W meet at an important time for African Development. As we all know, it is the poorest continent but has recently lifted the level of its economic growth after decades of a growing population and poor economic growth meant increased poverty. So, we meet at a time of opportunity and rising commodity prices which bring benefits to many countries. But the continent also faces great threat from climate change, oil prices and food prices.
I believe that a new approach to development of cities in Africa could be the key to achieving the levels of growth needed to systematically reduce poverty.
The old thinking of urban historians and urban economic theory was that urbanisation arises from the transformation of agriculture, with the consequent release of labour and demand for more diversified goods and service. Yet in most of sub-Saharan Africa agricultural productivity has not taken off over the decades since independence. Many parts of the countries are facing declining soil fertility and increasing difficulties over access to water.
The World Bank World Development Report 2003 estimated that 250million people in Africa live in fragile eco-systems that have very limited agricultural potential. So the old theory is not reality and no help in taking the continent forward.
It is clear that there is constant interaction between rural and urban living families, dividing their assets. Those with non farm income – often remittances – are the least poor in rural areas.
To get big improvements in agricultural productivity requires demand from towns and cities and better transport links. It needs opportunities in cities to provide employment to surplus rural labour. So the key for Africa’s advance is better management of its cities and this is the key not just to improving life in the city but also to improvement in agricultural productivity. It is notable that all countries’ cities produce disproportionate percentage GDP. It is 75% China. This is also true in Africa.
The best thing I have found – Christine Keeside –careful and clear analysis of international and African evidence – given that Africa is likely to double urban population in 15 years – crucial that gets attention.
The African Development Bank is to be congratulated for raising this issue and we should the note figure in the African Development Bank paper taken from UN. 83% of African governments have a policy of trying to reduce rural to urban migration.
There is a need for big and urgent change. It is very important that the African Development Bank has highlighted this issue.