Africapolis @ Afric’Up Summit
“What’s the role of international institutions in supporting African smart cities?” SWAC Secretariat Director Laurent Bossard presented the Africapolis database as a concrete example of how international organisations can help promote more understanding about the dynamics that shape Africa’s fast growing cities. He was a keynote speaker at the Afric’Up Startup Africa Summit, which gathered some 3 000 entrepreneurs, investors and innovators from 24-25 September 2019 in Tunis. The theme was, “Smart cities & open innovation in Africa: What opportunities for startups?” The event was organised by the Tunisian Government, Smart Africa Alliance, GIZ & Make IT. It is part of the African Union’s Transform Africa agenda aimed at promoting innovation, entrepreneurship and the talents of African youth worldwide. According to 2017 UN estimates, the African population will increase from 1.2 billion (17% of the world’s population) to 4.4 billion by 2050 (40% of the world’s population). Cities will absorb most of the population growth; 60% of African people will live in urban settings. Urban planning and management are therefore major development issues. Bossard highlighted in his presentation some counter intuitive facts about urbanisation in the West African region. For example, there is a lack of “rural to urban migration.” As pull factors (i.e. employment opportunities) from cities remain relatively weak, many rural dwellers stay in their current environment, which leads to a densification of rural areas and thus to the emergence of new secondary cities. In Niger, for example, six new agglomerations - with more than 10 000 inhabitants - appear each year. “These cities have the advantage of being nascent. Perhaps they can become faster and more easily “smart cities” than already well-established bigger cities,” Bossard suggested. Other urban areas expand quickly due to the fusion of many smaller and medium-sized agglomerations. The lack of joint planning is striking. Bossard highlighted the urgent need for a massive collective effort to produce more and better data and analysis of urbanisation dynamics while also taking part in inclusive dialogue and sharing knowledge.