Monday, June 27, 2016

Use urbanization to drive prosperity


Our epoch has been characterized as the Athropocene. Our species, Homo sapiens is capable of the same disruptive and devastating effect on our planet just like volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes and tsunami. We are virulent. Look at what we have done to our climate and our environment.

But the virulent disruption of our kind, especially through our industrial and technological prowess has been uniquely associated with the migration of over half of human kind from the fields into cities. Hence, a fundamental characteristic of the Anthropocene is the age of urbanism. I would like to think about our kind to today as Homo sapiens urbanus.

In Africa the phenomenon of urbanization has been late in onset. Somehow Africans, especially in Eastern and Southern Africa lingered too long in the farms. But today at 3.5 percent, Africa is fastest urbanizing landmass on the planet. In Kenya for example, the rate of urbanization outpaces the rate of annual population growth by 60 percent. A recent UN-Habitat report projects that by 2025 Africa’s urban population will outstrip that of South America and Europe combined.

By 2040 African cities are expected to have to accommodate 79 Million additional inhabitants. Between 2040 and 2050 the figure will rise to an astonishing 84 Million. The potential consequence – challenges and opportunities – of these bewildering growth rates are relevant for all us, whether we live in urban or rural areas. As we all know, the Africa rising saga and the surge of an African middle classes is underlies the triumph of the African urbanization.

The scale and pace of Africa’s urbanization is unprecedented. But something else is happening in Africa. Circa 80 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan is aged below 35 years old. Moreover, the median age on the content is below 20 years and is projected to reach a youthful age of 25 by 2050. I dare say that Africa is on the warm threshold of a youthful urban moment. This changes everything.

For the academy, the African urban moment raises scholarly and policy relevant issues. What does sedentary lives and changing diets mean? The prospect of the convergence of communicable and non-communicable diseases has far-reaching consequence on health and morbidity. Will urbanization hinder or aid efforts to reduce poverty and deal with growing chasm of inequality that has attended the Africa rising saga? How will urbanization affect the quality of African lives? Cities across Africa are bursting at the seams, engulfed by mountains of garbage and squalor, immobilized by wretched traffic gridlock, and paralyzed by scarcity of decent, affordable housing for new immigrants. Will the urban moment come with better prospects for employment youth Africa’s youth? And will urbanization change the character of politics in countries like Kenya, where ethnic bigotry looms large?

Urbanization is perhaps the most powerful game changer in our lifetime. It is full of promise but peppered with peril. The good fortune is that we have the power to harness this unprecedented boon. Lets seize it for our common good. 

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