New York, 19 October 2015—On the sidelines of the United General Assembly in New York last month, a High Level Dialogue was held with the aim of offering an opportunity for leaders to articulate their common understanding of its relevance to the post 2015 Development agenda, the Africa Agenda 2063, and to agree on the key processes leading both to the Heads of State Summits in 2016 and Habitat III.
The African Urban Agenda, an initiative launched by UN-Habitat, aims at raising the profile of sustainable urbanization as an imperative for development in Africa.
In his speech, UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki Moon said: Two-thirds of Africa`s projected total population of 2.5 billion people will require urban services by 2063. And Africa needs to be ready,” said Mr. Ban who along with UN-Habitat Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos, Chairperson AU Commission Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mr. Akinwunmi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), and Nigeria’s Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands, Housing & Urban Development Mr. George Afamefuna Ossi, noted that event though Africa is presently the least urbanized continent, it is the most rapidly urbanizing region in the world.
Thanking the African representative for their leadership and commitment to the AUA programme, Mr. Ban highlighted the benefits of a well-managed urban development process as being paramount to the sustainable development of both urban and rural areas. Therefore, a focus on urban-rural linkages is critical as Africa urbanizes. This was noted by Ms. Zuma who also highlighted that, “national, regional and continental efforts to move Africa to the next level would be greatly enhanced if all countries could recognize urbanization as a key pillar of regional development.” This is only possible if data and information needed to make informed policy decisions at all levels is available.
On the other hand, unplanned urbanization leads to increased poverty, insecurity and social ills. These in turn erode the gains made by institutions such as the ACP which is committed to making “a positive contribution in the abolition of poverty wherever it is: urban and rural” as was noted by Mr. Patrick Ignatius Gomes, Secretary General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. Therefore, Africa should plan its cities to accommodate large populations in limited areas.
But planning alone and policy reviews or reforms are not enough because these cannot restrict the movement and migration of free people in and out of urban areas. Therefore, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mr. Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA) urged African leaders to support urban planners and work hand in hand with local government authorities to empower, inform, and capacitate the people to enable them participate in urban planning, development, and management programmes.
“I don’t think you can have an upgraded slum. A slum is a slum, it is just a slum!” said Dr. Adesina who asserted the need to “have a slum free Africa” because nobody wants to live (or be raised as he was) in the slums. But, “upgrading slums doesn’t mean anything if it is not empowering people to change their own lives.” added Mr. Elong Mbassi. All African nations are able to eradicate informal settlements, provide safe spaces, ensure integrated cities and build cities as cultural, educational and economic hubs of individual countries and the continent at large.
Dr. Adesina committed the AfDB to supporting African cities by: establishing an “urban municipal development fund” out of the necessity to work with municipalities; supporting African cities to be more resilient through climate financing; working in partnerships with the AU, UNECA, UN-Habitat and other likeminded partners to changing the urban political landscape from what it is today into one that is more democratic, inclusive, transparent and accountable.
Mr. Ossi reaffirmed Nigeria’s commitment “in supporting this initiative with a seed funding of USD 3 million over the period 2013 to 2016.” These funds are meant to empower Africa to participate actively in the UN Conference for Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III conference), raise the profile of urbanization as an imperative for development, and articulate a common Africa position that reflects Africa’s true realities, opportunities, priorities, and future needs. Mr. Ossi urged other member states to support UN-Habitat through non-earmarked funding. Such efforts will help accelerate economic growth, prosperity and install a better future where nobody in Africa will be left behind come the year 2063.
Since efficient urbanization can be a tool for sustainable development, Africa is encouraged to subscribe and commit to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 11 that presents the continent with a chance to encourage effective urban planning, and make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
The leaders agreed on the importance and committed themselves to attending the Habitat III conference, which is set to take place in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016, with Mr. Ban calling it “an extraordinary opportunity to help shape the urbanization in Africa.”