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The future of Africa is urban




THE city of Abuja, under the auspices of the Government of Nigeria, is about to host a strategic event vital to the future of Africa and its citizens. The Habitat III Africa Regional Meeting of 24-26 February is a crucial spur to the current global debate on urbanization as a source of prosperity and an engine of development. Above all, this meeting is a pragmatic contribution by the African continent to Habitat III: the UN International Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development scheduled this October in Quito. While we are entering the final straight towards Habitat III, it is important to assess what is at stake for Africa in this global debate.

First is the fact that the future of Africa is inevitably urban. Although Africa is the least urbanized continent in the world, its urbanization rates are nowadays higher than anywhere else. The continent’s population growth is projected to double from 1 billion in 2010 to 2 billion in 2040, with an accelerated transition from rural to urban population.

Second, and inseparable from urban population growth, is the evidence that cities will form the backdrop to unprecedented urbanisation that, if well planned and designed, will constitute one of the most significant boosts to economic and social prosperity ever seen. The economic transition from the primary sector of the economy, traditionally agriculture and extractive industries, towards more productive sectors of the economy, mainly industrial manufacturing and services, will largely depend on African urbanisation.

And third is the commitment of the African leaders to promote an African Urban Agenda that will position the continent in the lead of these transformations, in line with Agenda 2063. Visionary leaders across the continent share our vision of sustainable urbanisation, which goes to the core of the UN Agenda 2030, and more specifically Goal 11, which considers urbanization a source of economic growth, social prosperity, and environmental sustainability.

What is at stake in Abuja and in Habitat III in Quito is the well being of millions of Africans. I commend the Nigerian authorities for hosting us and for launching such an important debate at a crucial moment for urbanization. Nigeria has the good fortune of counting on the expertise of Minister Amina Mohamed, who has been key to the gestation of the new global agenda. Well-planned and designed urbanisation in Africa can be an essential part of the solutions to many of the challenges facing the continent today, such as inefficient transport, pollution, unemployment and social exclusion. I encourage African leaders to take an active part in Abuja and in Quito for Habitat III to transmit Africa’s experience on using urbanisation as a force for positive economic and social development. Africa has a lot to offer to the world.

• Clos is the executive director of UN-Habitat, headquartered in Nairobi (Kenya), and the secretary-general of Habitat III.

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