“Tomorrow, the African city”: for Dinah Louda (Veolia Institute) “There is a need to mix cultural and economic approaches by involving citizens to build the city of tomorrow. ”

The series of debates on “Tomorrow, the African city” ended on December 9 in Paris, with the conference “From Rabat to Cape Town, Africa as a sustainable continent of the 22nd century”. An event organised as part of the partnership with Veolia, the Veolia Institute and Le Monde Afrique Cities. If the African continent is undergoing the strongest urban growth in the world, how can we build new cities and reconcile economic growth with sustainability? The stakes are more than national, they are global. 

Feedback on the closing lecture: “From Rabat to Cape Town, Africa as a sustainable continent of the 22nd century”

  • African urbanisation presents a myriad of challenges 

Africa is undergoing the strongest urban growth in the world. In 30 years, the continent's population will double to reach 2.5 billion inhabitants, with its cities welcoming 950 million new urban dwellers. This urbanisation is a challenge for medium-sized cities: access to drinking water (35% of the urban population has access to it today); access to electricity (no African city is exempt from power cuts); existence of roads, sanitation and waste treatment systems. These cities are also more vulnerable to health and social risks and those linked to climate change. Overcoming these challenges raises the question of decentralisation.

According to Laurent Bossard, director of the Sahel Club, the positive effects of urbanisation also extend to rural areas. Almost 5,000 new cities have sprung up over the past 30 years, reducing rural poverty. And on issues related to climate change, medium-sized African cities are less polluting than those in Asia. The circular economy is much more developed there because this is a tradition rooted in the African economy.

In this area, the African city is a challenge and also an opportunity.

Philippe Bourdeaux, director of the Veolia Middle East Africa zone, introduced the discussions:

With the Veolia Institute, we wanted to ask our stakeholders how our economic models should evolve to provide essential services in Africa in the future in terms of water, waste and energy. I recall from our discussions the optimism of all the participants who are leading the continent along the path of its ecological transformation.

  • Sustainable and inclusive medium-sized cities

The African city fits into a multitude of contexts. North Africa is very urban, sub-Saharan Africa is principally peri-urban with informal settlements. And in the Sahel or in Burkina, cities are in crisis because many displaced populations are settling there. 

 Audrey Guiral-Naepels, deputy head of the City division of the AFD, explained that the demographic challenge is related to the speed of urban growth in medium-sized cities which have much fewer resources to tackle three challenges, namely access to essential services - water, transport, waste, energy, with sustainable social tariffs; integration of precarious or informal neighbourhoods, which absorb 60% of new arrivals; increase in the secondary divisions of cities in terms of public equipment, networks and affordable housing for low-resource populations.


  • he circular economy, to build the city with its inhabitants

Edouard Yao, Ivory Coast’s representative for the African Circular Economy Network, recalled that the circular economy makes it possible to live without waste and that it creates jobs: 

It is in Africa that the circular economy is most widespread, but in informal contexts. The priority is to overhaul the institutions in order to formalise this structure. To achieve this, it is also necessary to involve citizens in the design of projects, and to leverage cultural, technical and organisational diversity. We need to mobilise all skills and involve all innovators. Furthermore, we sometimes see a rejection of infrastructures by populations who are not involved with the projects. We need to utilise associations that offer both youth and tradition. A more formal circular economy would provide opportunities for young people. For example, in Douala (Cameroon), many young people collect plastic waste to make PET aggregates which are exported to China. We would therefore need to build an industry to transform this PET into local products.

  • Which city in 2040?

With his “Hubcité” project, Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, a Togolese architect and researcher in anthropology in Lomé, calls on African cities to abandon Western standards to shape sustainable cities of the future, by reconnecting with their roots:

If one in six urbanites is African in 2050, the urban objects of tomorrow will be African. In my view, technologies are trying to gain control of reality, and capitalism has understood this in creating start-ups as big as states. Technologies want to build an autonomous social world without humans, using the city to achieve their end, with robots on the streets and people who produce data, in their homes, on their computer. My new African city, “Hubcité”, is not a smart city because it is also based on the model of a traditional society. The health crisis we are experiencing today has shown that informal structures, solidarity and African localism have been more resilient than the western urban world. In realms of initiation in African villages that operate like incubators, we create a “vernacular villager”. I believe that with a new, more organic accounting structure and an imaginary cosmogony, we could reclaim the local resources of nature. We are experiencing a crisis of cosmogony. For example, the pangolin was the sacred animal and the cornerstone of the Lele civilisation. But today its trade in Africa earns more money than that of drugs. So having lost its traditional role, it may have caused the current pandemic.

  • “For an Africa of cities on a human scale, recognised and autonomous”

Medium-sized cities must make their voices heard in order to find the means to finance their projects and be more autonomous.

Francois Laurent, geographer - urban planner, associate director of Urbaplan:

The quality of spending must be improved by focusing more on preventive measures than on curative measures, as in the area of climate resilience. Land is the only wealth of the municipality but this resource is poorly used, public land is also not well developed.

James Christopher Mizes, post-doctoral fellow in African city finance at University Paris Dauphine

Cities grow without economic resources because they do not industrialise. State transfers are also lacking. For example, the 30 municipalities of the Dakar agglomeration have very unequal access to state grants because they are sometimes perceived as too politicised. Fiscal decentralisation requires the creation of a land register without addresses. And land prices are not fixed and have been managed for centuries according to traditions.

Jean-Francois Habeau, executive director of Global Fund for Cities Development:

There is a market failure between the need and the supply of finance. To overcome threshold problems, local financing needs must be pooled. And cities are lacking resources because local taxes are only collected on half of the tax base. With greater decentralisation for medium-sized cities, it is also necessary to better manage local taxes and state transfers.

Dinah Louda, president of the Veolia Institute, concluded the lecture series, recalling the importance for the Institute of inviting the different points of view of all those with experience in the field to analyse the problems and find solutions:

We need to change our outlook on Africa. The informal sector should no longer be seen as an obstacle to development; rather it’s necessary to combine cultural and economic approaches by involving citizens to build the city of the future. It is necessary to foster cooperation between medium-sized cities and nearby rural areas, and other countries. The circular economy is a pillar of the ecological transformation of cities because Africa has a head start with its traditions of reusing local materials. I also recall the importance of collaboration, as within the club “Abidjan sustainable city” or among elected women who have the power to turn the tide. I would like to thank the teams of the newspaper Le Monde - with whom we jointly produced this lecture series - for the productive debates.