UK plans African cities centre

By on 22/01/2020 | Updated on 04/02/2022
The UK Centre for Cities and Infrastructure aims to improve cities across Africa, including in Kenya. (Image courtesy: diaznash/Pixabay).

The UK is to set up a specialist centre that will help to improve the way African cities are planned, built and run, with the aim of making urban centres more sustainable and reducing poverty.    

The UK Centre for Cities and Infrastructure will provide British expertise to African governments and city authorities and will focus on improvements to infrastructure, including water and energy networks.

The centre – which is to be based in the UK, at a location to be announced next year – is backed by £48m (US$63m) of UK funding. Of this, £30m (US$39) will support projects in countries across Africa, with the rest earmarked for investment in fast-growing cities in other parts of the developing world.

The initiative was announced by UK international development secretary Alok Sharma on January 14 during a visit to Kenya.

“Our new UK aid support, announced ahead of the UK-Africa Investment Summit, will contribute to creating the African cities of the future, using British expertise to provide quality, green infrastructure across the continent,” Sharma said.

“Infrastructure is the backbone of economic growth. It helps the poorest people access basic services such as clean water and electricity, creates jobs and boosts business.”

City populations on the rise

Attempts to address Africa’s lack of infrastructure are shifting from the national to city level. By 2025, there will be 100 African cities with more than one million inhabitants, according to consultancy firm McKinsey. The World Economic Forum says that Africa’s current population of 1.1bn citizens will double by 2050, with more than 80% of the increase in cities.

Compounding the challenges, African urbanisation is unfolding against a backdrop of climate change. Global risk and strategic consultancy company Verisk Maplecroft’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index classified 79 of Africa’s 100 fastest-growing cities as being at “extreme risk”. 

Africa’s development needs must be addressed through decentralised approaches, according to Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, secretary general of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Africa.  The main obstacle facing cities seeking to invest in climate resilience lies in their “capacity to prepare projects and their capacity to manage large-scale projects,” Elong Mbassi said.

Coordination needed

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), Africa needs infrastructure investment of US$130bn–US$170bn (£99bn–£130bn) a year, and faces a financing gap of between US$68bn (£52bn) and US$108bn (£83bn). The bank says that annual investments required by cities to bridge the gap range from 2% to 8% of national GDP. The investment shortfall is particularly acute in small and medium-sized cities, the AfDB says.

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) supports emerging urban areas in Kenya through the Sustainable Urban Economic Development (SUED) Programme, which uses digital technologies to build ‘smart’ cities and runs until September 2022. The latest annual SUED review, published in August 2019, says the programme needs to coordinate with initiatives such as the World Bank’s Kenya Urban Support Programme to develop a coherent approach to strengthening municipal capacity. According to Elong Mbassi, the sharing of knowledge and experience in African development projects remains inadequate.

As well as announcing the UK Centre for Cities and Infrastructure, Sharma also said during his visit to Kenya that DFID’s Cities and Infrastructure for Growth programme is being expanded to Ghana, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. The programme helps UK businesses invest in quality, resilient infrastructure, boosts access to reliable and affordable power, and creates construction jobs.

He also announced £3.5m (US$2.7m) of new aid for the SheTrades programme, which will seek to create 3,000 new jobs in businesses run by women.

About David Whitehouse

David Whitehouse’s career as a journalist includes 17 years as an editor with Bloomberg News in Paris. He now works as a freelance writer and editor for a range of publications including The Africa Report. David is the author of In Search of Rwanda’s Génocidaires, which examines the issues raised by the presence of alleged genocide participants in France. He is also the co-author of the English language autobiography of Cambodia’s long-time opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

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