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Abuja, Nigeria, October 20-21, 2000
Urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policy Issues and Implications

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Urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policy Issues and Implications

Summary Report

The GCA Policy Forum was held in Abuja, Nigeria, on October 20-21, 2000. Current and former African Heads of State and Government, GCA Co-Chairpersons, Ministers and senior officials from African and partner countries, senior representatives of international organizations, parliamentarians, mayors, and representatives of the private sector and civil society participated in the meeting. The list of participants is attached.

The Policy Forum was officially opened with an address by H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. GCA Co-Chairperson President Alpha Oumar Konaré, also made remarks during the opening session. This summary report highlights some of the main issues which have been debated during the course of the meeting, but does not reflect the richness of the discussions or the range of experiences that were shared. The main theme of the Policy Forum was Urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, there was a special session on combating corruption.

Urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa

Opening session

GCA Co-Chairperson President Konaré thanked President Obasanjo and the Government of Nigeria for hosting the Policy Forum, and among other things, noted the high level of participation of both African and partner countries and organizations.

In his introductory statement, President Konaré emphasized the importance of the issue, given the rapid pace and uncontrolled nature of the urbanization process in virtually every country in Sub-Saharan Africa. He reminded participants of the appropriateness of the choice of Nigeria as the venue of the meeting given the countrys historical role and current situation with regard to urbanization, and its numerous big cities. Referring to the GCAs tradition of open and frank discussion, he invited participants to share experiences in urbanization and local governance.

In opening the Policy Forum, H.E. President Obasanjo recalled his longtime and fruitful association with the GCA and commended it for choosing a very relevant subject for the Policy Forum. He also indicated that Nigeria was an appropriate venue for the meeting because of its experience with various aspects and consequences of rapid urbanization. He referred to Lagos as a city which combines some of the potential benefits that urbanization offers with the many complex problems resulting from it. He also noted that nearly a dozen other cities in the country, including the new capital of Abuja, are facing variations of the problems faced by Lagos. Expressing his concern that urbanization in Nigeria is being accompanied by a lack of economic growth and income generating activities, he indicated that in Lagos this had resulted in a climate of intolerance and conflict. He referred to the decision to transfer the nations capital to Abuja as being motivated by the desire to relieve Lagos from the combined pressures of hosting the federal government and serving as the principal commercial center. This in fact did not happen. Lagos has continued to expand, and management of the city is hampered by the lack of coordination among its 18 municipalities, which frequently do not even know their exact boundaries. He also noted that in Abuja the influx of people has already outpaced the existing infrastructure. President Obasanjo expressed his confidence that participants will find the Policy Forum useful as a venue for the fruitful exchange of experiences and ideas.


There was broad agreement that, despite significant differences among countries, most African countries had not anticipated or prepared adequately for a rapid shift of population from rural to urban areas. In consequence, municipalities are facing capacity constraints, inefficiency and corruption hamper service delivery, and failure to remove the barriers to the development of a formal private sector including corruption - dramatically limits the creation of new and productive jobs.

Urban services and institutions are not keeping up with the growth of the urban population. As a result, cities which in principle should provide more opportunities for business, employment and cost-effective social services than rural areas are confronted with various crises. In big cities exclusion and poverty is exacerbated by the lack of employment and inadequate infrastructure and institutions. Deprivation, conflict and insecurity often result.

In Africa urbanization has not been part of a process of economic development. The urban centers in colonial economies, with few exceptions, were merely centers of administration while production remained in the rural areas. Hence, the usual problems of urbanization are compounded by a low economic baseline, resulting in urbanization without growth. This distinguishes Africa from experiences elsewhere.

Governments and Municipalities

While there was general consensus as to the right of cities to govern their affairs themselves, there was also clear recognition that in a large number of cases there is lack of preparedness and capacity for exercising such autonomy. The tension that often exists between national and municipal governments was also noted. In this respect, the need for improved local governance as well as an enhanced capacity to manage the local economy was recognized. Among other things, corruption and mismanagement have contributed to urban problems, and these need to be addressed urgently.

As African countries undertake further political reforms, relations between municipal authorities and central governments will become more balanced and democratic. The discussions highlighted the need to involve all key stake-holders in the management of cities through processes of participatory governance. The urban poor should not be excluded. Decentralization of government functions from the central government to the provincial, and further to the municipal level, is needed. To date, however, effective decentralization has not often been pursued. Several participants stressed that although decentralization is needed, it is neither an end in itself nor a panacea. It needs to be pursued with care and proper management, with transparency, and free of corruption. Local authorities need to be granted financial and political autonomy, but in many cases they also need to be empowered to carry out their new responsibilities. By all means, the "decentralization of corruption" should be avoided. Therefore, capacities and institutions should be strengthened. Unless this is done, decentralization will not yield the desired results and could be counterproductive.

Several participants emphasized that African cities are operating under a multiplicity of constraints, and extremely limited resources is one of them. But management of cities could be improved with greater accountability and transparency. There are things that can and indeed must be done. There is a strong need to seize the opportunities urbanization provides, so that it becomes a catalyst for growth and development, and for addressing more the needs of the urban poor. This will not happen without improvements in governance and service delivery, and unless urban areas are made safer and more liveable. There was also general agreement that governance should be suited to the needs of cities.

It was agreed that urbanization represents a political problem which requires a political solution, and that ways need to be found to halt and reverse the current process of urbanization without growth and transform cities from centers of consumption into centers of production. Central governments and municipalities need to accept that urbanization is a reality and that coherent policies are needed to address the problems it brings and the opportunities it affords. It was also agreed that authorities need to focus on the real problems of cities and involve urban dwellers in the search for sustainable solutions. Several participants drew attention to the plight of women and children in big cities, and raised questions as to the future of the urban youth in many countries, noting that at present young people often lack the education or skills for an urban environment.

Urban Rural Linkages

There was broad agreement that policies to address urbanization need to be part of national development strategies. In addition to providing services, urban policies must aim at the creation of business and employment opportunities and the improvement of linkages with rural areas. It was agreed that African countries can ill-afford to neglect rural areas, where agriculture should be further developed and production expanded, since in many countries urban centers are supported by rural areas. Poverty in both rural and urban areas is the key problem that policies need to address. Participants agreed that it is not a case of either urban or rural development, but of promoting and enhancing balanced and mutually beneficial urban rural linkages.

There is a need for more investment in rural areas to develop opportunities. New and emerging technologies can assist in the development of rural areas, notably the opportunities in the areas of communications, health and education, and by realizing the full benefits of urban rural linkages. In this context, developing the potential of smaller cities and towns may also help to curb the rapid and unplanned growth of capitals and other mega cities. Improving social and physical infrastructure can increase the attractiveness of these secondary cities for people from rural areas. The development of a sound banking system and enhanced accessibility of micro-credit were also considered key elements to promote smaller towns and cities. Land ownership is a critical issue in both urban centers and rural areas that needs to be included in development strategies. Participants noted with interest the experiences gained outside the continent, particularly in Latin America, in streamlining and controlling the flow of people from rural areas to big cities.

Challenges: Employment and Public Security

Several participants underlined the fact that the lack of economic growth in African countries had resulted in large-scale unemployment and under-employment in urban areas. Limited formal employment opportunities have led to the emergence of an informal economy that has penetrated all layers of society, but that nevertheless is not sustainable. Furthermore, several participants expressed their concern with respect to the disconnect between education and employment opportunities for young urban people, who are among the most vulnerable. Moreover, the failure of past economic policies, and the economic reform programs leading to retrenchment of civil servants, had further worsened the employment situation. Consequently, joining the informal economy was the main alternative to those who lost employment in the formal economy. However, for the ling run, it is important to link the formal and informal economies in order to escape from a growing informal economys artisanal trap of low income-low productivity that contributes to continued widespread urban poverty, social exclusion, criminality, and insecurity throughout the continent.

Thus, it was agreed that in the short or even medium term the informal economy is the lifeline for many urban residents. But it offers a precarious existence and efforts must be made to generate more employment opportunities in the formal economy and encourage the transfer of informal activities into the formal economy by promoting and supporting small and medium size enterprises, and ensuring that people have the skills required to take advantage of the employment opportunities thus created. In this context it was agreed that it is necessary to pay particular attention to the needs of women, who are frequently especially disadvantaged, and who rank high among the urban poor. Several participants stressed that special programs including credit, training and other support activities directly targeted toward women need to be pursued.

There was general consensus as to the importance of generating employment opportunities if African countries are to successfully alleviate the growing poverty prevailing in their cities. It was recognized that governments and municipal authorities cannot create all the jobs that are required. But, as was emphasized, they can put in place measures and create the conditions that promote private sector activities and encourage investment in urban areas. It was agreed that a multi-pronged approach to the problem of urban unemployment is required and that the private sector has an important role to play. Several participants indicated that Africas external development partners could more actively support private sector activities and thus create employment.

Halting the decline of cities and effectively reducing urban poverty requires sustained economic growth. But it also requires good governance. More specifically, several participants underlined the importance of putting in place measures to increase public security and counter rising crime if investments in African urban economies are to be promoted effectively. The current climate of insecurity reigning in many cities was felt to be particularly due to lack of services, employment, and justice, especially for the urban poor. Many urban centers do not have adequate and effective police forces and local, as well as national security forces are often under-budgeted. Lack of property or land rights among the urban poor have also contributed to increased insecurity. It was noted that demolition of property and violent evictions, often considered to be arbitrary, had frequently been the response of municipal authorities to overcrowded informal settlements. In this respect, participants agreed that more innovative solutions must be found by involving all key actors: land owners, land occupants, tenants, and municipalities.

Challenges: Social Services and Efficiency of Infrastructure

Participants indicated that improving both the quality of services geared towards local needs - and access to them by the urban population are essential for balanced urban development, where labor-intensive investments would create employment opportunities, encourage small and medium enterprises, and enhance public security. Many participants underlined the importance of giving new and emerging communication and information technologies their proper place in this process.

In particular, new technologies could help improve the management of cities and facilitate the move from the informal economy to a more formal one. Africas external development partners could facilitate improved access to such technologies. Some participants expressed their concern that the failure of African countries and governments to incorporate new technologies in their development strategies could further marginalize these countries and also result in well-trained and educated people to leave for countries where their skills will be welcome.

Overall, participants agreed that the ultimate responsibility of creating functional, well-managed and adequately serviced urban areas, lies primarily with African central and municipal governments. They need, however, the concrete support of their development partners. It was widely felt that with proper planning, urbanization could be a force for national integration and provide conditions for technical competence and international competitiveness.

It was agreed that many cities currently have cumbersome management processes that need to be reformed to better meet local needs. In many instances institutional restructuring and strengthening is required. Participants stressed that poor service provision and infrastructure were essentially political problems that required political solutions. Improved social services and infrastructure would not only make cities more liveable, but would also encourage investments and private sector development over the long term.

In addition to adequate physical infrastructure, it was agreed that local and foreign investment requires a coherent legal framework. While municipalities need to develop policies to address current urban problems and plan for the future, participants noted that that effective implementation of existing policies is also required. They also considered that more creative approaches to problems could be helpful. In this regard, public-private partnerships and the opportunities offered by new technologies could be pursued. Innovative approaches to the provision of education were also encouraged. It was also recognized that it is at the local level that corruption most directly impacts on citizens especially the poor. Combating corruption therefore is critical to the improvement of governance at the municipal, as well as the national level.

Special Session on The Principles to Combat Corruption in Africa

The special session on combating corruption focused on the efforts of individual African countries, as well as on the implementation of the Principles to Combat Corruption that were agreed to by eleven countries at a GCA-organized meeting in February 1999.

There was widespread support for the Principles to Combat Corruption. Representatives of several countries that have adopted the Principles indicated progress in implementing them, including their incorporation into national anti-corruption strategies. There was agreement that achieving results is important to maintain public support for anti-corruption measures. Representatives of other countries expressed an interest in also adopting the Principles, and some donors indicated a willingness to provide support at the country level for their implementation.

There was consensus that corruption is a two-way process, and that OECD countries need to take forceful measures to prevent corruption in international business transactions. Despite the OECD anti-bribery convention, there are industrialized countries that have not yet criminalized bribery of overseas officials, and others where it remains tax deductible. Some participants supported the idea of listing such countries, similar to the perceptions of corruption index issued by Transparency International.

There was general agreement as to the need for political will to combat corruption, and for public officials and political leaders to set an example. Participants stressed the necessity of forceful action against those engaging in corrupt practices as well as the utility of highlighting positive examples of honesty and probity in public life, and encouraged the adoption of leadership codes of conduct. The discussions indicated that a major change has taken place in most countries whereas once corruption was regarded as taboo, it is now a public issue that is openly discussed. Many countries have now also begun to address corruption, including by establishing specialized anti-corruption agencies and adopting measures to increase governmental accountability and transparency. Although the importance of laws and regulations was noted, participants stressed that attention is required to ensure their consistent and effective implementation. They also emphasized the significance of civil society action to address corruption, and the need for public access to information about, for example, public procurement procedures.

In his closing remarks on corruption, H.E. President Obasanjo re-affirmed his personal commitment to combating corruption and recounted the efforts of his government to address the problem. Although there has been significant progress in instituting anti-corruption measures, their effective implementation remains an issue. While recognizing that those who benefit from corruption would resist reforms, President Obasanjo stressed the political and economic imperative of combating corruption, which has eroded public trust in government and contributed to a negative image of Nigeria worldwide. In addition to implementing anti-corruption measures within Nigeria, the government has tried to trace and recover funds gained as a result of theft, fraud or corruption by Nigerians associated with the Abacha regime and deposited in overseas banks. This is an area in which the assistance of Africas partners is needed. President Obasanjo concluded his remarks by encouraging participants to be persistent and consistent in their fight against corruption and emphasizing the need for political will and the importance of countering all forms and levels of corruption.


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