African mayors commend Economist Conferences for Future Cities summit in Lagos

Participants in the just-concluded Future Cities conference have said the summit provides a good platform for cross fertilisation of ideas to address the myriad challenges that confront Africa’s urban cities. They commended Economist Conferences, organisers of the conference, for contributing immensely to the development of Africa’s urban transformation.

For Parks Tau, Executive Mayor of Johannesburg, the conference shed new light by confronting the issues that affect Africa as a result of growth of its cities.

“Cities may have common issues but every city has its own peculiar challenges. What this summit has done is to bring together policymakers, service providers and many other stakeholders to discuss and exchange ideas on ways to address these challenges. The summit was a huge success with new insights gained through the sharing of experiences on how peculiar challenges have been, or are being, addressed by cities worldwide.”

Robert Neuwirth, author of Stealth of Nations and Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, said he was very excited to be part of the conference. “It was a very positive event, bringing together important players, mayors from crucial African cities, the Governor of Lagos State, along with all sorts of stakeholders and outside agitators, influencers and critics like myself for a dynamic and eye-opening discussion on how to improve African cities. I think the future of Africa is bright: its cities will be young, dynamic and increasingly networked.”

Neuwirth, in an earlier presentation titled, “The dynamism of the street savvy: The new growth driver?” argued that the informal sector is crucial to the development of cities in the 21st century.

He posited that GDPs of African countries are growing but that this growth does not add jobs to the economy. There is economic activity in the slums – bars, general stores, churches and restaurants – but the issue is that these activities are not harnessed by the economy. For Neuwirth, the informal sector generates more jobs than the formal sectors and he called on cities to allow street hawkers and traders to organise and thrive.

The conference was subtitled “Managing Africa’s Urban Transformation”. Babatunde Fashola, the Executive Governor of Lagos shared his experiences and challenges around the governance of Lagos State. The conference also featured Patricia de Lille, Didas Massaburi, Muchadeyi Masunda and Parks Tau Executive Mayors of Cape Town, Das Es Salaam, Harare, and Johannesburg respectively.

The governor of Lagos informed participants at the conference that the state earns most of its revenue from taxes, which he referred to as a commitment by all Lagosians to fix their infrastructure.

“Lagos can sustain up to 40 million people, we are planning towards this by building upwards rather than sideways”. He credited his success to collaboration between the government and the private sector through Public  Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the provision of roads, education, environment, water supply, transportation and other infrastructure that have improved the living condition of the 20 million state residents.

Commenting on urban housing and the development of sustainable, long-term approaches to housing, Alioune Badiane, Director, Project Office, UN-Habitat, opined that many government sectors do not understand the power of housing. He revealed that 70 per cent of Africans live in poor settlements, a situation he attributed to factors such as “bad governance, lack of political will and inconsistency in socio-economic policies which affect urban housing.”

The summit also provided a platform for participants to debate challenging questions around managing, designing and financing the continent’s cities. Other experts who spoke at the conference included David Adjaye OBE, an award-winning, internationally renowned architect; Dayo Mobereola, Managing Director, Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority; Arnold Meyer, Head of Real Estate (Africa) of the Renaissance Group; and Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, Country Director, Nigeria of the World Bank.

Other speakers included Ory Okolloh, Policy Manager and Government Relations manager, Google Africa; Paul Hinks, CEO, Symbion Power Holdings; Kola Karim, Group Managing Director, Shoreline Energy International and David Frame, MD, Eko Atlantic and many others.

Dougal Thomson, chairman of the Future Cities summit, expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the conference and commended the participants for their robust participation in the sessions. He stated that the conference was brought to Lagos with the intention of focusing minds on the scale of the challenges facing African cities and how they can cope with the projected influx of hundreds of millions of extra citizens over the next decade.

According to him, “The scale and the speed of this migration to the city is incredible; we want the conference to focus governments’ minds, engaging them in constructive discussion and dialogue about how cities can prepare to welcome these extra citizens, asking what kind of changes they need to their infrastructure, to their governance, to become fully functional places that are efficient, great places for people to live, places that provide for people’s needs – housing, transport, jobs, water.”

“For me, the most exciting thing to come out of the conference was the discussions around how new technology and a networked society can meet a lot of these challenges. It is clear that as the internet takes off it will be much easier for cities to function efficiently and effectively; easier for people to move around these cities; and easier for citizens to engage with government and vice versa,” he continued.

The summit was organised by Economist Conferences and sponsored by Eko Atlantic, ABB, Renaissance Group, Dar Group, Siemens and The Infrastructure Bank

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