We know Africa as the place where human life began; a place with an ancient and noble history, but today it is also a place that is becoming home to more children than any other place on earth. Already, 77 percent of the population is below the age of 35.
A children’s continent.
For many decades the enormous populations of South America, and Europe and Asia have grown quickly, but today they have slowed, and the majority of their populations are adults. In India the average age is 29, in China it is even older, at 37. But in Africa, the average age is 19 years old and rapidly getting younger. The continent is growing so quickly that by halfway through this century, it will be home to one billion children. By the end of the century, one in every two children in the world will be born here.
This is going to present a unique challenge. Graça Machel has warned, “even though our youth have the potential to transform Africa, if neglected, they could exacerbate poverty and inequality while threatening peace, security and prosperity”. Therefore, we must be proactive in ensuring we meet the needs of this burgeoning population.
But this flourishing of exciting new generations presents acute challenges. Evolving in tandem with this exponential population growth is a rate of urbanisation in Sub-Saharan Africa that is unmatched in the rest of the world.
Africa’s urban population is expected to nearly triple by 2050, to 1.34 billion. Coupled with a high rate of urban primacy in African countries (whereby one city is multiple times bigger than the next nearest) and the high number of mega cities, enormous stress is going to be placed on the physical, political, economic and societal infrastructure in these places.
Young people across the continent are increasingly migrating towards the modern technology, connectivity, and entrepreneurial opportunity of city life. Poverty, lack of resources and financial independence are simultaneously pushing them away from their rural lives.
Urbanisation is being driven by rural-urban migration, but city planners and management are not always prepared. Growth rates are unplanned, unregulated and beyond their ability to control. The problems manifest quickly from this point. High levels of unemployment lead to high levels of informal employment, which in turn is improperly taxed, denying vital financial capital to the state. Physical infrastructure is unable to keep pace, leading to overcrowding and informal accommodation. Waste management is unable to keep up, bringing its own environmental dangers.
SDG 11 has the stated goal of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. While progress has undoubtedly been made on this, there is a great need to act fast to guarantee the last part of this goal: sustainability. The environmental impact at local, national and international scale is at high risk, with rapidly-growing urban populations demanding instant solutions. We have seen innovative ideas spring from the continent already, such as Diamniadio in Senegal, Tatu City in Kenya, or Vision City in Rwanda – but more is needed.
It would be possible to talk at great length on the issues, and how one enables the next, creating a vortex of seemingly never-ending challenges. But we should view these challenges with resolve and see the opportunities that lie ahead. Yes, Africa is facing some of the toughest challenges in the world right now. But it is also in Africa that we are seeing some of the most innovative, forward thinking ideas when it comes to tackling the issues.
It is in Africa where we can see the beginnings of the development of truly smart cities, with smarter infrastructure. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has given us unparalleled access to data analytics, providing us with real time solutions to real world problems, based on empirical data. We need to ensure we are making the most of this, driving smarter decision making.
The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) believes that science, technology and innovation have been solving global challenges on how we build and maintain our cities since the very beginning of civilisation. Investing in science, technology and innovation is a key driver for growing urban populations creating sustainable cities and communities, thereby achieving SDG 11.
Cities occupy just 3 percent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 percent of energy consumption and 75 percent of carbon emissions. Affordable housing, safe & sustainable transport, mass migration, climate change and pollution affect us all, but those in the developing world experience these issues much more keenly due to weaker infrastructure.
IsDB has actively launched a science, technology and innovation fund to accelerate progress in cities worldwide. Transform is a $500 million fund for innovation and technology that provides seed money for start-ups and SMEs to facilitate economic and social progress in their respective cities and communities. During 2018 and 2019, we have been holding our Transformers events, Member Countries including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and Niger, awarding innovators $3,000 to scale their solution to one or more of the SDGs. We will use our operating assets of $16 billion and subscribed capital of $70 billion to continue providing solutions to international infrastructure challenges. This year we will also be holding our second annual Transformers Summit, in Dakar, Senegal, following the great success of the inaugural Summit in Cambridge, UK, focused on discussing solutions to SDG 11.
The challenges ahead of us require diverse, innovative solutions for the new generations in Africa. Already we can see young entrepreneurs taking the lead in their countries, but we need to be there to support them: helping develop human capital, nurturing the growth of science, technology and innovation in the journey towards the achievement of SDG 11.
Our energy must be focused – the size of the challenge offers little room for error – but we can look forward with optimism that the solutions to the problems are taking root. We need to nurture and encourage them to flourish.
H.E. Dr. Bandar Hajjar is President of the Islamic Development Bank. He has previously written at length on how development can be made to work for the SDGs in his book ‘The Road to the SDGs: A New Business Model for a Fast-Changing World’. The IsDB also hosts an annual summit focusing on SDG 11: The Transformers Summit.
Next week: Next week: Niall Dunne, CEO of Polymateria
- The 2020 Super Year series is a collaboration between freuds, Goals House and Raconteur