African cities facing their future

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View of Boulevard du 30 Juin from Kinshasa central station, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on November 17, 2021.

When Baudelaire lamented that “The shape of a city changes faster, alas! than the heart of a mortal “, he was not thinking of Africa and its urban frenzy, for whom, a century and a half after the writing of these lines, one would think they had been fashioned. On this continent, which within a generation will have doubled its population and will be home to 2.5 billion inhabitants, cities are formed and deformed over time, without ever experiencing a truce in their growth. Fifty years ago, one in five Africans lived in cities. Today, half of them are. And tomorrow Africa will be even more urban, since 70% of its demographic growth will be absorbed by cities.

Water supply, electricity, access to an Internet network and waste treatment, creation of roads and streets … Stewardship must follow. The future of the African continent and, by extension, of Europe are at stake, as the destabilization of the first threatens the balance of the second. To allow the development of local populations, it will take a controlled urban planning, within medium-sized towns capable of promoting an African art of living.

Reasonable dimensions

To put an end to the sprawling megalopolises, some countries are betting on a new urban development impetus by rebuilding a capital; by building, not far from a megalopolis, a new town of reasonable dimensions. These initiatives are a reminder that, contrary to the image of Epinal, Africa likes medium-sized cities. It is a land of medium-sized towns; a territory meshed by nearly 7,000 agglomerations of less than 100,000 inhabitants who find their place, discreet, in the shadow of eleven rowdy and outrageous cities of more than 5 million souls. Giants such as Cairo, Lagos, Johannesburg or Kinshasa… which do not succeed in making people forget the idea that it is in human-sized spaces which already house 70% of urban Africans that the future of the continent is at stake.

The African city of the future is the place of revolutions, of leaps into the future. The giant leap in telephony, in cities capable of freeing themselves from the wired stage, will it be possible in terms of urban services? Will the African city of tomorrow be green? Clever? And finally, will it be a model for the cities of the North? For Alexandre Lemille, co-founder of the African Circular Economy Network, it can. For this entrepreneur, who assimilates waste to a resource and a perennial, identifiable object, to a response to our ills, Africa is a compass capable of putting the North on the road to sustainable development. Because this continent « can be a step ahead and set the pace for the Old World ”, he repeats willingly.

And when the North copies the South, it will really be time to recalibrate all the compasses.

This article was produced as part of a partnership with the Veolia Institute.

Take part in the conference “From Rabat to Cape Town, Africa as a sustainable continent of the 22nd century”

The World Africa and The World Cities organize, on Thursday, December 9, 2021, a conference on African urbanization and its social, economic, environmental and political issues. This is the fourth part which closes the cycle of debates “Tomorrow, the African city”.

Free entry upon registration.

Conference | “From Rabat to Cape Town, Africa as a sustainable continent of the 22nd century”
Thursday, December 9, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Auditorium of World, 67 Avenue Pierre Mendès France, 75013 Paris
See the detailed morning program.