Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 49

Thought leader
infrastructure capacity, combined with acute financing
challenges, create significant prioritisation pressures.
African countries will have to find innovative solutions
to ensure that the basic needs of their citizens are met,
while creating the infrastructural platforms for growth.
The scale/governance disconnect: Due to the
predominance of informal economic life, combined
with thin local institutional systems, the tax base for
urban investment is inadequate to meet the vast
needs of cities. National governments perceive these
conditions as justification for the continued national
control and management of urban areas. The net effect
is that there is no coherent strategy or investment
programme to address urban management imperatives
across the diverse needs of the national settlement/
urban system.
The economy: There is a need to promote an Africafocused development agenda amid the series of
interlocking dynamics of distorted urbanisation
across Africa, which have their roots in both colonial
economic policy and structural adjustment policies.
Currently, most African countries focus economic
policy on gross domestic product (GDP) growth, even
if this does not generate large numbers of new jobs or
is environmentally damaging. A narrow fixation on GDP
growth undermines long-term development
ambitions. Inclusive growth points to the
imperative of establishing economic
growth trajectories that are highly
labour-absorptive, and afford access
to decent work.
The African urban agenda
For most African countries,
development challenges are great,
because national economies tend to
be small and are inserted into global
value chains under adverse conditions.
Furthermore, these economies are often
overly reliant on a single commodity, which places
the national fiscus at continual risk. Therefore it is
vital that African governments and citizens debate
how these structural obstacles can be overcome in
the context of a commitment to greater regionalism,
intra-regional trade, and endogenous industrialisation
to supply the goods and services of the domestic
populations. Cities can kick-start these debates.
One pathway is a focus on resilient growth, in which
the green economy is viewed as the necessary
gateway to a low-carbon and resource-efficient
future. This requires changes in the nature of
production and consumption so as to radically
reduce the harmful emissions associated with the
current economic system, and to delink each unit
of economic output from non-renewable resource
inputs. Embracing a resilience-oriented growth path
is a tough requirement for African economies that are
predominantly reliant on extractive industries for trade
and foreign exchange. Yet, as the world moves towards
a global carbon-trading and -taxation regime, and
more stringent environmental standards linked to trade
agreements, economic competitiveness will depend on
getting this right. Africa’s advantage in the new post2015 focus on resilience is that the relatively low levels
of economic development mean that these systems
are not yet locked into unsustainable pathways. There
is therefore an unprecedented opportunity to use the
imperative to build massive infrastructures in African
cities and regions as a catalyst for embedding the
green economy.
This opportunity, however, requires new ways of
thinking that challenge the logic of the established
northern model of urbanism as an ideal for African
cities to aspire to.
Neither inclusive nor resilient growth is possible if
Africa’s human potential remains untapped and
underinvested. Education and health are the two most
important drivers of human capital formation, along
with social safety nets, as the economy of a country
expands. The skills and knowledge of the urban
workforce are a central determinant of the dynamism
and long-term durability of growth.
Those who live in and manage
African cities need to drive the
global conversation about what
sustainable urban development
means in practice. Furthermore,
the real-life innovations to achieve
sustainable urbanism will come
from the ground and cascade
upwards. Technocratic top-down
programmes and solutions will not
work, because each city and town is
unique and will need to draw on the
collective resources of all actors affected
to produce fit-for-purpose reforms. However,
local innovations become a lot easier if there is a
coherent and high-profile national programme of action
to drive systematic urban transformation.
The ideals of good governance, democracy, respect
for human rights, justice and the rule of law must be
forged in the hurly-burly of Africa’s cities, otherwise
they will never take root. It is in these settings that the
new, youthful interpretation of Africa’s cultural identity,
common heritage, values and ethics will be made
manifest through art, culture and media.
Professors Edgar Pieterse and Sue Parnell and Dr Gareth
Haysom are researchers at the African Centre for Cities
(ACC). Professor Pieterse is the DST/NRF SARChl
Chair in urban policy and director of the ACC. Image of
Kumasi Market in Accra, Ghana by Lattitude Canada,
Wikimedia Commons.
Zero hunger, sustainable cities and responsible consumption 44

Wikimedia Commons

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