On December 9, 2021, the conference "From Rabat to Cape Town: Africa, a sustainable continent of the 22nd century" was held at the headquarters of the newspaper Le Monde in Paris. It was the conclusion of a series of debates organized as part of the operation "Tomorrow, the African city", a partnership between Le Monde Afrique and CITIES with the Veolia Institute. A look back at the main stages and lessons learned from these meetings on the challenges of African urbanization.
Changing the way we look at Africa today
Before any prospective exercise on the "city of tomorrow", it is essential to have up-to-date data to understand the current reality of urbanization in Africa.
During the the debate in Abidjan, François Yatta, Director of Programs of UCLG Africa (United Cities and Local Governments) recalled that half of the African population is already urban today. It is necessary to change the outdated representations of a continent that would be predominantly rural.
Another prejudice is that of an urbanization that would be reduced to the unbridled growth of megacities concentrated on the coasts. This is the challenge of the data updating work carried out by François Moriconi-Ebrard, researcher at the CNRS, with Africpolis and the Sahel and West Africa Club. Today, 210 million Africans live in one of the 1,400 intermediate cities on the continent; and 75% of the urban population in Africa lives within the continent.
- As François Yatta says, we must also move from the "official city to the real city" by getting rid of biased perceptions of the informal sector. By mobilizing sociological approaches, we gain a better understanding of social and cultural organizations, often inspired by the African village model. We must make the city ‘with the informal’, as the Ivorian architect Issa Diabaté invites us to do.
The challenge of access to essential services
In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, the achievement of SDG 6 (ensure universal access to sustainably managed water supply and sanitation services) and SDG 7 (ensure universal access to reliable, sustainable and modern energy services at an affordable cost) by 2030 is far from being achieved.
This was the subject of the debate in Rabat, which took stock of the very diverse situations in different regions (North Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa and East Africa) and according to the services concerned (water, sanitation, waste management, electricity, mobility, etc).
- Two issues in particular emerged from this debate:
- the organization of the service: centralized or decentralized?
- and financing models: public, private, PPP?
- the requirement of a city for the benefit of all;
- pragmatism in the search for solutions adapted to diverse and changing contexts. For example, multi-service management and hybridization between grid and off-grid;
- and the need to measure impacts in order to channel funding.
- The question of governance is also central. What is the right scale for thinking about essential services: national, regional, local? How to co-develop the urban with the rural? In Abidjan, the testimonies of the mayors of Bouaké and San Pedro (Nicolas Djibo and Félix Anoblé) illustrated the need for decentralization that gives local authorities the means to act, for urban planning that meets the needs of the inhabitants. They placed great emphasis on the notion of cooperation:
- cooperation between intermediate cities and megacities - the growth of some contributing to the decongestion of the others ;
- cooperation between intermediate cities, to create a network and share good practices, particularly in terms of resilience to climate risks
- and international cooperation, through twinning arrangements, which can provide valuable support.
The ecological transformation of territories
Whatever the geographical context, environmental challenges (global warming, scarcity of resources, pollution and loss of biodiversity), but also social challenges, are crucial at the city level. They require a transformation of production and consumption patterns.
- One of the pillars of this transformation is the circular economy. As Edouard Yao and Jocelyne Landry Tsonang of the African Circular Economy Network (ACEN) explained in the program produced by Le Monde, as well as Alexandre Lemille in Abidjan, the continent has many assets to make a circular and inclusive economy happen. It relies on the gestures and traditions of sharing, reusing, repairing and remanufacturing, which are still very present in Africa, and which must be promoted because these practices not only create local employment, but also contribute to the resilience of territories.
- The principles of the circular economy must be integrated in a systemic way, from the outset, at the design stage of products, infrastructures, cities, agricultural systems: sustainable procurement, eco-design, industrial ecology, life cycle analysis, recycling... This cycle of debates highlighted concrete examples of implementation of these principles in many sectors:
- Salima Naji, architect and urban planner, presented the work she is doing around local, biosourced building materials adapted to climatic conditions, such as raw earth.
- On the industrial side, Nabil Touzani showed how Renault Morocco is using the circular economy to decarbonize the mobility value chain. In Tangiers, the Renault plant operated by Veolia is using olive pomace from Moroccan farmers
- In agriculture, organic household waste is transformed into high-quality organic fertilizer and creates jobs in Cape Town, in the township of Philippi, thanks to the Waste to Food company.
- In Windhoeck, Namibia, in a context of major water stress, wastewater is treated and reused to cover 25% of the population's drinking water needs
- Finally, many entrepreneurs are seizing the issue of plastics to find new outlets for raw and secondary materials, such as Sais Eddine Laalej in Morocco, or to improve collection by working with the informal sector in Ghana, such as Jeffrey Provençal with Repatrn, or in Côte d'Ivoire, such as Salamé Nayef and Recyplast.
- The debates have shown that the solutions exist, as does the entrepreneurial energy, but in order to solve the equation "more users, less waste", it is also necessary to create the conditions for a change in the behavior of all actors.
- According to Françoise Bonnet, Secretary General of the Association of Cities and Regions for Sustainable Resource Management, and Sheryn Ziani of the Coalition for Waste Diversion (COVAD), it is a set of regulatory and financial obligations and incentives, as well as means of control, that must be put in place to achieve clear economic, environmental and social gains.
- Another lever is collaboration between players: large groups, start-ups, and local authorities. This is the mission of the Abidjan Sustainable City Club, to accelerate the deployment of eco-responsible solutions.
- Finally, we must consider the question of changing individual behavior. How can we raise awareness and train tomorrow's consumers and producers in sustainable development, sobriety and circular economy practices? This is everyone's business, as Dao Macoura, president of the network of local elected women in Africa, reminded us.