Report highlights case studies to guide Africa’s urban future

The lakeside city of Hawassa is planned to become one of Ethiopia's 'secondary cities'. A recent report from the U.N. Economic Commission on Africa recommends that countries look beyond their largest cities for economic investments and growth. (CJTF-HOA Photo)

As Africa urbanizes, policymakers need to better coordinate their economic strategies with visions for city planning, according to a recent report.

But how? Urbanization and Industrialization for Africa’s Transformation, published in March by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, offers some ideas. The authors draw on 11 case studies from across the continent showing how economic growth and urbanization can go hand in hand.

In this post, Citiscope will highlight some of the case studies mentioned in the report. Previously, we looked at the report’s overall conclusions. In another post, we pull out the report’s prescriptions for urban planning and policy.

Read the full report from
the U. N. Economic
Commission for Africa

The case studies spotlight both nations that are already heavily urbanized, such as Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco, as well as others that remain predominantly rural, such as Ethiopia, Mozambique and Rwanda.

A common theme is the importance of directing factories, businesses and investment to smaller, “secondary cities”. That can relieve pressure on a single dominant city from having to carry all of a country’s economic opportunities and the challenges of congestion, sprawl and poverty.

Here are five examples cited in the report:

  • Rwanda: In addition to Kigali, the capital, the government wants to boost economic activity in a half-dozen secondary cities. Each municipality aims to leverage local resources and assets for development. For example, the Huye district, an area known for its fertile soil, aspires to be an agri-business hub.  
  • Ethiopia: The national urban strategy pinpoints seven “geographically disperse cities” for future growth. A key goal is to slow population growth in the sprawling capital, Addis Ababa, which needs “catch-up” investment to attract more businesses, the report says.  
  • Côte d’Ivoire: The national development plan seeks more balanced urban development nationwide to reduce strains on Abidjan, the nation’s commercial capital. That means increased investment in secondary cities and continued efforts to direct industries to San Pedro, a city 340 kilometres (210 miles) away.
  • Nigeria: The government partners with industries to spur investment and development in secondary cities. The cooperation prompted one company to build housing in Ogun State for workers at industrial firms who relocated from Lagos, the report says.
  • Uganda: Industrial growth is guided by a National Urban Plan. The blueprint takes into consideration geography, freight lines and the differing roles of major urban centres such as Kampala versus secondary cities.

A few African nations have prioritized building new cities from scratch with modern infrastructure to ease congestion and sprawl elsewhere. While some see the approach as an appealing way to attract investors, others see these “new city” projects as funneling resources away from existing urban centres that could use the investment.

  • Egypt: A New Cities Initiative launched by the government in 1977 sought to alleviate overcrowding in Cairo and Alexandria with 22 new urban centres. They range from mostly residential satellite cities to industrial hubs.
  • Kenya: Konza Techno City near Nairobi is envisioned as Africa’s “Silicon Savannah”. But construction has been delayed by land speculation and limited access to electricity and transport, and some tech entrepreneurs question the need for a new city.
  • South Africa: Plans for a new metropolis along the Vaal River near Johannesburg have stalled over environmental issues and competing demands for urban investment.

A few African nations also are spotlighted for their efforts to make housing more accessible:

  • Morocco: National government efforts to add affordable housing improved living standards for more than 300,000 households. As a result of efforts from 2004 to 2014, Morocco was able to declare more than 50 cities and townships to be free of slums.
  • Ethiopia: A housing program funded with government bonds enabled the construction of nearly 400,000 condominium units. To lower costs, building materials and equipment were exempt from taxes.
  • South Africa: A resettlement initiative costing just over USD 10 billion from 1994 to 2014 provided shelter for 12.5 million people. The government added nearly 5.7 million homes and more than 3.7 million subsidized units for low-income residents.

Major cities across Africa can take advantage of the “power of agglomeration economies” by gaining easy access to workers, knowledge and consumers, the authors explain.

Those advantages are diminished, however, when the reality on the ground in cities includes crushing congestion on roadways and deep poverty in unserviced slums.

Another impediment to industrial growth in developing cities involves land use and rights, the report warns. “The poor functioning of land and real estate markets poses fundamental challenges to cities, undercutting economies of agglomeration and undermining basic urban functions.”

See related stories:

Africa’s urbanization must be linked to industrialization, report says

African cities urged to take holistic approach to urban planning

Back to top

More from Citiscope

Latest Commentary

David Hatch is a correspondent for Citiscope.  Full bio

Get Citiscope’s email newsletter on local solutions to global goals.