The first New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Cities Forum organized by UN-HABITAT opened in Lagos, Nigeria on Tuesday with a clarion call on African cities representated by some 300 delegates to promote sustainable economic growth and regional integration. The Sustainable NEPAD Cities Programme is a joint initiative of UN HABITAT and the African Union through the NEPAD Secretariat. The programme seeks to engender in Africa a system whereby cities showcase the core values of the NEPAD initiative by being functional, economically efficient, equitable, environmentally sound, safe and secure. The Lagos Consultative Forum is the first meeting of representatives of the cities at which they will exchange ideas and strategize on how to attain the goals spelt out under the initiative. Lagos is Africa’s most populous city with an estimated 15 million inhabitants.
Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos State, joined by Nigeria’s Minister of Housing and Urban Development Chief, Mrs. Mobolaji Osomo, and representatives of six other cities, challenged the meeting to “save city people from widespread poverty and other urbanisation consequences by working and talking together”.
UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, in a message presented by Mr. Alioune Badiane, director of the agency’s Regional Office for African Arab States, commended Africa’s Heads of State whom, she said, had begun to pay attention to the problems of urbanisation. “My message to you this morning is short and simple. Africans are on the move, and your cities are the receptacles of this movement of people from rural areas to big towns and cities. For a long time Africa has been tagged a rural continent as a result of which there had been no concerted policy strategy to deal with the pressure that is brought on settlements by such movement. “Sustainable development starts with people’s health and dignity. Yet, we have entered the new millennium with these fundamental conditions of human development unmet. As required of us as watchdogs of developments of human settlements, we continue to dialogue with policy makers and practitioners to press for the attention of the Heads of States. We are delighted to say that they are listening”, she said. “The results we get will depend on the energy, determination, enthusiasm and commitment that we are prepared to bring into the hosting of this First NEPAD Cities Forum”.
The Executive Director commended African heads of states for their bold effort to solve the problems of cities on the continent through the NEPAD initiative. “Achieving the avowed goals that we have set for ourselves would remain a distant dream if we do not focus on solving the problem of slums in Nairobi, the problem of traffic congestion and poor sanitation in Lagos and Douala, the problem of air pollution in Bamako, the problem of crime and social exclusion in Durban, the problem of unemployment in Lusaka, and the problem of poor local governance in Rabat.”
Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu said the decision to host the meeting was an indication of the Lagos State government’s expectations from the Forum. "For us, Lagosians, we see our congregation today as the dawn of a new beginning in Africa’s development, through the evolution of a continental cities alliance, which ushers in a new opportunity for engagement and commitment to managing urbanisation in Africa,” said Governor Tinubu. “Let me state that I am here today and Lagos is hosting NEPAD, primarily because of our firm belief that together, we can unleash the potentials of our cities and thereby, bring smiles to the faces of the impoverished peoples of the African continent.” This had become imperative he warned, because the world of the 21st century “will know stability and prosperity only if Africa’s problems of poverty, decayed infrastructure and environmental deterioration, amongst others, are solved. When the poor countries go hungry, the rich countries cannot sleep either”, he declared.
Nigeria’s Housing and Urban Development Minister also warned that the process of intensification and dense agglomeration of Africa’s population has begun. In Nigeria, she said, the situation is more frightening because the growth rate of the major cities, at 5.5 per cent annually, is the equivalent of adding a city of about three million to the urban population each year. “Such growth is creating an immense and largely unmet demand for urban services such as water, electricity, sanitation, roads, public transportation and waste disposal. Yet, as the experts tell us, urbanisation is not about to abate. The phenomenon is an inevitable part of the development process,” Mrs. Osomo said.
In a keynote address on “Imperatives for Africa’s Development in an Urban Millennium”, Ms. Mariam Yunusa of UN HABITAT cited Africa’s “enormous” urban challenges, rapid urbanisation, unemployment, poor infrastructure, proliferation of slums, poor municipal finance performance and isolation. “These are only a few challenges… there are many more. They range from ineffective urban development policies, through bad urban governance to failed macro-economic policies. The question is: what can NEPAD and African cities themselves do to reverse the disappointing trends just described?” Three key objectives, she said, were enhancing good governance, improving physical infrastructure and improving access to shelter among the urban poor.
Eminent personalities at the meeting include Joshua Torio, Kenya’s Assistant Minister for Housing, Roads and Public Works, Mayor Rashid Barafrej of Rabat, Mayor Obed Mlaba of Durban, and Mike Elton Mposha, Deputy Mayor of Lusaka.
Cities currently pioneering the initiative are: Bamako (Mali), Douala (Cameroon), Durban (South Africa), Lagos (Nigeria), Lusaka (Zambia), Nairobi (Kenya) and Rabat (Morocco).