Realizing the new urban agenda
Lagos: The challenges of managing a megacity
To achieve sustainable resilience and inclusiveness, Africa’s cities need to develop the confidence to innovate with a home-grown approach. It is all too easy to attempt to copy and paste what appears to be working elsewhere in the world in terms of city management and problem-solving. Ultimately, the only approach that works in the long-term, is tailoring the thinking and problem-solving to the local context.
All Africa’s megacities are alike in many ways—the demographic pressures, the challenge of climate change, infrastructure renewal, fighting crime, and so on—but each one is also unique, in its own way, with a history, character, and journey that sets it apart from others.
It is therefore necessary to ensure that these unique characteristics are kept in mind, in devising unique, home-grown solutions to the challenges being faced. So, that is the starting point.
Moving on to the specifics of policy areas that should be focused on in the coming year, I would say that at the top of the list would be all things related to the demographic pressure that today’s African megacities face. Rapidly rising populations require jobs, schools, hospitals, energy, transport infrastructure, and so on. Let’s start with jobs and skills. Africa is the fastest growing continent in the world, home to the largest population of people below 20.1 And yet, unemployment is rising rapidly, not necessarily because African economies are not creating any jobs at all, but because the jobs are not being created at a pace that can keep up with population growth.
What is now clear to us is that we cannot depend on the traditional modes of thinking about jobs and skills—trying to educate everyone to tertiary level and focusing on academic certificates as proof of education. In many African countries a lot of people are still obsessed with going to university, even if they’re studying courses that eventually turn out to be economically ineffectual.
This is not to say that tertiary education is not vital, or necessary—only this year, our administration in Lagos State established two new universities; the Lagos State University of Science and Technology, and the Lagos State University of Education, to expand access to tertiary education for our teeming youth population. However, the point I am making is that we must acknowledge and come to terms with the fact that we have to focus on multiple alternatives and avenues to get our young people educated and skilled.
This is where Technical and Vocational Education (TVET) comes in. As we have seen from experience, technology is a necessary ingredient for creating opportunities for leapfrogging old models of learning and for making a living. Today, a growing proportion of our young people earn a living from e-commerce, selling goods and services on the internet, to customers not only in Nigeria, but globally. Any government serious about creating such jobs, must therefore be serious about creating an enabling environment, by making the following happen: Bringing down the cost of internet access; providing and facilitating financing support for entrepreneurs and startups; and building school curriculums that introduce young people to innovative thinking and technology early.
I’m pleased to say that we are doing all of this in Lagos State. We are at the forefront of supporting the deployment of cutting-edge technology to give our young people an edge in the world of the 21st century. Our Eko Excel initiative is putting digital tablets in the hands of teachers and pupils. Our School Modernization Program is delivering schools with interactive learning facilities.
Lagos State Research and Innovation Council (LASRIC) is providing seed-funding to student innovators with startup ideas. The Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) supports individuals and micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), including technology-focused ones. We are rolling out a network of 6,000km of fibre-optic infrastructure that will increase access and reduce cost.
Second, after jobs and skills, is the issue of climate change. Lagos is especially vulnerable to climate change, as a city on the Atlantic Ocean, and barely two meters above sea level for the most part. Also, about 30 percent of our land mass is composed of water—lagoons, creeks, swamps, and marshes.
Rising sea levels are therefore a constant challenge, complicating the potentials of flash flooding. One ambitious solution we have embarked upon in Lagos State has been the Great Sea Wall of Lagos, designed as an engineering solution which seeks to protect Victoria Island and environs from the rising Atlantic, while at the same time also enabling us the opportunity to eke out a brand-new city called the Eko Atlantic City. This new city is setting new national standards in terms of clean energy deployment, energy efficiency, and environmentally friendly practices.
Let me now highlight some of the challenges that we face as administrators of cities and subnational governments, particularly in the context of Lagos. I would list the following: High rates of inbound immigration, data collection for planning, revenue generation, the tensions between sub-national and national governments, literacy levels, and the constraints of the political cycle.
Every day, Lagos receives an estimated 2,000 new migrants, from other parts of Nigeria, and possibly even West Africa. These people are coming in search of jobs and better economic conditions, understandably. However, this also constitutes increased pressure on available infrastructure, and on our planning capabilities, which we must continually respond to.
Which leads to my third issue: Data collection. To guide effective service delivery, we need to know: Who are the residents of Lagos? How many are they? What do they do for a living? And so on. No city can develop optimally without the presence of credible data and evidence to inform budgeting, planning, and the allocation of resources.
One solution in Lagos has been to establish the Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASSRA), which proved useful when we were delivering relief materials to the indigent at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown. Our goal is to have a comprehensive and updated database of all our people.
Finding the fiscal revenue to deliver on our electoral promises is another significant challenge. Nigeria’s tax-to-GDP ratio is one of the lowest in the world, for various reasons.2 This means that governments at all levels must keep finding creative ways to improve tax revenues, without necessarily raising taxes.
The only way to do this is by expanding the tax net, the number of people who are regularly paying their taxes. This will only happen if we simplify the tax filing system, given that many of our city residents are employed in the informal sector and may not be able to fill lengthy forms considering literacy levels.
Literacy also affects how well we as local leaders can communicate government policies and information and get the buy-in of critical stakeholders. It means that, in addition to adult literacy initiatives, efforts must also be focused on how to communicate in targeted ways that allow the population to better understand some of the complexities of policymaking.
Finally, in a federal system like ours in Nigeria, there exists long-standing tensions between the national government and the sub-nationals, or states, regarding areas of responsibility. Often, the only way to gain clarity is to seek judicial interpretation, which means long journeys through the court system. This certainly affects the abilities of municipal administrations to take certain decisions or craft certain policies. One of the lessons we have tried to apply in Lagos is to constantly push for increased cooperation and engagement with the federal government. We always strive to minimize the space for antagonism as much as possible.
None of these challenges I have outlined are insurmountable. We must continue to work hard at tackling them, while also carrying the people along through effective communication and stakeholder engagements. And we must always be realistic. Real and lasting change takes time; there are no shortcuts or silver bullets.
Kisumu: A secondary city with grand ambition
As an economic hub and transport intersection for the greater western region of Kenya, Kisumu was heavily exposed to the vulnerability occasioned by stress factors emanating from the COVID-19 pandemic. The high concentration of people from diverse backgrounds attracted to economic activities within the city was a recipe for high infection rates.
The county administration had to quickly innovate and find solutions to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The biggest hurdle was how to balance supporting and safeguarding livelihoods, and implementing health measures to address the spread, including lockdowns and closures of business premises.
To mitigate the effects of the pandemic, the city was re-planned to improve infrastructure within the city; for example: We built new modern markets, rehabilitated the city’s green spaces, and improved the green cover, while also ensuring better sanitation by expanding water networks.
Implementing these strategies had the net effect of saving lives and making the city attractive for investments and trade.
This is a clear manifestation that even in the face of adversities, we can still build resilient and inclusive cities, where the citizens enjoy quality livelihood.
This resilience is further exhibited as Kisumu hosted the 9th edition of Africities Summit in May 2022, the most successful summit in the history of Africities. Not to mention that this was the first time the event was held in an intermediary city. Records show that the Summit was attended by 11,000 delegates from 100 countries across the world.3
The theme of the Summit “The Role of Intermediary Cities in Implementing the United Nations Agenda 2030 and the African Union Agenda 2063,” was very much in line with the quest for smart and resilient cities and towns in which over 50 percent of African population will live within the next 30 years.
Kisumu’s success in hosting this event has opened the doors to other secondary cities to also venture out and seek opportunities to host similar events. It is also a message to national governments to support other emerging cities on the continent to host such seminal events, as they offer massive investment opportunities that may easily open doors for the growth and development of such cities.
The effects of hosting this summit will be felt long into the future just as the economic gains made in the short-term. Some of those short-term gains are already being seen in the county’s infrastructure development such as the expansion of the airport, the construction of the Africities Convention Centre (the only convention center currently outside Nairobi), and the improvement of road networks within and around the city.
However, the demand for building smart cities and urban areas for the future is compromised by the weak capacity of local governments to address financing of urban investments, as well as other infrastructural needs. This is due to inefficient own-source revenue collection and underfunding from the national treasuries.
Local governments must therefore become innovative in finding avenues to raise resources for development, in order to supplement revenues from the central governments—which by and large only finance recurrent expenditures.
It is against this backdrop, that in the framework for the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa), Africa’s local governments have mandated the umbrella continental body to develop a special purpose vehicle for local governments to access funding from capital markets and international financial institutions. This tripartite initiative by the UCLG Africa, the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), and Afreximbank is called “Africa Territorial Trade and Investment Agency (ATIA).”
This financial vehicle, based on a pooling system, will enable local governments to provide much-needed service delivery.
This will be a game changer for local governments in the face of mounting economic difficulties, exacerbated by the serious impacts of climate change on every country in the world today.
The effects of climate change, ranging from prolonged droughts to extreme flooding, and rising water levels, are rendering families homeless, destroying crops, and killing livestock, as well as having devastating effects on the economies of local authorities.
As such, there is need to adopt interventions and responses based on implementable frameworks to urgently address impacts of climate change. Some of these, as in the case of Kisumu, include mainstreaming of climate change in local government policy and programs such as the “County Integrated Development Plans and Sector plans”; formation of County Climate Change Working Groups bringing together civil society, technical staff, the private sector, and research institutions; as well as building the capacity and awareness of citizens at the local level to prioritize actions that promote climate change resilience and adaptation.
Climate resilience working groups at the local level are also critical in identifying climate change related vulnerabilities and risks for the populations, livelihoods, investments, and the environment. These groups can also provide information on current and possible future climate scenarios, thereby helping to identify potential adaptation and coping responses for climate risks.
Fostering digital transformation for climate resilience is important in helping generate accurate and decision-relevant climate information or evidence and to plan for and minimize the negative impacts of climate change on livelihoods and the economy. For example, agronomic information for farmers to monitor and predict current environmental situations and get them ahead of the game.
In the final analysis, the biggest lessons from the pandemic were that there is urgent need for a “re-think” on Africa’s cities, especially with regards to planning for smart cities, environmental management, and improvement of air quality. As we look to 2023, several adversities remain, no doubt, but we must be prepared to seize opportunities that will help create livable, smart, and resilient cities for the future.
- 1. United Nations. 2022. World Population Prospects 2022. Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division.
- 2. OECD. 2022. “Revenue Statistics in Africa 2022.” Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
- 3. Odiwuor. 2022. “Africities Summit Kisumu Breaks Record with 11,000 Attendees & More.” Kisumu Everyday.
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