African cities need clarity of thought.

Position:Anna Tabaijuka speaks on African urbanization - Interview

Anver Versi: What is the rate of African urbanisation compared to other developing regions?

Anna Tabaijuka: It is the fastest in the world. There several causes, including the pull-push factors, and let's not forget the refugees and displaced people who head for urban areas.

AV: On balance, do the advantages of life in the city outweigh the disadvantages?

AT: In the long term yes. In cities, you can increase your income and you have much better opportunities for advancement in virtually all aspects. In the short term, if you fail to plan properly, you have to deal with high pollution, crime and vice, among other deficiencies. However, on balance, cities offer better opportunities and that is why they are so attractive.

AV: Do African cities have the capacity, in terms of resources and organisation to manage this huge expansion?

AT: No. Most African cities are overwhelmed. In some cities, 60% of the urban population live in slums, where there is little or no clean water supply. sanitation or security of tenure. We see increasing incidences of forced evictions.

AV: What are the major challenges facing city planners and administrators?

AT: The first issue is the need for awareness that things are not the way they should be. The poor living conditions for the majority in African cities is a symbol of government failure to take corrective measures.

They have to realise that people will not return to the countryside--urbanisation is inevitable and it will grow. Governments have to look for solutions to the problems of urbanisation, rather than hope they will go away.


AV: What are the most critical deficits facing African cities?

AT: The most glaring is the knowledge deficit. Without adequate knowledge, governments cannot get to grips with the right policies. Without the right policies, nothing else will follow.

Here in China, you can see what can be done with well-thought-out and executed policies. There are strong institutions with excellent delivery.

The situation anywhere is not irredeemable--corrective measures can be taken.

China provides excellent examples and that is why we have invited African mayors to visit cities like Shanghai and smaller towns to see for themselves what can be done. Some of them have never seen what a planned city looks like.

AV: How can the creativity and energy of African cities be released to take the continent to the next level?

AT: There are many mechanisms. Cities need resources in order...

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