers-what-the-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5-c-means-for-cities

[3] https://urban-leds.org/rwanda-upgrades-healthcare-centres-as-part-of-green-economic-recovery/

[4] https://africa.iclei.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2019_CaseStudy_Showcasing-sustainable-solutions-in-SA-2.pdf

[5] https://africa.iclei.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2015_Case-study_Urban-LEDS_Nelson-Mandela-bay-municipality.pdf

[6] https://council.science/current/blog/unpacking-narratives-towards-a-framework-for-waste-water-management/

[7] https://youtu.be/XJ7FsDysZUM and https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27087485/

[8] https://www.greenbuildingafrica.co.za/waste-to-energy-digester-installed-at-growthpoints-n1-city-mall/

[9] https://www.c40cff.org/projects/ethekwini-municipality-durban-transformative-riverine-management-programme

[10] https://durbangreencorridor.co.za/purpose-projects

[11] https://ng.boell.org/en/2016/04/05/eco-village-port-harcourt and https://www.lionessesofafrica.com/blog/2021/2/21/chinwe-ohajuruka-an-award-winning-nigerian-impact-driven-green-architect

[12] http://www.fractal.org.za/windhoek/

Decentralization and Localization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Is Decentralization a Road to Peace in Africa?
As part of its global webinar series on Decentralization and Local Development around the World, the Local Public Sector Alliance—in collaboration with the World Bank (Subnational Governance and Decentralization Global Solutions Group), UNDP, UNCDF, and a number of other global partners—is pleased to announce a series of knowledge sharing events on Decentralization and Local Development in Sub-Saharan Africa starting December 6, 2021.

Decentralization and Localization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Is Decentralization a Road to Peace in Africa?

Date and Time: 14 December 2021 | 3 PM Nairobi Time

Registration Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_NV7HD8jeQfOzh7pDcW7YbQ

The Local Public Sector Alliance is an alliance of advocates for more inclusive and effective decentralization and local development. One of the Alliance’s objectives is to bring together the global Community of Practice around Decentralization and Local Development in order to share knowledge and ideas in an evolving global context.

As part of its global webinar series on Decentralization and Local Development around the World, the Local Public Sector Alliance—in collaboration with the World Bank (Subnational Governance and Decentralization Global Solutions Group), UNDP, UNCDF, and a number of other global partners—is pleased to announce a series of knowledge-sharing events on Decentralization and Local Development in Sub-Saharan Africa starting December 6, 2021.

Is decentralization a road to peace in Africa? What is the role of decentralization and local governance in reducing or preventing conflicts? There are several important and interesting questions to ask in relation to this topic. Decentralization is often put into peace agreements but does it contribute to the stability it is thought to provide and does it promote peace? Where does this assumption come from and is there any evidence that supports the assumption? Are the needs and participation of youth better ensured within a decentralized structure and administration?

View the entire program on our website at:
https://decentralization.net/2021/06/global-webinar-series-decentralization-and-local-development-in-africa/

African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) Issues COP27 Challenge to Mobilize $2 Billion for Africa’s Locally Led Land Restoration Movement
By COP27, which will be held on African soil, funders must invest $2 billion in AFR100, the continent’s locally led campaign to restore vitality to 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested land.

AFR100 Issues COP27 Challenge to Mobilize $2 Billion for Africa’s Locally Led Land Restoration Movement

Press Release by the AFR100 Initiative | Originally posted on November 2, 2021

This press release was retrieved from the World Resources Institute (WRI), and was reposted from the AFR100 Initiative.

Cover Photo Source: AFR100 Initiative home page

GLASGOW (November 2, 2021)— Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, Minister of Environment of the Republic of Rwanda; Nancy Tembo, Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources of the Republic of Malawi; and Mohammad Abubakar, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Federal Republic of Nigeria issued that challenge today at COP26.  

The African Development Bank, Government of Germany, Global Environment Facility, Bezos Earth Fund, the Global EverGreening Alliance, and Green Climate Fund responded, announcing their plan to significantly invest in land restoration by 2026 and have called on their peers to join them in mobilizing that $2 billion in investable capital by COP27 in November 2022.

“Africa is home to the world’s greatest restoration opportunity, with 700 million hectares of degraded land that can be restored. Africa is the continent most dependent on the land for livelihoods, and most vulnerable to climate change. Africa must therefore lead the way. We warmly welcome partnership with ambitious funders like the Bezos Earth Fund,” said Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD). 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could push an estimated 30 million Africans into extreme poverty, land restoration — with a return of $7-30 for every $1 spent — has become a critical tool to improve food security and create sustainable jobs. The impacts of climate change make these types of solutions all the more urgent: The most recent IPCC report shows that several African regions like the Sahel will experience rising temperatures, exacerbating the vulnerabilities of people and nature. If desertification continues to advance unchecked, the decline in revenue from cereal crops alone could cost people in Africa $4.6 trillion through 2030.

It’s clear that Africa needs to massively and quickly restore nature and farmland to reduce poverty, reverse biodiversity loss and store planet-warming greenhouse gases — and local action is the only path toward success. An initial $2 billion investment in the work of NGOs, entrepreneurs and government-led projects could catalyze $15 billion of funding. That larger sum could begin the restoration of a potential 20 million hectares by 2026 and bring an estimated $135 billion in benefits to 40 million people.

“Local communities own and manage nearly 70% of Africa’s land. That is why a future where rural Africa’s landscapes are fully restored is only possible if we believe in and fund the work of thousands of community groups and leaders, especially young people, women and entrepreneurs,” said Wanjira Mathai, Vice President and Regional Director for Africa, World Resources Institute (WRI), and Friend of COP26.

Combined with a robust financial architecture anchored in Africa that can channel million-dollar investments to people restoring land, in-depth technical assistance, and a comprehensive system to track progress, these investments would kickstart the second phase of AFR100. Thirty-two countries have joined that engine of restoration replication and pledged to restore nearly 128 million hectares since COP21 in 2015. 

“Africa is where the opportunity is the greatest, where the need is greatest, and where vulnerability to climate change is greatest. It is also where political commitment is increasingly the greatest, as heads of state and governments more and more recognize that investing their natural capital has one of the highest returns,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund. “With enough flexible capital, the blossoming of a thousand locally led projects and businesses can realize the AFR100 vision of high-quality restoration work that builds climate-resilient and thriving rural communities. Please count on us!”

“One billion dollars in funding will support landscape restoration, with an initial focus on Africa and the U.S. Restoration efforts in Africa will include planting trees on degraded landscapes, revitalizing grasslands, and integrating trees into farmland,” added a press release issued by the Bezos Earth Fund. “This work will help drive critical outcomes that include climate benefits, food security, job creation, economic growth, soil fertility, and improved connectivity between protected areas to protect biodiversity. The Bezos Earth Fund will partner with Africa-owned partners, including AFR100, to deliver these benefits at scale.”

To start this new phase of AFR100 with local action, a group of funders (Bezos Earth Fund, One Tree Planted, Good Energies Foundation, DOEN Foundation, Lyda Hill Philanthropies and Facebook) announced an initial investment in these innovators. After receiving more than 3,200 applications for funding across 31 African countries, WRI, One Tree Planted and Realize Impact will provide 100 grants and loans of $50,000 USD to $500,000 USD to community-based non-profits and local businesses. The first cohort of 20 organizations that will receive capital from this “TerraFund for AFR100” was announced today (details here).

“Mayors know that local action is the cornerstone of transformative change,” said Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone. “Building up the capacity of entrepreneurs and community organizations is how we plan on growing 1 million trees by 2022. I am thrilled that AFR100 will help our champions realize their dream of turning our city into a ‘Treetown’ that will help our people thrive for decades to come.”

Partners will independently monitor and report on each project with a combination of field verification techniques and satellite monitoring with support from the new Land & Carbon Lab initiative

“AFR100 presents an opportunity for both the private and public sectors to demonstrate large-scale transformative action to restore degraded land. That action would not only mitigate climate change, but also help secure millions of livelihoods and agricultural supply chains. Diversified financing instruments are needed now if we are to achieve this grand ambition by 2030,” said Charles Karangwa, Regional Head of Land Systems for Africa, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Learn more about AFR100 at www.afr100.org.

About AFR100
The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) is an African-led initiative uniting 31 countries to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. It contributes to the global Bonn Challenge, the African Union Agenda 2063, the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and other targets. The African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) serves as its Secretariat. 

City and metropolitan financing: Exchanging views between Africa & France

This session, organised by the PFVT with the FMDV as part of PFVT exchange sessions, aims to address the questions below with practitioners from the public and private sectors.

  • How to finance this transition? What are the challenges and opportunities?
  • What resources can be mobilised, with which actors and what mechanisms?
  • What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these issues?

City and metropolitan financing: Exchanging views between Africa & France

Date and Time: 7 October 2021 | 14:30 - 16:30 Central European Time (CET) | Register here

The major role of local governments in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement is unanimously recognised. 

Cities, whether they are metropolises or secondary cities, are powerful catalysts for development and innovation to meet global challenges, provided they have adequate funding. To meet the needs of an urban transition aligned with global objectives, it is estimated that USD 90 000 billion of investment in urban infrastructure is required. However, a large part of this funding is not yet being channelled to cities. 

Local government financing is characterised by a systemic market failure: despite the many sources of funding deployed since the adoption of these agendas, local governments still face insufficient access to resources because they have difficulties in fully meeting the requirements of financial actors. In emerging contexts, projects are sometimes not considered bankable and institutional frameworks may be inadequate.

This observation is particularly true in Africa, where the needs are the greatest: the African urban population has doubled in the last 25 years and will double again in the next 25 years, exceeding one billion Africans living in urban areas in 2045. These are populations that will have to be housed, transported, fed and educated and to whom access to water, food and energy must be provided.

This session, organised by the PFVT with the FMDV as part of PFVT exchange sessions, aims to address the questions below with practitioners from the public and private sectors.

  • How to finance this transition? What are the challenges and opportunities?
  • What resources can be mobilised, with which actors and what mechanisms?
  • What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these issues?

Retrieved from https://www.metropolis.org/agenda/city-and-metropolitan-financing-exchanging-views-between-africa-france

Future-proofing urban mobility: Exploring routes to resilience
How can cities approach building resilience into their mobility systems to ensure that these remain affordable, accessible and convenient, in the face of mounting challenges and crises?
 

Future-proofing urban mobility: Exploring routes to resilience

by ICLEI

Date and Time: Sep 21, 2021 | 02:00 PM in Johannesburg

Register here: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_9GXa8WUcRG-rw7uoIKtSUQ

How can cities approach building resilience into their mobility systems to ensure that these remain affordable, accessible and convenient, in the face of mounting challenges and crises?
 

ACE Africa Launch: Accelerating Circular Economy in Africa
ACE Africa supports the growth of circular economy businesses in Africa. In this webinar, we introduce the mission and objectives of ACE Africa to circularity actors and stakeholders.

ACE Africa Launch: Accelerating Circular Economy in Africa

Date and Time: Aug 24, 2021 | 02:00 PM in Johannesburg

Register here: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_UYZ1e2n5QKqK9cnkyfKJPA

A Singaporean firm has become the go-to master planner for African cities
Surbana Jurong has signed contracts to do city master plans in ten African countries. Why is the continent relying on outside firms to map its future?

A Singaporean firm has become the go-to master planner for African cities

By Robert Neuwirth | 09 Oct 2020 (Last Updated 17 Aug 2021)

In early September 2020, the municipality of Kigali in Rwanda released a new master plan to guide development for the coming 30 years. It is called “Kigali Yacu” – “Our Kigali” in Kinyarwanda.

Despite the friendly local name, the plan for the country’s capital city was actually produced by a foreign entity: Surbana Jurong, a global firm owned by the government of Singapore that has emerged as a dominant force in city planning across Africa.

Over the past five years, Surbana has become the go-to planner on the continent, inking contracts in ten countries. Beyond Kigali, Surbana signed on to plan Kinshasa (capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo), Brazzaville (capital of the Republic of Congo), Libreville (capital of Gabon), Bujumbura (capital of Burundi), Conakry (capital of Guinea), Luanda (capital of Angola) and Lagos, the massive commercial centre of Nigeria. In addition, Ghana has hired Surbana to devise a plan for a tract so big it makes up half the acreage in the country, and Tanzania and Rwanda have tapped the firm to plan several smaller cities.

Though none of these countries have said why they chose Surbana, the firm does have at least one attractive calling card: before it was spun off as a separate business entity 17 years ago, it was Singapore’s Building and Development Division – and its deep connection with the city state’s political structure persists to this day. Singapore’s government has managed to build solid infrastructure and decent domiciles across the city, and this authoritarian competence has perhaps made the firm appealing to African administrators desiring to reverse the continent’s reputation for kleptocratic rule and the resultant heritage of rash, badly planned interventions.

Surbana won’t release details of its work in any of these places – a spokesperson claimed the planning documents are “owned by the clients” – and the cities involved have not released anything either. Which leaves the words of Louis Tay, head of Surbana’s African operations, one of the few clues regarding how the company operates: “Planning is straightforward,” he said a few years back. “You fly in, fly out and get the job done.”

This attitude is exactly what worries architects across Africa as their governments continue to hire outsiders to plan for the future.

“It’s a disaster, actually,” says Issa Diabaté, a partner in Koffi & Diabaté Group in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast, where the local government has recruited Japan to advise it how to plan. “Most governments have not put any thinking into their urban strategies. They bypass much of the creativity that surrounds them.”

“For the longest time, the African city has not been controlled by Africa and not even built by Africans,” says Kenyan architect Kabage Karanja, director and founder of Cave_Bureau in Nairobi. African cities, he says, come straight out of the history of colonialism, and “the tools they use to plan them have tended to be tools to control the city as opposed to tools to liberate the city”.

“Sometimes it looks like a kind of recolonisation,” admits Omar Degan, a Somali architect who grew up in Italy and whose firm, DO Architecture, is based in Mogadishu. Degan says that most outside planners don’t see the strength and importance of African traditions. “I’m living in a coastal city, and we have new Western-style buildings with curtain walls and air conditioning. This is not sustainable. And it’s creating big problems for the future.”

Rendering of a futuristic metropolis in Africa

We are looking at Akon to become the beginning of Africa’s future,” says Akon, the Senegalese-US singer for which it is named. A rendering of Akon residences, part of a 2,000-acre planned future metropolis. (Rendering courtesy of Hussein Bakri)

Even Africans who have achieved success in the diaspora seem to neglect local traditions when they plunge back into their home countries. Take, for example, Senegalese music superstar Akon’s plan to erect a massive new Wakanda-inspired city an hour’s drive up the coast from Dakar. Akon City, as he calls it, may be the world’s first metropolis controlled by legal instruments more commonly used by tech bros than city planners: when City Monitor reached out to KE International, a US development firm responsible for spiriting the plan to completion, a spokesperson said it would take a long time to respond “due to [non-disclosure agreements] in place”.

Still, renderings by the project’s Dubai-based architect, Hussein Bakri, reveal a series of flowing, flamboyant high-rises set along a Miami-style waterfront – an approach that might be dubbed Morris Lapidus on acid. Financing details are sketchy as well: Akon’s people have even refused to say how much they paid Senegal for the development rights. Nevertheless, a recent article in Le Monde suggests that although locals don’t know exactly what the megastar is up to, they are willing to accept the plan as long as they benefit. A resident of Mbodiène, one of the villages that will be impacted by Akon’s plan, told the paper that his father was paid $5,400 for his land. This amount, which probably seems like a fortune in a country where the minimum wage hasn’t changed since 1996 (it’s currently $0.37 an hour), measured against the publicly announced $6bn price tag for the new city, hardly seems generous at all.

Back in Rwanda, Christian Benimana, a principal and managing director of Kigali’s Mass Design Group, a firm known for its elegant incorporation of local knowledge, labour, materials in the schools, housing and healthcare facilities it designs in collaboration with communities, says that Surbana’s new plan for the city is a major improvement over the firm’s first effort, which debuted seven years ago. “The 2013 plan was fully loaded with urban-planning jargon and concepts that were in no way applicable to Rwanda,” he says. For instance, Benimana notes, it didn’t allow renovation of historic buildings or mixed-use structures. He says he’s happy with Surbana’s update, adding that it provides a “wide canvas of definitions of what the city should develop like.”

Still, like his fellow architects across the continent, Benimana wonders why Kigali needed to hire outside planners in the first place: “This is not to undermine Surbana, but I don’t think Surbana did any work someone here couldn’t do.”

Kunlé Adeyemi is a Nigerian architect whose firm, NLÉ, is based in Amsterdam. His most notorious creation in Nigeria was the Makoko Floating School – an award-winning wooden A-frame perched atop dozens of lashed-together plastic barrels that was erected in a lagoon near a shantytown in Lagos in 2013 – that collapsed in a storm just three years later. Adeyemi insists that although the building failed, the project itself was not a failure – it was an experiment, a concept for the future, an idea to be worked on and improved. He accuses African governments of continually seeking approval from abroad: “If it’s not the Singapore model, it’s the Dubai model. There’s nothing wrong with having international expertise, but when it’s not combined with local knowledge, it fails. I truly believe in collaborating and working with people who know a lot and people who know nothing.”

So what do these architects think a truly African city should look like in the 21st century? City Monitor was able to extract a few possible principles:

Focus on the young

Most African cities are dominated by young people. In Abidjan, one of Africa’s ten largest cities, where 70% of the population is under 30, Diabaté, an architect, suggests that planners need to understand that few of these youthful city residents are likely to buy cars, as they prefer to zoom around on motorcycle taxis. In addition, most don’t relate to the idea of commuting downtown every day. This would suggest the need for a master plan with less focus on roads leading to the centre and more focus on supporting commercial hubs in every community.

Build what people can afford

“People migrate to the city from the villages to find job opportunities,” explains Degan. “So the key question is, how you can provide the highest-quality urban standards for people with less money?”

Nairobi’s Karanja has a similar view: he breaks the city into three zones: Origin, Void and Made. Origin is where we come from – as mystical as evolution or as down-to-earth as the village where we grew up. Void is the unplanned, chaotic space of life. Made is what exists – the economic system of the world, the colonial infrastructure, the road system, the buildings. “Immense numbers of people migrate from the Origin into the Made,” explains Karanja. “They come and exist in informal settlements [which, being unplanned and self-built, are part of the Void]. By keeping the Void as it is, you control the electorate. We have to hack this system to find real impact.”

Decentralise decision-making

In the tiny Abobo Baoule neighbourhood of Abidjan, a strong local chief resisted the government’s pressure to redevelop the community with Western-style buildings. Instead, he leveraged his popularity and power to push a more community-oriented concept. Today, the neighbourhood, in one of the most chaotic parts of the city, remains an oasis of sorts, with low-rise buildings, tree-lined boulevards and its own sewage and sanitation systems.

Think and act locally

Mass Design Group’s Benimana has pioneered methods of building with locally produced materials. He believes urban plans should endorse this principle for all development. Karanja adds another dimension – the idea of local finance. Saccos – savings and credit cooperatives – have grown wildly in Kenya over the past ten years, remaking the country’s financial landscape. Today, an estimated ten million Kenyans have invested in a sacco. The savings they have amassed – a combined $6bn – account for 6% of the country’s gross domestic product. “The future,” Karanja insists, “is in these groups.”

As the African continent has 48 cities of more than a million people, its governments face a choice: do they want their cities to look like every other city in the world? Or are they willing to experiment and redefine what it means to be urban?

Robert Neuwirth, author of two books on street-level economics in the developing world, is at work on a new volume about the economics of community.

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Cover Photo Credit: The recently approved Kigali Master Plan 2050 Vision developed by Surbana Jurong for Rwanda’s capital city of 3.8 million aims to guide its development. (Rendering courtesy of Surbana Jurong).