Smart cities to feed Africa’s industrialization

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The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) officially launched its flagship Economic Report on Africa this week in Khartoum, Sudan, during the 2017 Horn Economic and Social Policy Institute (HESPI) Conference on IGAD Economies. The report that focuses on urbanization and industrialization leading Africa’s transformation underlines the need for African cities to have a smarter urbanization strategy and deal with the massive rural to urban migration.
“For the last seven years, the economic report on Africa focused on industrialization. It started with the role of the state in development and went on for another five reports addressing issues of trade and industrialization, commodity, agriculture, value chains, greening industrialization and so on,” said Abdalla Hamdok, Deputy Executive Secretary of ECA.
“This report is the last one in the series that addresses the challenges of urbanization within the contest of an industrializing continent, looking at issues of development, the right mixes of ideas on how to make cities productive so that they can contribute to the economy,” he further underlined.
The report points out that despite the recent slowdown of the global economy and the weakening of Africa’s economic performance with the attendant implications for inclusion and sustainability, the long term growth outlook for Africa remains promising.
It states that the region’s long-term fundamentals remain strong as the pace of growth stands to benefit from a demographic dividend and an industrialization and structural transformation agenda. But its prospects will be profoundly shaped by the way the rapid urban transition is managed.
The report further suggests that it is very difficult to slow down urbanization and so investment in well maintained and well functioning cities is the only solution to solving the pressure of fast urbanization.
“Among the recommendations for better functioning cities is that investing on more compact and dense cities that grow vertically is one solution that is recommended. Cities that expand outwards often become dysfunctional and expensive to service,” said Edlam Yemeru, Head of the urbanization section at the ECA.
Experiences of developed regions show that urbanization and industrialization are closely linked on the bases of mutual benefit; that does not seem to be the case for Africa.
The report stresses that African countries, under the right policy frameworks anchored in national development planning, can leverage the momentum of urbanization to accelerate industrialization for a more prosperous and equitable future.