The Future of African Cities

An explorative meeting about the immense growth of African cities

On the 22nd of January, The Spindle organized a first meeting about the future of African cities. We met with a small group of people to discuss the incredible urbanization rate globally, and in Africa specifically, and the challenges and opportunities that go paired with this for the development sector. Participants to this meeting came from various organisations, especially Dutch NGOs, and different backgrounds.

Dirk van de Wetering (The Spindle) gave an introductory presentation at the start of the meeting and introduced the subject on the basis of several graphs and figures. Africa’s population is expected to double by the year 2050. 80% of this growth will occur in its cities. Next to newly born city dwellers, an increasing number of people will continue to migrate from rural to urban areas. The enormous growth of African cities brings along many different challenges and opportunities in various thematic areas, such as WASH, housing, employment, safety, health, resilience and many more. To see the slides that contain all the facts and figures about the growing African cities, click here. This dropbox folder also contains the video that was shown at the start of the meeting.

Experience in African Cities
After the presentation, everyone at the table shared their own (or their organisation’s) work experience in urban areas, particularly in Africa. Some are already involved with several projects in African cities, whereas others are very interested in knowing and doing more within the urban field. Everyone agreed that more should be done with regard to urban development and we stated that urbanization is, and will be, a transformation that cannot be stopped, but can be adapted to, prepared for or maybe even mitigated.

One of the participants (from Cordaid) was especially involved with healthcare issues in rural areas and is curious how a project in the urban field would be different and would require a different approach. Since the target group of many Dutch NGOs, the most vulnerable people, are also moving into cities at a very fast rate, it is of crucial importance to know how an urban approach should differ from a rural one. Someone from VNG international noted that local authorities and municipalities could be an important player in the field of urban development and urban planning in Africa. Furthermore, someone from Oxfam stated that most innovative ideas are developed in urban areas and it’s important to find out what’s already out there, instead of developing new projects and ideas.

It’s important to find out what’s already out there, instead of developing new projects and ideas.

It’s first of all useful and necessary to find out what initiatives and what projects are already out there (meaning in the African cities) that aim to deal with the challenges that emanate from urbanization. Having explored the existing initiatives, we should ask ourselves (Dutch NGOs) what our added value would be. One way to go would be to collect local (or national) knowledge, applications, solutions and other ways of dealing with urban issues to, inspire us or other locally based organisations (‘south-south’ learning). A possible added value of Dutch NGOs could then be to help scale up good initiatives or be complementary to them. Besides, we should look for increased cooperation with local ‘social impact’ organizations, and also strive for more cooperation within the Dutch development sector itself.

The added value?
But still, the most important question we should answer before going into action would be: “what is our added value”? We agreed that in rural areas it is easier to be acknowledged, accepted and appreciated by the target group or community you want to help. Cities have a whole different dynamic and are much more complex to work in. There are many more stakeholders and interests. Therefore, it requires a different approach. An approach that still needs to be researched and developed.

Science and knowledge institutes could play an important role in this. There are many universities and other knowledge platforms that have an expertise in urban development in Africa. Furthermore, technology and data can be crucial players in the development of emerging cities, in both a positive and negative manner. Diderik from Think Innovation noted that big companies such as Google might take over emerging or growing African cities by sealing lucrative and often wicked deals. This is already happening in Vancouver.

At the end of the meeting, we agreed to do a follow up of today’s session. We thought it would be interesting and particularly useful to hear from a local who has ‘feet on the ground’, who could possibly tell us what our (Dutch NGOs) added value could or should be in terms of urbanization in Africa. Bring the stories to the table! What is actually happening there? What innovative initiatives are already out there? Are there any challenges in which Dutch NGOs can contribute to? In short, what is our added value? The format of this follow-up meeting is still to be decided, but an online seminar is one of the suggested options.

Are you interested in sharing your knowledge and ideas regarding ‘the future of African cities’, please feel free to contact us and follow us to get more information on the follow-up meeting.

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