GLOBALISATION will position Africa at a disadvantage unless the continent urgently finds innovative ways to solve lingering problems of livelihoods change. Therefore, serious attempts should be made to put the key contemporary problems – and those that could recur later – in the right context. Appropriate feedback will provide sound basis for intervention. A major obstacle to uniform implementation of innovative ideas is national sovereignty. Individual autonomous countries will feel different intensities of pressure on compliance. Thus, countries experience progress at different rates.
The African population is undergoing a shift and the urban Africa now has over 50 per cent of the population. The figure will increase shortly, with the rural population shrinking further in inverse proportion to the growing urban population. Whatever the cause, the trend will continue unabated and will be exacerbated in countries that have no definite programmes for urban management and rural transformation. The urban pull, despite its associated shortcomings, is about the inevitable and can only be moderated by the state authorities through policies, legislations and implementation.
Public bureaucracies, despite their necessity, waste time and do not see as much virtue in results as they do in process. With disproportionate emphasis on process, no further explanation is needed as to why important and urgent interventions don’t gain traction even when it is obvious that huge costs are involved. Yet the developmental challenges remain, and the governments gloss over them, unmindful of the negative consequences of neglect. Where and when states fail to act or their actions fail to make desired impacts, people resort to self-help which often leads to conflicts. The absence of the right capacity to deal with such conflicts especially leads to complications.
Many of the impactful efforts on these relevant issues are made by non-governmental organisations and other non-state actors such as donor agencies and other development agencies, working with strong emphasis on timelines, key performance indicators, assessment time, project cycles and clearly defined reporting systems that make accountability and transparency integral parts of the delivery system. Sadly, such externally supported projects have limited life spans, short term employments, and projects seldom continue after the exit of the non-governmental operators. The development impact is sometimes short lived and gains soon wiped out.
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As Africa’s population grows at an unprecedented rate and urban population rises, policy response must be robust, current, consistent and hands on. This is not an exceptional case. As the world population increased, an increase in urban population was also being recorded. This does not necessarily imply causation, but rather a positive correlation. However, it is the opposite that can be said of the rural dwindling population. The urban global average rural population in 2017 stood at 45.17 per cent, down from 66.38 per cent in 1960; This clearly calls for policy response.
On the flip side, as Africa’s urban population grows, its growth figures are projected to increase, and are expected to reach 75 per cent by 2050, at a growing rate of 65 million urban dwellers annually. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is therefore becoming famed for the accolades of being the world’s fastest urbanising region. Urban areas currently contain 472 million people, and are expected to double over the next 25 years. According to a report, the global share of African urban residents is projected to grow from 11.3 per cent in 2010 to 20.2 per cent by 2050. Sub-Saharan Africa’s 143 cities generate a combined $ 0.5 trillion, totalling 50 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP). This record sounds good in terms of the volume of revenues, but it also hides the associated complexities and complications. It is important to state that building local capacity for managing urbanisation are key components to sustained economic growth – and Africa needs this urgently.
If the 2014 UN report, World Urbanisation Prospects’ finding is anything to go by, “90 per cent of the global rural population still lives in the most underdeveloped parts of the world in Asia and Africa. Current estimates indicate that 3.4 billion people still live in rural areas. This number is believed to be at its peak, declining to 3.1 billion by 2050. In the next 30 years, urban dwellers will outweigh rural residents for the first time in Africa. This is already the case in some African countries; in Gabon, for example…”
Turning to the era of Sustainable Development, there are specific goals in the 2030 agenda that are worth examining. For example SDG 10.1 states that, by 2030, the world should progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average. Goal 11already has a mind-set: that the cities have come to stay. It therefore only concentrated on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It wasn’t fighting against the coming of age of the cities. Let’s look at Goal 11.a, which calls for supporting positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning. The ball comes back into country’s court!
Here is where SDG was more direct about states’ involvement in shaping policies and ensuring their implementation: Goal 13 recommended urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts while 13.2 was direct in calling for the integration of climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning. As for Goal 15, its advocacy is to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Again, Goal 15.9 sounded ambitious, envisaging that countries, by 2020, should integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts. Good ideas! But which African country wants to take the trophy as the first to get to the finishing line in this race? The sore point remains that these considerations seldom come up in the routine bureaucratic activities all across Africa.
The insidious damages done by pollution or poor quality of air and water are often ignored. The great endowment with a wide diversity of agro-ecological zones in Africa often overshadows the environmental degradations and biodiversity loss that is becoming a commonplace. This diversity is a tremendous asset, but it also poses a substantial challenge for African agricultural development. One positive side is that it creates a vast potential with respect to the mix of agricultural commodities and products which can be produced and marketed in domestic and external markets. This has its risks and downsides as commodity exporters. On the other hand, the diversity implies that there are no universal solutions to agricultural development problems across the continent. Consequently, programming and implementing interventions in the sector must be tailored to the particular conditions of the different agro-ecological zones and to prevailing socio-economic conditions of rural households within individual countries.
The 2017 State of Food and Agriculture report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), reckoned that rural areas are poised to be a significant economic driver in developing countries. It argued that the key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are transforming rural communities and promoting agriculture. “Since the 1990s, rural transformations in many countries have led to an increase of more than 750 million in the number of rural people living above the poverty line.” To achieve the same results in the countries that have been left behind, the report expresses a strategy that would leverage the enormous untapped potential of food systems to drive agro-industrial development, boost small-scale farmers’ productivity and incomes, and create off-farm employment in expanding segments of food supply and value chains.
The report expressed confidence that the rural communities are therefore likely to escape poverty if they remain in rural areas and not move to urban areas. It explained that the solution is to drive investment to rural areas and create policies that support small-scale farmers. The FAO report deserves commendation for stating that, currently, smallholder food producers have little to no access to profitable markets and value chains, which are dominated by large producers and retailers. It can be added also that these producers lack access to finance, storage facilities, insurance and mechanisation advisory services that could make them competitive.
It is clear that urban and rural communities will continue to remain relevant in Africa’s landscape and will continue to co-exist. They therefore need every policy support to make them viable, relevant and livable. African governments have important and central roles to play in these. They must step up their game and be part of the business of preserving the future of the continent. They cannot afford to continue to leave these core issues to chances.