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  1. Cities
23 September, 2022

Africa’s new cities look to nurture and keep talent in the continent

Africa is building new cities at a rapid rate in order to house its growing urban population and retain its talented workers.

By Jeffrey Mason

Africa is urbanising rapidly, and on a massive scale. By 2050, 2.5 billion more people will live in cities worldwide, with 90% of that increase concentrated in Africa and Asia. Nigeria alone will be home to nearly 190 million more urban residents.

Reform and investment in Africa’s cities of today is of clear importance, but not everyone across urban Africa is solely focused on the continent’s existing cities. Dozens, or even hundreds, of new city developments throughout Africa are carrying forward a different model for Africa’s urban future.

The old story of new cities in Africa

The creation of new cities and towns, including in Africa, is nothing new. Many African cities were founded in the colonial era or immediately after decolonisation as capitals and administrative centres such as Lusaka (Zambia) and Gaborone (Botswana). Others were built with a specific purpose in mind, such as Festac Town in Nigeria, which has remained long after the arts and culture festival it was built to support moved on.

Since the 1970s, Egypt has attempted to use dozens of new cities to fulfil a wide range of economic and political objectives, with varying degrees of success. New city building continues today as both policymakers and entrepreneurs seek ambitious solutions to the pressing challenges facing African cities and economies.

Some new cities in Africa are focused on strengthening Africa’s technology ecosystem. The continent’s presence in tech in growing – more and more African start-ups are going through early-stage funding and Big Tech companies are establishing new offices and facilities across the region. However, tech hubs such as Lagos lack the infrastructure to properly support a growing tech agglomeration. This includes the capacity for generating talent locally, as most founders and a large share of tech workers in Africa are educated abroad. New cities such as Talent City in Nigeria, Nkwashi in Zambia and Konza Technopolis in Kenya are working to change this dynamic.

Talent City, founded by Andela co-founder Iyin Aboyeji, is located in the Lekki Free Zone outside Lagos and aims to provide the physical infrastructure to support and attract tech talent – reliable electricity and fast internet coupled with a safe and clean environment – that existing tech hubs such as Lagos’s Yaba neighbourhood cannot match.

Nkwashi, a satellite city outside of Lusaka, will be anchored by a new science and technology university capable of preparing students in Zambia and throughout Africa for both remote and local jobs in Big Tech companies and start-ups.

While Talent City and Nkwashi are private ventures, Konza Technopolis is a flagship project of Kenya’s Vision 2030 national development plan. Konza, in addition to quality physical infrastructure, is using its status as a special economic zone to attract investment in the information and communication technology, life sciences and engineering sectors.

From tech and innovation to industrial development

While some cities are focused on technology and innovation, others are focused on industrial development. Enyimba Economic City in south-eastern Nigeria, for example, intends to build out capacity for 1.5 million residents and 600,000 jobs in the oil and gas, logistics, manufacturing, medical services and entertainment industries, among others. Anchored by a deep-reaching special economic zone regime and strong partnerships with government, charter city projects at the scale of Enyimba Economic City aim to recreate the successes of special economic zones such as Shenzhen in China.  

Governments are looking to new cities not just for the development of key economic sectors, as is the case with Konza, but are both planning for new and expanding existing secondary cities to relieve pressure on the infrastructure and services of major cities. Malawi, for example, is planning to develop eight secondary cities throughout the country as diversified economic hubs to draw a greater share of rural-to-urban migration to cities other than Lilongwe and Blantyre.

Africa’s rapid urbanisation over the next several decades poses enormous challenges for governments and economies to provide adequate infrastructure, public services, jobs and housing. However, this urbanisation wave also presents opportunities for the creation of new urban spaces that are vibrant, functional and productive. Across Africa, governments, the private sector and creative entrepreneurs are taking advantage of that opportunity by building the continent’s cities of tomorrow.

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