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The Doctrine of Sustainable Cities in Africa

The future of Africa is urban. As the continent experiences rapid population growth and urbanisation, the need for sustainable, resilient, and inclusive cities has never been more pressing. African cities are not just local players, but significant contributors to global sustainability efforts. They are the key to unlocking Africa's potential and ensuring a brighter future for all. From Lagos's bustling streets to Johannesburg's towering skyscrapers, the continent's cities are undergoing a remarkable transformation, emerging as vibrant hubs of innovation, economic growth, and social progress. Yet, as Africa's urban population soar, the need for sustainable, resilient, and inclusive cities has never been more pressing.

However, achieving sustainable cities in Africa is a challenging feat. African cities face unique challenges, from limited financial resources and weak institutional capacity to informal settlements and the devastating impacts of climate change. Yet, these challenges are not insurmountable. They present opportunities for innovation and leapfrogging traditional development pathways. This is the story of sustainable cities in Africa, a narrative of challenges faced, opportunities seized, and a future reimagined.

Sustainable Urban Planning and Design: The Heartbeat of African Cities

In the bustling city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the integration of green spaces is not just an aesthetic choice but a necessity for the well-being of its inhabitants. This strategic urban planning decision has led to improved air quality, reduced urban heat island effect, and enhanced mental health for the city's residents. The city is a testament to how nature and urban life can coexist harmoniously, providing fresh air amidst the concrete jungle. Cities like Cape Town, South Africa, Cocody, and the Ivory Coast are leading the charge in the transition to renewable energy. With its dedicated energy and climate change unit, Cape Town is exploring the production and use of biofuels in transport, using renewables for facilities such as depots and transport interchanges, and replacing the municipal diesel bus fleet with electric buses. Cocody, on the other hand, plans to cut carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 as part of its Green City Plan.

The Senegalese capital, Dakar, is making strides in creating efficient transportation systems. The city aims for 15% of its local electricity production to come from renewables by 2035, and it is looking to cut reliance on diesel power generation from 90% in 2013 to 5% in 2035. Water scarcity and waste management have long been pressing issues for African cities, but innovative solutions are emerging. In Durban, South Africa, the city's award-winning water conservation and demand management program has reduced water consumption by over 15%, while in Accra, Ghana, a pioneering waste-to-energy project is transforming the city's waste into a valuable resource. As the impacts of climate change intensify, African cities are leading the way in building infrastructure that can withstand and adapt to these challenges. Across the continent, cities are also leveraging the power of digital solutions and innovative technologies to enhance the resilience and efficiency of their urban systems. Mixed-use development is gaining traction in African cities, revitalising urban nodes and mirroring the international upward trend of creating multifunctional precincts in urban areas.

Moreover, compact urban forms, on the other hand, are encouraging greater sustainability, resilience, and liveability in African cities. Despite the challenges of rapid urbanisation, African cities are showing promising trends: huge cities (of over 4 million inhabitants) are more compact, on average than larger (1 million to 4 million inhabitants) and intermediate towns (50,000 to 1 million inhabitants). African cities make significant strides in ensuring inclusive and equitable access to essential services. For instance, the African Development Bank, Cities Alliance, and UNOPS have jointly published a report demonstrating how to ensure more effective delivery of basic services through infrastructure, especially for communities living in informal settlements and the urban poor.

Inclusive and Participatory Governance: The Soul of Our Cities

Empowerment of local communities in decision-making processes is a cornerstone for building effective social systems in African cities. Cities like Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, have shown that community participation in decision-making processes, especially those dealing with natural resources management, can lead to more effective outcomes. A study conducted at the Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Park (ASLNP) in Ethiopia assessed the extent of community participation in the decision-making process for sustainable park management. The journey towards sustainable cities in Africa is a collaborative endeavour. It requires the collective effort of the government, private sector, and civil society. A study on implementing the National Evaluation System (NES) in Africa highlighted the importance of strengthening collaboration with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in implementing the NES.

Similarly, cities like Nairobi, Kenya, seek to develop a unique participatory and inclusive urban governance model. This model aims to enhance the participation and inclusion of all citizens in the urban development process. Transparency and accountability are the pillars of good governance. They are the surest way of guarding against corruption and help increase trust in the people and institutions on which our futures depend. African cities are making significant strides in this area, valuing the input and involvement of all stakeholders. For instance, the IMF has been working with African countries to strengthen governance and anti-corruption frameworks. Moreover, cities also focus on improving service delivery through partnerships between local governments, civil society, and the private sector, ensuring that everyone's voice is heard and valued.

Sustainable Economic Development: The Engine of Our Cities

The green and circular economy is a promising opportunity for economic development, value creation, and skills development in Africa. Cities like Kampala in Uganda are leading the way in this transition. They are finding innovative ways to manage waste and harness resources, turning trash into treasure. This shift from a linear to a circular economy maximises Africa's resources and revives practices that have been used for generations in Africa. Job creation and the expansion of stable, wage-paying jobs are essential to Africa's sustainable recovery. Sector-specific reforms focusing on labour-intensive sectors such as agribusiness, construction, and micro-enterprises, targeted support for vulnerable regions, regional trade integration to help develop manufacturing, and greater economic diversification have the potential to spark rapid job growth. Attracting sustainable investments and financing is crucial for Africa’s sustainable development. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has provided much-needed stimulus and predictability for trade and investment on the continent. It will likely foster intra-African greenfield investment via its positive effect on intra-African trade. The expected adoption of the Sustainable Investment Protocol of the AfCFTA could further bolster FDI flows to and within Africa in the long term. As African cities continue to grow and evolve, these principles will guide them towards a future that is not only sustainable but also equitable and inclusive.

The Way Forward: Strategies for Achieving Sustainable Cities in Africa

The integration of urbanisation and related economic opportunities into African national development plans has been limited. However, efforts are being made to address these challenges and fully leverage international investment for sustainable development. This involves strengthening policy and regulatory frameworks that support sustainable urban development. Capacity building has been considered as a cornerstone of African development for the last six decades. There is a need to enhance capacity-building and knowledge-sharing among African cities. This involves using emerging tools and approaches to navigate the complexities of multi-scale and multi-actor stakeholder engagement. Mobilising sustainable financing and investment is crucial for Africa's sustainable development. The availability of private ESG capital has never been greater. The net-zero commitments made by financial institutions in the global north mean trillions of dollars of green liquidity, and they are looking for new risk-adjusted returns and new revenue opportunities. In the African context, engagement strategies must be carefully created, keeping social dynamics in mind that will benefit stakeholders equally and build trusting relationships. Every community and stakeholder group is different, and it is essential not to apply identical engagement strategies to all stakeholders.



The Doctrine of Sustainable Cities in Africa is of paramount importance. It calls for a collective and coordinated effort to transform African cities into sustainable, resilient, and inclusive urban centres. As African cities continue to grow and evolve, these principles will guide them towards a future that is not only sustainable but also equitable and inclusive. The journey towards sustainable African cities is a tapestry of challenges and opportunities. It's a journey that requires collective effort, innovative solutions, and, most importantly, the will to transform. As we continue to traverse this path, let's remember that the essence of a city lies not in its buildings or roads but in its people, their dreams, and their relentless spirit of resilience. Let's continue to nourish these dreams and foster this spirit as we build the sustainable cities of tomorrow.

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