Skip to content

African Leaders are Increasingly Aspiring to “Modernise” their Cities

There has been a resurgent interest in building so-called “smart”, “modern”, “globally competitive” cities in Africa. Some are seeking to build entirely new cities. But, for the most part, most governments want to put cities on the “map” through large-scale redevelopment or by “modernising” existing city districts. The hope is to strategically position cities in Africa to drive the continent’s much-needed socio-economic transformation. But these aspirations tend to marginalise and antagonise the informal sector. The sector encompasses the suite of economic activities by workers and economic units that are – in law or in practice – not covered (or insufficiently covered) by formal arrangements. A team of international scholars researching sustainable cities in Africa, explored the dual role played by the informal sector in Africa’s urban economy. On the one hand, it plays a positive role. It provides employment, securing household income and savings, provides household basic needs and boosts civic engagement. But the sector also plays a negative role. It contributes to social and gender inequality, insecurity, congestion and pollution.