African Cities Take the Stage

African Cities Take the Stage

The development of cities – big and small – is crucial to a country and, indeed, continent’s growth. This was the core message of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) Summit Africa 2018. Held at the end of May in Sandton, Johannesburg, the fourth annual edition of RICS’ Summit Africa attracted over 220 local and international built environment professionals, as well as government and business leaders, academics and media.

Sean Tompkins, RICS Chief Executive, highlighted the importance of cities and developing metropolises in order for the continent to be more financially empowered and able to deal with urbanisation and infrastructure challenges. “Across Africa, families are packing up their lives and trekking to cities… The future of our cities is in flux. More than ever, city leaders need to be proactive rather than reactive, becoming one with their urban citizens.

“From Accra to Nairobi, African cities are booming, but local financing of infrastructure is not keeping pace with population growth. Cities need to become more independent from national budgets. Kampala, for instance, has turned to property taxes as a new source of revenue… But, to keep pace with urbanisation, cities can’t rely solely on user or property charges to retrofit and expand themselves,” said Tompkins.

While there are many challenges to developing a city’s transport, housing stock, and utilities, Tompkins points to the opportunity of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) as a way for paying for major public works. “Financially empowered, cities can adapt to the changing world faster than nations can,” he adds. 

Case Study 

An example of a successful PPP is Africa’s most populous city, Lagos in Nigeria. The city has recently begun bringing oil refinement in-house, creating a new industry for the city. This has also lead to a new local supply of petrol and kerosene for Nigeria.

“In a move to cut the cord from Nigeria’s unreliable power supply, the city is also starting to generate and distribute its own electricity. City managers now believe Lagos will have 24/7 energy within the next five years… These two developments tell a positive story of the city becoming more economically independent from the nation, where shocks from the wider world are less devastating to its people and businesses,” added Tompkins.

Finding the right investment 

Xoliswa Daku, CEO of Daku Group, explains that while mass urbanisation is seeing much of the focus being placed on major cities, it’s important to look out for smaller or mid-sized ones in terms of investment and infrastructure roll-outs. “There’s value to be had for businesses and developers to invest in small cities. It is also a way of dealing with urbanisation more sustainably, where people don’t only descend on the big cities for opportunities,” she says. 

The importance of urbanisation and getting it right is something that can’t be ignored. John Hughes, RICS President, explains that while Africa is a continent with tremendous potential – boosted by a young population and immense resources – rapid urbanisation and climate change present major challenges. He explains: “The sustainable development of cities – not just in Africa, but around the world – has become more crucial than ever before. Cities are home to most of the world’s population and are set to attract even more people in years to come. We need to recognise the growing importance of cities, as urbanisation gathers momentum… National governments should not be concerned about the growing power of cities, but rather support the development of cities.”

Tying in with Daku’s point about the opportunity of smaller cities, Hughes added that rural areas and secondary cities shouldn’t be ignored. Instead, more should be done to develop these smaller urban centres. “Most economic growth is generated in cities. Crucially, economic growth is dependent upon a good physical environment to operate in. We can’t have cities where you sit for hours in traffic trying to get to the airport… In Africa and much of the developing world, the pace that urbanisation is taking, is outpacing physical infrastructure development,” he said.

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