Africa's urban population is expected to double over the next 25 years. By 2040 at the latest, the majority of all Africans will be living in cities. Given this, the democratic political legitimacy will increasingly hinge on a socially and gender-equitable provision of public goods and economic opportunities in African cities. Thus far, however, populations have. Public goods are scarce commodities in many of these cities. Most African city dwellers live in informal settlements, work in precarious conditions, often in the informal sector, do not have any employment contracts, do not have any social security, and in many cases, have bleak prospects. Informality is, therefore, the overriding attribute characterising African cities. On top of this, 70 percent of global CO2 emissions are generated in cities. Thus, urbanisation catalyses existing social and economic inequalities as well as the climate crisis.
A large part of the urban infrastructure needed by the middle of the century has yet to be built. An important socio-political debates in Africa is "Who will benefit from this infrastructure and urban public goods?". Technocratic solutions alone, which national decision-makers and bilateral and multilateral actors tend to favour, will not be able to reduce increasing urban inequality on the African continent. Urban socio-political power relations must change for a just and redistributie urban policy. This is the stage where political struggles will play out.
The African continent's burgeoning cities have already prompted some socio-political actors to alter their strategies. More and more city dwellers are casting their ballots in elections for new-style politicians, distrusting the old guard mounting. Fledgling protest movements are increasingly registering successes in efforts to overcome social divisions. Urban socio-political strife has ignited over access to public goods in some niche areas. Trade unions are reaching out to gain new members among informally employed city dwellers. Such changes are not only to be witnessed in capital cities but also "secondary and tertiary cities". All this underscores that civic engagement in Africa will be shaped by the fact that most peole live and work in cities.
Neoliberal or technocratic concepts, especially the Smart City, dominate the African urbanisation discourse. State and private-sector actors see the continent's urban future to lie in the Smart City. The Smart City is more conducive to an autocratic urban policy in which isolated special economic zones, digital surveillance and restrictions on the use of public space (may) go hand in hand. Thus, in many African countries, the debate on how to shape urbanisation has become a battleground between influential actors who would profit from a neoliberal Smart City and the majority of city dwellers who would benefit from a democratic and redistributive city. The majority of urban populations, who often exist in marginal conditions, have so far lacked urban political sway aside from the occasional election or spontaneous protests. At most, progressive approaches to urbanisation have surfaced in some municipal niche areas. Still lacking on the continent is a political discussion on a social democratic urban development policy, which ties into a broader debate over socially and politically just, ecologically sustainable and gender-equitable growth trajectories that create better prospects for city dwellers living and working under precarious circumstances. Such a discourse is often wanting at the municipal, but also at the national, continental and international levels.
For the "unjust" city to become a "just" city, decision-making processes that decide access to public goods such as housing, transport, a fairer distribution of land, health care, etc., need to be democratised beginning at the municipal and ranging up to the national level. This also requires international support. The ultimate aim is to enable and shape a "people-centered urban transformation".
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