African Cities

Building Resilient, Sustainable & Inclusive Societies

The challenges faced by Africa’s rapidly growing cities are unique. Chief Resilience Officers from Ethiopia, Ghana & South Africa share how their cities are approaching the urgent challenges their cities are working to solve. The list of interviewees includes:

  • Fitsumbrhan Tsegaye (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
  • Desmond Appiah (Accra, Ghana)
  • Craig Kesson (Cape Town, South Africa)

The below was extracted from interviews filmed by 100 Resilient Cities.

“Building resilient cities in Africa is an issue of survival”

3 in 4 people will live in cities by 2050

The African situation is really unique. The rates African cities are growing and urbanisation is massive, but it’s greatly informal (i.e. mostly slums). The last count in Accra, we have over 246 informal settlements.

The rate at which people are moving into urban centres in Africa, I think is something that is beyond the frame of reference for city management teams in the global north. 75% of the world’s population in 2050 will be living in cities.

“Many of the African cities that people are going to live in have yet to be built”

urbanisation building new cities in Africa
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The need to build sustainable African cities

How do we really ensure sustainability and resilience when building cities in the current environment?

The way that we think about building cities is different in an African context from the way North America or Western Europe thinks about building cities. They are informal, they are very dynamic and they take place in rapidly changing conditions.

This coupled with the issue of climate change and globalisation will have a tremendous impact on the city’s growth and its sustainability. So, while our cities are growing, the question is “Are we growing in a sustainable manner?”

If there’s a people on planet earth who are resilient, it’s surely the population of Africa. At the individual level, we have the most recent history of intractable conflicts, we’ve suffered from a high burden of disease, some of which are still very, very pervasive in our cities, extreme poverty in certain cases.

“One can only accept that individual Africans are massively resilient.”

African resilience hard working and smiling
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Working with Africa’s slum residents – not against them

Most of the time the angle that development seems to come in is a top-down approach. Most of the settlements growing these days bottom-up. And of course, they are growing in such a way that the city’s authorities do not have the space and time to kind of put in the infrastructure that we think should be in place to ensure sustainability and resilience and all.

One of the major things that Accra uses to deal with informal settlements is by forcing them out or destroying those buildings. I don’t think that is the way to go. We need to look at how we can benefit from having those people there and how can we try and help them to make their lives better (e.g. upgrading slums) rather than just trying to drive them out and say, “Hey, move back to wherever you came from.”

Building inclusive cities and societies in Africa
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Slums’ contribution to the economy

But there’s a real reliance on the informal sector, even for the formal sectors you would see that informal settlements grew right almost next to the formal settlement because they are offering a certain service or a certain kind of reliance and dependency.

And we need to really appreciate and understand that reliance and that connectivity so that we can all kind of push ahead together.

This post was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Habitat for Humanity GB and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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