The recent symposium hosted by the Prof. Pat Utomi-led Centre for Values in Leadership which focused on “the challenges of Africa’s future cities” was both timely and relevant.

As a panelist amongst other distinguished speakers at the symposium, it was a privilege to share Fine and Country’s  perspective, drawing both from our practical market experience, combined with the invaluable lessons shared by the keynote speaker, Sir Paul Collier, an Oxford University Professor and Director of African Development Studies along with great insight provided by the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode who, provided us a visionary roadmap for the future of Lagos our host city.

Urbanisation is a Key Driver of Economic Prosperity

There’s no doubt that urbanisation is a key driver for economic development and prosperity. There are however challenges and opportunities in the rapid growth of African cities, including Lagos, which remains one of the fastest growing cities in Africa.

Indeed, Lagos has been indicated among the 100 Resilient cities of the world, and while Megacities are described as cities with more than 10million people, Lagos with an excess of 20 million could, therefore, be a mega city, which is rapidly developing under the keen and watchful eyes of investors.

Key Challenges: A few key challenges that any fast growing city has to contend with as agreed by all experts include the following:

*     Inclusive growth – Urban cities have a responsibility to focus on realising the potential of these cities as inclusive and resilient centres of economic growth and job creation. As indicated by Dr Taibat Lawanson from the University of Lagos, who spoke passionately about the need to recognise that Megacities have at their core the critical but often ignored question: “Who are we building the cities for?

*     Infrastructure deficit- This is an obvious area that also presents an opportunity for forward thinking governments to partner with the private sector to deliver world class infrastructure ranging from transportation, power, sanitation/waste management to softer infrastructure including health/medical, educational and recreational facilities. Population growth typically outpaces the infrastructure growth which often needs to be addressed against the backdrop of limited or dwindling revenues.

*     Informal Settlements and unregulated urban growth especially in young cities. This is in clear evidence all around Lagos and constitutes a threat for both the settlers and residents.

The above challenges raise even more long term issues of social and environmental risks.

Opportunities, however, exist and include: 

*      Creatively harnessing widespread informality and youth populations to address some of the unemployment gaps. The youth population is seen as an opportunity which can be realised with a deliberate plan covering good education, vocational, and technical training.

*      Adopting emerging models of public-private partnerships to help fill infrastructure gaps.

*      The real target and challenge is that we build cities without slums, addressing a significant social and environmental hazard.

*     It’s also important to opt for lower environmental risk options while integrating citizens well-being into planning when developing these cities so that the future is not sacrificed on the alter of Mega designs and developments.

*      In light of the growing youth population and the changing lifestyle, millennial housing requirements need to be considered against our old housing development policies. The zoning of low density versus high-density housing to accommodate individuals now living alone no for much longer needs to be considered.

*      Opportunities also exist in the areas of strengthening our titling system along with ensuring we create marketable titles. This is the bedrock of creating wealth through real estate as an asset class.

Adopting a Winning Strategy…

According to a KPMG report, African’s cities are fast emerging as centres of entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity and invention. As highlighted above, this presents a clear opportunity but also a major challenge to the key stakeholders to be proactive in tackling the current needs while being visionary about building the future.

The miracle cure as defined aptly by Professor Collier lies in a combination of the national government along with state governments who must develop enabling policies, strong institutions, well-resourced and accountable administrative systems while working closely with well-informed and engaged citizens. We have a clear case study in Rwanda which emerged from war to become a reference point in economic development using these strategies.

This, in my opinion, is the winning strategy to tap the true potential of Lagos and other emerging Nigerian cities. Fortunately, going by Governor Ambode’s presentation, it appears that ‘Lagos is working’ towards creating a template that other states can borrow from.

It appears Enugu and Anambra State is already borrowing a leaf. The future of Nigerian future cities may well appear bright if we follow through with continuity in governance.

Udo Okonjo, LL.M (Lond)
CEO/Vice Chair Fine and Country W.A.
A member of the Oxford Real Estate Society

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