Africa needs to improve its cities’ urban infrastructure

African cities should expand and increase their capacity to cater for influxes of residents as rural to urban migration and international relocation continues, said African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Tuesday.

“When we say there will be millions and millions of people coming into the cities, which cities are they going to come into? Are the cities which exist now adequate to absorb all these millions? From where I sit, I don’t think they (African cities) can absorb those hundreds of millions of people without [experiencing] big problems of slums and disease,” she said at the inaugural African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum in Pretoria.

“While ensuring that the existing cities have the infrastructure to cope with the influx, we also need to develop more cities. We must celebrate African heritage, but we must not only look at existing cities,” said Dlamini-Zuma.

Dlamini-Zuma said the influx was, however, not limited to capital cities.

The two-day Pretoria summit is being attended by several mayors from African cities and diplomats. Dlamini-Zuma said to attract tourists to African cities, local authorities needed to come up with winning strategies and innovations for “truly African cities”.

“A truly African city shall celebrate African heritage, Africa’s heroes and heroines and the arts and the culture. Tourists want to see something different. They don’t want to come from New York to an African country and see New York. Why should they leave New York?” she asked, challenging the audience to think differently about developing cities on the continent.

“The tourists want to see something different, a unique African city displaying its culture, history, food and heritage. That must be included in our cities,” she said. “Our cities should be designed with energy efficiency and be environmentally friendly. The cities should provide work for African youth as well as women.”

She said contrary to popular belief, African countries, including South Africa, thrived on tourists from within the continent

“African cities of the future must be preferred holiday destinations for Africans and global tourists alike. Africans are tourists themselves. In this country, more than 60% of external tourists are Africans. People don’t know that. They think the majority of tourists come from Europe, Asia and America,” Dlamini-Zuma noted in her address.

She urged the dignitaries to visit and explore other parts of Africa, and not only frequent popular European destinations.

“We also talk about designing textiles in Africa. I wonder how many of us are wearing things that are African,” she said. “For myself, I can say I am wearing a lot that is African. How do we boost our economies and support small enterprises if we pride ourselves by saying that 'my suit is from Milan?' We have unemployed young people. Why don’t we train them to make sure they produce the suits that we like?”

Dlamini-Zuma, a former South African home affairs minister, said the building of truly African cities was a long-term project. She spoke about how the conditions in which many Africans endured in informal settlements were demeaning.

Discussions taking place during the summit are centred around issues that include discussing appropriate policies, design ingenuity, innovation, technical proficiency and infrastructural investments within African countries.

Welcoming the delegates, Tshwane Mayor, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, said that according to predictions made by several research bodies, including the United Nations, indications are that by 2050, at least 70% of global populations would be living in urban areas.

“Whilst bringing its own challenges, this influx also presents a significant amount of benefits that cannot be ignored. It is our firm conviction that the world will begin to look to developing countries for leadership in sustainable action. The developing countries are currently cracking a sustainability code in carefully balancing the three pillars of the equation, namely social equity, environmental stewardship and economic prosperity,” Ramokgopa said.

“There exists a plethora of sustainability solutions that support the kind of densification experienced in urban centres,” he said.“Current challenges brought about by climate change, global economic slowdown, food, energy and water shortages leave us with no other option, but to seek sustainable solutions to urban development requirements.”


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