Integrate Urbanisation in Development Plans
By Khalifa Hemed
Published November 21, 2017
Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), says Africa’s targets of economic diversification and industrialisation will not happen without well-planned and managed urbanisation.
“To build efficient [towns] Africa must ensure its cities are inclusive, provide jobs for the youth, care for the sick, and have space for innovation and recreation,” Songwe said during International Conference on African Cities in Rome, Italy.
She spoke about the history of African cities and the rapid urban transition that Africa is currently experiencing, saying while cities were being overwhelmed by the demand for jobs, housing and services, the trend represented a remarkable opportunity for accelerating Africa’s transformation agenda.
Songwe said UNECA, in recognition of the magnitude of the urban wave sweeping across Africa, had developed a strategy and work programme to ensure urbanisation was fully harnessed for structural transformation on the continent.
ECA’s 2017 Economic Report on Africa focused on urbanisation and industrialisation receiving recognition because of the pioneering ideas and innovative approach it conveys. As a follow up, ECA has developed an e-learning platform to train African national policy-makers in this area.
Saying UNECA was also instrumental in the setting of Africa’s urban agenda, Songwe said the organisation she leads “played a key role in the development of the African Union’s Common African from Timbuktu to Benin and Mombasa which can and should inspire their future.”
Songwe said Africa’s urbanisation was an inevitable megatrend that called for an immediate response.
“There is a limited window of opportunity to effectively respond to the region’s rapid urban growth,” she said. “Doing nothing is not an option. The returns of urban investment are high but so are the costs of neglecting investment in cities.”
Songwe said UNECA is supporting AU-member States to better integrate urbanisation in national development plans, with a special focus on industrialisation. This is based on guidelines and training modules to support African countries in the inter-sectoral coordination of urbanisation through Ministries in charge of development planning.
She said UNECA is working with member States in strengthening urban data and statistics, given the serious gaps constraining in strengthening urban data and statistics and timely policy responses.
“In particular, more economic data on cities are required to expand the scope of analysis and policies on urban issues so UNECA has launched a regional initiative to estimate the contribution of cities to GDP,” she said.