George Asamani, MD, Project Management Institute, Sub-Saharan Africa
Africa is on the move. No part of the world is urbanising faster than the continent. Since 1990, the number of cities in Africa has doubled, from 3300 to 7600, according to the African Development Bank. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, two out of every three people will likely live in cities, highlighting the need for more sustainable urban planning and public services. Of the estimated 2.5 billion more people who will move to urban areas, 90% of this growth will occur in Africa and Asia.
According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer, we will need to build more urban areas in the next 100 years than currently exist today.
As urbanisation continues shaping Africa, recognising and understanding the factors contributing to livable cities becomes increasingly essential. Livable cities result from careful planning, investment, and projects prioritising quality of life, infrastructure, economic opportunities, inclusivity, and sustainability.
By 2050, accommodating over a billion new city dwellers will require infrastructure rollout at an unprecedented pace and scale. If African cities are to prosper, urban growth will need to be managed sustainably, stimulate economic growth, and support the well-being of the residents. While urbanisation in the African milieu can be challenging, it presents a unique opportunity to leapfrog traditional developmental stages and create modern and sustainable cities.
Leapfrogging is when emerging economies skip conventional stages of development. It’s hard to overstate how much life in Africa changed when it sprinted away from landline telephony to more advanced technology like mobile phones. Africa today accounts for 70% of the world’s $1 trillion mobile money value. The continent spawned an entire financial ecosystem, which has had a transformative impact on people who previously lacked access to traditional banking services.
Leapfrogging urbanisation would mean inclusive urban planning, adopting data-driven decision-making, agile project management, lean construction, and collaborative governance to address challenges without following the path developed regions took. This helps to create cities that are more equitable, accessible, and responsive to the needs of vulnerable populations.
Effective urban planning is a complex process that involves various stakeholders, including the government, private sector, and civil society. It requires meticulous attention to detail, adherence to timelines, and coordination of resources. Here’s where project management comes into play.
By streamlining these processes, project managers can ensure that cities have the necessary infrastructure to accommodate their growing populations quickly and efficiently. Much like how mobile banking has brought financial services to underserved populations, effective project management can promote inclusive urbanisation by prioritising the needs of all residents.
Urban leapfrogging also involves adopting sustainable practices from the beginning. Africa has a unique opportunity to sidestep environmentally damaging development phases that many developed regions experienced. Project management can drive the incorporation of green building practices, renewable energy sources, and eco-friendly urban planning.
The proliferation of technology in the built environment has generated vast amounts of data in Africa. Project managers can harness the power of data analytics for evidence-based decision-making in urban planning and development. Through data-driven insights, they can optimise resource allocation, prioritise projects based on real-time needs, and improve the overall efficiency of city management.
Effective project management can catalyse urban leapfrogging, but it will need investment in skills. Like countries on the continent invested in building a skilled workforce for the burgeoning technology sector, the continent must prioritise capacity building in urban planning and project management. Investing in education, training, and professional development is essential to empower a workforce capable of managing complex urban projects.
Africa’s urbanisation can be the next great leapfrogging story. With the right investments, policies, and capacity building, African cities can become vibrant centers of innovation and prosperity, leading the continent into a brighter future.