Africa is urbanizing fast, the continent is currently the most rapidly urbanizing region on the planet. According to the World Economic Forum, Africa’s current 1.1 billion people are forecast to double to by 2050 and 80 per cent of the population growth will occur in cities, more so in slum areas. The point of concern is what implications such growth will have with many alarmed that Africa is not prepared for the population explosion.

Already Lagos, Africa’s largest and fastest growing city, is projected to add 77 people per hour to its population between 2010 and 2030 according to UN data. Nairobi, the sixth fastest in growth on the continent gets 22 people per hour while Johannesburg adds 21.

McKinsey estimates that by 2025 there will be over 100 African cities with a population of more than one million people, double the number in Latin America. The population explosion is coming on the tracks of a bulging youth population with 70 percent of Africans currently being under 30 years of age while youngsters account for 20% of the population.

Meanwhile Africa continues to suffer major infrastructure deficiency in its urban areas with a very low annual infrastructure spending of about 2 per cent of GDP between 2009 and 2015, compared to 5.2 per cent and 8.8 per cent in India and China respectively.

In Africa, 60 per cent of the urban population live in overcrowded slums and between 25%-45% walk to work because affordable transport is scarce. With exponential type urbanization, these conditions could become worse.

The other factor is the unprecedented climatic conditions under which this urbanization will take place. Presently, the continent is estimated to be warming up 1.5 times faster than the global average and signs of strain are already manifest. Take for instance, the recent water scarcity at Cape Town.

Clearly, the challenge is for Africans to build sustainable cities with greater access to private capital or risk becoming unliveable and indebted. It’s a call for African cities to do much more with much less beginning now and into the coming decades.

The work is well cut out for Africa. The continent requires $93 billion annually for infrastructural development, yet two thirds of the investments in urban infrastructure needed by 2050 have not been made according to the African Development Bank.

Apart from the infrastructure gap, underlying issues like the lack of city planning, inefficiency of land use, regulatory constraints and vested interests are some of the factors contributors to the high cost of living in African cities. The World Bank estimates that African cities are 29% more expensive than cities with similar income levels in other countries.

The message is clear. African cities need to find ways to attract private capital for infrastructure development because public funds always come short of the needs. Take for instance the startling comparison of cities in the US raising $111 billion worth of municipal bonds in just two months last year while cities in Africa managed just the equivalent of 1 per cent of this amount over the last 14 years.

No matter how big the African population grows, foreign and local investors will always want a few basic ingredients most of which are quite scarce in Africa. These have to do with political and economic stability, predictable regulatory environments, property rights and credibility.

To read more, go to World Economic Forum

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