The President, John Dramani Mahama, has stressed the need for African leaders to craft interventions that will make the continent’s cities grow in the face of the plethora of challenges.
“These interventions must create equal opportunities for all our people to take advantage of the African dream,” he said.
Delivering the keynote address at the opening of the seventh session of the World Urban Forum in the Columbian city of Medellin last Monday, the President said the fast rate of urbanisation in Africa and its attendant inevitabilities called for interventions to promote sustained development.
The forum was on the theme, “Urban Equity in Development – Cities for Life”.
Urbanisation, Mr Mahama noted, had become a critical part of the development process, adding that any attempt to discard it would bring disastrous consequences.
But he drew the attention of African leaders to one drawback — the fact that African urban evolution had been without the impetus of industrialisation.
President Mahama also drew a link between urbanisation and social upheavals.
“Recent events across the world, characterised by social upheavals and mass protests by ordinary citizens in previously quiet cities and urban areas, clearly underscore the imperative for all of us to share the common pursuit of equity within our society,” he said.
“If the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it is that it is no longer acceptable to be ambivalent about the needs of the poor and marginalised in our societies, especially in our expanding and unequal cities.
“Neither can we permit laissez-faire development and management of our cities, as though there will be no backlash,” he added.
President Mahama indicated that the failure of African nations to achieve targets for economic growth and employment generation had a historical connection, saying, “The economies of the nations were over-dependent on extraction and export of natural resources.”
Meanwhile, he said, urbanisation had progressed without any effective framework to strategically guide the development and management of cities.
Africa urban age
Mr Mahama stated that the 21st century was undeniably seen as the Africa Urban Age.
“It is projected that by 2050, 60 per cent of Africa’s population will be living in cities. In fact, not only is Africa urbanising very fast; it is also growing as the youngest continent of the world with at least 20 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 24,” he said.
The President said that was why there was the strong need for the complimentary development of industrialisation to meet the challenges.
He maintained that the time to critically look at the emerging African Urban Age was now, “as we observe multitudes of our citizens putting their lives at great peril to cross deserts and oceans in order to look for the ever shrinking promise of a better life in Western Europe”.
Rapid urban growth, he said, also had effects on the quality of infrastructure and noted that even though Africa had been making some progress in that respect, there was more to do.
He expressed the hope that other strategic partners such as UN-Habitat would collaborate with governments and city authorities to ensure equitable outcomes as urbanisation grew.