Business & Economy

Changing the face of Africa

  • PublishedMay 1, 2013

Cities are the face of countries; and when we think of cities, we think of the architecture, the roads, the parks, the shops and offices, the restaurants, the houses and the way people live. Each city is unique and often encompasses the history, culture, civilization commerce and aspirations of the people. Think of London, New York, Paris, Mumbai, Dubai – or, in Africa, Lagos, Nairobi, Cape Town, Accra or any one of the scores of cities that characterise African states.

Cities are also the engines rooms of a nation’s economy. This is where businesses are located and employment is generated; they are hotbeds of ideas and progress. Cities are like glowing beacons on the hill, drawing millions from the rural areas to seek better lives and chase their dreams. But for the ordinary person, cities can be heaven on earth or hell on earth.

Over the next few years, for the first time in history, more Africans will live in cities than in the rural areas. Already there is a scramble for living space in our cities and services like sanitation, the water supply, healthcare and education are either at breaking point or virtually absent. How will African cities cope with the huge new influx already making its way into cities?

This was the question that a panel of experts, including African ministers of urban planning, mayors, architects, developers and investors, gathered in the lovely city of Cape Town to thrash out. The African Urban Infrastructure Summit, organised by IC Events, is quite likely to become the first of a historic continent-wide series of forums that will attempt to shape the future face of African cities. The meeting in Cape Town could not have come at a more appropriate moment. Vast public and private works are already changing Africa’s urban landscape and the pace will continue to accelerate over the next 25 years. But a lot more needs to be thought about and discussed.

Cities are forever – or at least for a very long time. Poorly planned urban infrastructure will be a curse that future generations will inherit while well thought out planning which takes into account future needs and expectations will continue to flower for decades to come.

If anybody was in any doubt about this, one had only to look around Cape Town, the host city for the conference, itself. Here you have two vastly different cities under the same roof. On the one hand, the city centre and the business district is, in my opinion, one of the most magnificent examples of urban development you will find anywhere on earth; on the other, only a corner or so away, is the ghastly urban sprawl where the majority were condemned to live during apartheid. The city authorities told us during the conference that vast sums of money and planning are being deployed to improve housing for those on a low income and slowly change the urban hell into something more acceptable for human habitation. They are having to undo the hundreds of years of neglect and lack of planning foisted on them by the apartheid regime.

Colonial-era governments in other African countries also created two-tier cities – beautiful metropolises for themselves and seething slums for the majority. We are now in a position to change all this but we must ensure that mistakes from the past are not repeated and that we do not end up with yet more slums as populations continue to grow. But, in reshaping our cities, we also now have the wonderful opportunity to create the cities of our dreams. We have the space and the will – and technology has made everything possible.

Finance has been a sticking point but we learnt that it is far from being an insurmountable obstacle. Investors said they were ready to fund bankable projects and that many projects could be rendered bankable. The conference in Cape Town threw up many new ideas, concepts and exciting solutions on how to grow and shape our cities closer to heart’s desire. It was agreed that the participants would form a virtual digital platform to continue this vital discussion and invite other experts, as well as the general public to participate. We will keep you informed on the progress of this platform and African Business will continue its campaign to help turn our cities into the best that human imagination can conceive.

Written By
Anver Versi

Award-winning journalist Anver Versi is the editor of New African magazine. He was born in Kenya and is currently based in London, UK.

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