What kind of future lies ahead for African cities? How, with relentless rapid urbanization and globalization, can Africa find ways to sustain “local” ways of life?
Rabat – Convening more than 5,000 participants, the 2018 Africities summit November 20-24 in Marrakech aspires to tackle urgent questions related to “sustainable citizenship” and “responsible urbanization” in a rapidly changing Africa.
As this year’s Africities event celebrated 20 years of addressing “Africa’s pressing human and environmental issues,” participants—politicians, academics, journalists, civil society, and elected local officials—discussed common challenges for sustainable development and responsible citizenship in a context of surging global constraints.
Under this year’s theme, “Transition to Sustainable Cities and Territories: The Role of African Territorial Collectivities,” discussions centered on the role of municipalities and local governments in devising mechanisms to foster innovation, inclusive growth, and creative ways of “experiencing our cities.”
Inter-African solidarity and cooperation
Despite the wide range of perspectives from which participants at the summit’s opening ceremony looked at the issue at hand, they agreed on the need to “find creative ways of harnessing the complexities of urbanization in Africa.”
Speaking at the opening ceremony on Tuesday, November 20, Abdelouafi Laftit, Morocco’s interior minister, stressed “Morocco’s readiness to share its experience in urbanization and city planning with its African brothers.”
According to Laftit, Rabat’s experience in decentralization policies and urban planning could be the basis of a concerted African platform to tackle urbanization-related challenges. That this year marks the second time in a row that Marrakech hosts the Africities event “indicates the particular interest that Morocco attaches to African solidarity and cooperation.”
Placing the Marrakech summit in a context of “necessary cooperation between municipalities and other stakeholders,” the Moroccan official remarked that Africa’s numerous challenges (youth unemployment, immigration, ecological constraints) require inter-governmental cooperation to satisfy basic development necessities.
The goal of such a collaborative development agenda, he elaborated, is to “provide citizens with proximity services” and “consolidate human development.”
Urban maturity and reflection
While echoing Laftit’s insistence on a pan-African platform of experience sharing and collaborative development projects, other participants drew attention to the task of reflecting on the future of African cities. Thrust into an unrelenting process of globalization and urbanization, Africa should focus on blending the local and the global.
While it is necessary to jump on the global bandwagon of sustainable urbanization, they argued, the focus should be on investigating the advantages and disadvantages of rapid urbanization. How, they asked, can Africa’s decision makers and stakeholders coordinate efforts to plan a future of sustainability and inclusiveness for African cities?
Answers that participants provided were strikingly different, evidencing their multiple backgrounds. The common denominator, however, was an unceasing insistence on “thinking the future of African cities” by proposing up-to-date, context-specific, and efficient policies.
“The Marrakech summit is one of [African] maturity,” said Soham El Wardini, president of United Local Governments of Africa (CGLU), one of the organizing bodies.
“Transition to sustainable development has become an existential requirement,” she said. But it is important that the dynamics and actions spurring that transition be local. Africities, she explained, “is a useful and open platform for reflecting and deliberating on simple but crucial questions.
Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, CGLU’s secretary general, agreed. For Mbassi, “local Africa [homegrown solutions] embodies the future that we all want for Africa: development and prosperity.”
Echoing the event’s themes, he also underlined that fulfilling sustainable citizenship demands inter-African cooperation.
Making African cities livable and sustainable demands actions aimed at understanding and integrating regional disparities and similarities in terms of urban development, he argued.
How do Africans interact with the places they inhabit? What are the policies needed to maintain socio-economic peace in cities of striking socio-economic diversity? How can Africa’s growing urbanization take advantage of the continent’s technology-savvy youth?
While conceding that one summit cannot answer all the questions about the complexities of urbanization, the first day of the Marrakech summit left participants and attendees with optimistic notes on the future of African cities.
Mbassi, CGLU’s secretary general, noted, “The Africities summit gives us the opportunity to invent our future and invite the world to build a sustainable future for us all.”