MasterBuild Africa

Top trends shaping the future of Africa’s cities

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Africa is fast becoming urbanized as the rapid population growth is contributing to the rise of megacities on the continent. It is believed that Africa will be home to 10 megacities with 156 million residents by 2050 and that Africa’s total population will double and the global share of African urban residents will grow to 20.2% up from 11.2% in 2010.

To this end, African investors and policymakers are gradually recognizing the economic power of cities and boosting up investments in new city developments. These trends include:

1. City funding by private developers

Over 75% of new cities across Africa are privately funded with a total investment of $115bn in African new cities. The building of new cities from scratch ensures the residents of their cities have access to good infrastructure, low pollution, and a safe environment. Many of these cities which are not just residential are expected to host a minimum of 200,000 residents. Other facilities will include: industrial parks and commercial centres.

Beau Plan Smart City

These projects will serve as foundational blocks for economic development. They are also lucrative investments for private banks, investment firms and multinational corporations. Some examples include:

  • Lagos’s Eko Atlantic- a $6bn project funded by a Lagos-based business conglomerate South Energyx Nigeria. This project is dubbed Africa’s answer to Dubai.
  • Privately funded city projects from Mauritius’s Beau Plan Smart City to DRC’s Kiswishi City, to Zambia’s Nkwashi City.
2. Transformation of new cities into special economic zones (SEZs)

Special economic zones (SEZs) are a promising solution to the stunted growth of many African cities; which is as a result of poor governance and corruption as well as low foreign and domestic investments.

China has created SEZs to generate wealth, create jobs and attract investments, serving as significant tools for economic development. These zones operate under higher transparency rules and effective governing systems, new city developers are looking to locate their cities in SEZs.

SEZs often include free-trade zones, industrial parks, high-tech parks, tourist and recreational zones as well as business service parks. Some examples are:

  • In 2017, Kenya’s $18bn Tatu City acquired SEZ status and was recently named a Special Planning Area.
  • Roma Park in Zambia (under construction) is another city project with SEZ status and has already welcomed big businesses like MTN to its city centre of Lusaka.
  • Others cites with SEZ status include: Kenya’s Konza Technopolis, Nigeria’s Enyimba Economic City, Senegal’s Diamniadio Lake City, Mauritius’s Mon Trésor and Rwanda’s Kigali Innovation City.

These provisions will improve governance by enabling developers to fast-track city construction and cut difficult government processes.

Kigali Innovation City.
3. New city developments with higher-learning institutions in mind

African countries have become aware that Colleges and universities are economic engines as they produce a skilled and educated workforce that can grow businesses and develop industry clusters and also serve as research and technology centres. Two examples of cities transitioning into university towns include:

  • Kigali Innovation City (KIC) which aims at creating over 50,000 jobs, generate $150m in annual ICT exports, and attract more than $300m in FDI over the course of the project. The KIC also plans to attract top-tier universities and tech firms to the city. US-based Carnegie Mellon University has already opened its first African satellite campus in KIC.
  • Zambia’s Nkwashi City which was specifically designed for the knowledge economy is set to host a 130-acre research-focused US University, an international school, and nine primary and secondary schools.

The continuity of this trend will support the development of Africa’s higher-education landscape, unleashing human capital in the process.

In conclusion, investments in new city projects paired with well thought-out urban policies will play a major role in job creation and wealth generation across the continent.


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