Development requires social participation; else, it would be shallow and unsustainable. In other words, cities and infrastructure should reflect the quality of life and the way of life of a civilization; otherwise, they are purely ornamental.
Who doesn’t appreciate a well-kept road, an appealing open area, a typical shopping complex, and gorgeous architecture? The question is whether this urban growth reflects a true societal quality of life.
In the majority of African cities, more than half of the population is compelled to live below the poverty line. Massive infrastructure and hasty investments are an insult to human intelligence and a barrier to equitable progress. People who care about shining cities while neglecting the welfare of the masses are self-centered.
The socioeconomic development of Africa’s megacities is dependent on their cultural progress reaching a specific stage. Nonetheless, it should be developed and built by Africans based on their society’s stage of development; otherwise, the risk of a backlash and a socioeconomic collapse is too great.
With the exception of certain African countries’ cities, which are a natural reflection of their colonial past, the development disparity between the capital and other second and third cities is astounding. I find it difficult, with a few exceptions, to identify or refer to African towns that have flourished via indigenous full participation and knowledge.
Many of Africa’s main cities have been neglected for decades, notably in terms of housing conditions, in the backdrop of expanding urbanization. The obvious manifestation of a lack of effective planning in African cities is that slum residents’ needs are not being satisfied in slum districts, contributing to an increase in poverty.
Despite having better levels of social and economic development, employment opportunities, and access to a broader choice of higher-quality necessary services, urban regions also have higher concentrations of poverty.
When African governments fail to appropriately plan and invest in their second and third largest cities, residents flee to their respective capitals, where they can feel secure from the imbalanced growth that has plagued their hometowns. Even investors are apprehensive due to the government’s shift in focus, which has left only the nation’s capital city as a focal point for the great bulk of the country’s investments.
Residents are pushed to consider relocation because of the backlog of urban neglect in smaller municipalities. The local administration will face socioeconomic challenges, service delivery challenges, and other administrative constraints as a result of such dynamism.
The majority of African towns are already overcrowded, but they must also accommodate the millions of newcomers predicted in the next few years. As a result, there is a growing acknowledgement that immediate remedies, particularly through participatory programs, are critical.
Such planning should consider the expansion of both existing and alternative cities. The issue is both an opportunity for economic development and a hindrance to addressing basic needs such as housing.
With this in mind, it is appropriate to consider the rise of African cities, which is diametrically opposite to everyday citizen life. For example, Addis Ababa and Shero Meda, Nairobi and Kibera, Dar es Salaam and Tandale, Lagos and Makoko, Accra and Old Fadama, and Sandton and Alexandra, for example, are two different worlds inside the same city.
The picture of the financial disparity between a wealthy lifestyle and that of an average African slum dweller is frightening and unparalleled. We must remember that the return on investment for these massive facilities is unfathomable in our lifetime. It places an undue debt and financial load on the country.
Although only a small part of the population receives service, the entire nation pays these bills. The cost of construction was five times its real cost due to the provision of foreign firms and financiers, as well as other unexplained tales. Furthermore, technology transfer to young African engineers is low.
What are the difficulties?
In Africa, the continent is in an unbearable situation due to a lack of transparency, accountability, security, the rule of law, frequently inflated state sectors and suppressed small firms; patriarchy disguised as religion and culture; high unemployment rates; and tremendous poverty.
Many people believe that Africa is the world’s poorest continent. The poverty rate in African countries is so high that practically everyone lives on less than the official poverty threshold. Children and women are among the most vulnerable members of African communities, suffering the most from the ravages of poverty.
What are the highest priorities?
The western governance paradigm has an intrinsically negative impact on the majority of African countries’ institutions and governance systems. This governmental system is adapted to accommodate a specific society, although it is not wholly unique.
African countries can only implement a portion of the system’s patterns, not the complete structure. Federalism, confederalism, republicanism, and other concepts are examples.
As a result, political or social scientists may make the following appeal: “If you explain your country’s political structure to me, I can tell you how far your country has the potential to progress.”
In my opinion, it is critical for African states to focus on the foundations of their governance systems while also pursuing a development agenda.
What should be done?
Without extensive public backing, development efforts will flop and never get beyond the surface level. National planning and legislation should resolve the disparity between African capitals’ high-rise designs and their dismal living conditions.
Achieving a sustainable solution to the problem in Africa will require going beyond superficial reforms, adopting a comprehensive strategy, and prioritizing transparency and accountability with the goal of forming coalitions and a social movement capable of rethinking the relationship between the state, society, and the natural world in more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable ways.
The most essential thing Africans can do is execute it locally, using their own local skills and savviness.
(Seife Tadelle Kidane (PhD) is a senior research fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Institute of Pan African Thought and Conversation (IPATC).