A skyline view of Central Johannesburg. The image of a rural Africa characterised by villages, huts and dirt roads is increasingly set to be replaced by an urban one – an Africa that is the centre of global urbanisation. Photo: Xevi V/Flickr

On 15 November 2017, AFIDEP’s Executive Director, Dr. Eliya Zulu will participate at the Conference on African Cities at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, Italy. Dr. Zulu will be a discussant at the panel titled: Social and environmental sustainability – Cities as a driver of sustainability. The conference, whose theme is Urbanisation as a driver of growth for the African continent, is aimed at providing a forum for dialogue between ministers, mayors and administrators, think tanks, civil society, companies and researchers from both Italy and Africa. This dialogue will seek to find African-owned solutions for governing the continent’s urbanised populations, who are key to the achievement of sustainable and lasting results based on the objectives laid out in Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063, which both acknowledge that peace, security and development are closely related.

The future of Africa, and in many respects that of the rest of the planet as well, rests on cities, as pointed out by the Sustainable Development Goal 11 of Agenda 2030. The image of a rural Africa characterised by villages, huts and dirt roads is increasingly set to be replaced by an urban one – an Africa that is the centre of global urbanisation.

Already, 2017 will see urban Africa mark an important first. From this year, the continent will have more urban dwellers than Europe. United Nations’ figures put the number of people that will live in cities in Africa at 569 million compared to 553 million in Europe and 533 million in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2050. This rapid trend is set to accelerate further over the next few years as it is estimated that the rate of urbanisation in Africa will reach about 50% in 2030 and 60% by 2050. Within this same period, Africa will be the region with the largest and youngest population in the world with ten times more young people than in the European Union.

The rapid urbanisation currently underway in Africa simultaneously presents both major opportunities and challenges to the continent. On one hand, increased urbanisation has and will continue to spur the development of new economic sectors such as the financial and banking sectors; infrastructure development in urban centers; increased human mobility; innovation and culture among others. On the other hand, the main challenges amounting to general trends, albeit with considerable variations from country to country, can be identified as unequal access to public goods and services; poor living conditions; difficult economic inclusion particularly at formal level; social segregation, and the major threat posed by cities to the environment. While this mixed bag of challenges and opportunities concern the African continent, they also have an impact on the global political, economic and environmental balance, beginning with countries such as Italy that are close to Africa for historical, geographical, cultural and economic reasons.

The Conference seeks to promote an all-round reflection and exchange of opinions on African urbanisation. Participants at the Conference will share best practices and innovative technical and operative solutions that have the potential of addressing the intrinsic dysfunctions of Africa’s rapid urban growth. The Conference will also be a useful opportunity to increase awareness among Italian political and economic actors of the opportunities presented by urban growth on the African continent.