Despite the pace of urbanization and the economic importance of cities, many leading politicians in Africa are still focused on rural areas.
Reuben Abraham, the head of a leading Indian think tank on urban issues, says that leaders of some developing countries are simply failing to undersand the importance of urbanization. Speaking in Jakarta at a New Cities Summit, Reuben described a recent talk with five heads of African countries. Only one of them thought that cities were more important than rural areas – Paul Kagame of Rwanda. “We need to make the case for why cities are important,” Abraham said.
Abraham also noted that while technology is important in cities, they should not “put the cart before the horse”. Tackling crime and governance are fundamental. It should be about “doing smart things in cities, rather than smart cities”.
As most voters in sub-Saharan Africa still live in the countryside, the orientation of their leading politiicans is perhaps not that surprising. However, the failure to understand the implications of rapid urbanization will leave a long-term legacy. Congestion, pollution and retro-fitting infrastructure will impose heavy costs on future budgets.
The Summit also heard how Jakarta, now a city of 10 million, is reforming its planning processes to be less top-down and more inclusive. To make planning a bottom-up process ideas are to be crowdsourced by citizens.