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At the official opening of the African Union Pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020, the president of the African Union Commission, Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat thanked the UAE Government for inaugurating the first world exposition hosted in the MENA Region (Middle East and North Africa): “We want not only to share our dynamic wealth, but also to engage Africa as a valuable partner for international investments”. Mahamat highlighted that the development of Africa can engage a positive trend for all parties involved, if each of them ensures, as equals, their contribution. But it is not only the central theme driving in Africa: Dubai Expo focused Sustainability as one of the main topics of the future and Africa represents the ideal scenario of sustainable urbanization. Sustainable urbanization is indeed an important factor in the planning and creation of new African regions. But what does “sustainable urbanization” really mean and how much does it cost Africa?

“Developing inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements” is the subject of the eleventh Sustainable Development Goal, which places a strong emphasis on the concept of sustainability in the urban process. However, in the post-pandemic environment in which we still live, achieving this goal seems still distant. During the pandemic, moreover, Africa increased a strong migration to urban hospitals, amplifying the issue of sustainable urbanization. UN Habitat drafted the Africa Urban Agenda (AUA) aimed to draw the profile of the “sustainable urbanization” to achieve the structural transformation of the continent and the goals set in Agenda 2063.

The initiative is based on two approaches: the first, the so-called Presidential Initiative, that is a top-down approach, focused on the action of the Government that must prioritize the sustainable urbanization in the country’s development strategies. The second approach, referred to as the Partnership Enhancement Project, is a bottom-up strategy. It aims to ensure the involvement of non-state players in the development of a sustainable urban environment and actively engages all stakeholders. UN Habitat therefore emphasises the key role of cooperation between stakeholders and actors (including private ones) who wish to support this process.

The new urban agenda is expected to support governments in addressing the challenges of urbanization through national and local development policy frameworks.

In this context, the Governments will promote and develop several aspects: all the policies aimed at reducing urban inequalities and at increasing urban productivity and resilience; harmonizing the physical and legislative infrastructure of each other; improving the relationship between the community and its leader. All of these strengths will bring greater cohesion and ultimately achieve sustainability objectives. Urban development is often narrowly defined as the provision of the essential urban infrastructure and services (water and sanitation, energy, and mobility). In the UN Habitat document, on the other hand, it is understood in the global sense of “governance”, which includes a wide range of players at multiple levels. These concepts have become familiar to African leaders, who have incorporated them into their country strategies, thus responding to the Africa 2063 agenda. Although the understanding of these objectives and the creation of policies to facilitate their implementation do not seem difficult, the determination of the budgets necessary to build sustainable infrastructure is one of the biggest problems. UN Habitat emphasizes the importance of generating financing at the local and international levels by creating concrete programmes with tangible indicators that confirm their coherence and impact. On the other hand, Africa’s image often fails to attract potential lenders, especially during this post-pandemic period.

The study also suggests sound, more stable and foreseeable fiscal management. Supporting the structural transformation of countries through better governed urbanisation is, in fact, fundamental. A solid foundation also needs to be built for low- and middle-income cities, which can enhance their credibility with potential international lenders, creating a positive cycle of urbanization, productivity, and finance.

Rita Ricciardi


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