Urbanization in Africa is real. Most political and policy leaders remain in denial about its centrality and urgency. Urbanization in Africa represents the most complex and intractable policy questions and as long as Africans do not take responsibility to shift the contemporary situation of policy failure, we are in for a crisis. This publication by the African Centre for Cities seeks to offer a resource to policy activists in African governments, development agencies, social movements, universities and business sectors who are committed to addressing the current policy lacuna. We have prepared the publication as a resource for a broad network of people located in various institutions who understand that the status quo must shift but may not always the a clear agenda for doing so.

The first chapter by Edgar Pieterse sets out an overview of the main aspects of urbanization trends in Africa with an eye on identifying what the drivers of urbanization policy failure are. This is important because so much energy is dissipated by meaningless side debates on issues such as urban versus rural development. The fact of the matter is that in most African countries, even where urbanization rates are still in the low 30%, economic activities in cities and towns often account for more 60% of general value add in the economy. Also, the evidence is incontestable that the fortunes of rural economies (especially agriculture) are dependent on the quality of infrastructure to towns and cities where the markets are. The chapter by Pieterse does not simply provide an overview of trends and drivers but most importantly sets out a practical, prioritised agenda for coming to terms with the implications of poorly managed urbanization. The chapter concludes with a strong focus on institutional networks and forms that are required at various inter-locking levels: Continental, national and local.

The second chapter by AbdouMaliq Simone provides a more in-depth account of what is at stake in getting the African urbanization policy agenda on track at a Continental level. Simone explores the nexus between sustained increases in GDP growth and infrastructure investment on the Continent. Building on the recently published, African Infrastructure Diagnostic, he demonstrates the shocking shortfall in infrastructure investment for both capital works and maintenance. At the same time Simone draws attention to the parallel efforts of ordinary Africans who somehow manage to stitch together their livelihoods and aspirations amidst absent or failing infrastructures. In this chapter, the central challenge that emerges is not simply for regional policy frameworks to address the infrastructure crisis, but to do it in a way that can simultaneously contribute to the economic viability and resilience of urban regions and towns and augment the inventive livelihood practices of those who get bypassed by new infrastructure investments because they don’t fit the mould of what is a desirable urban investor or resident. Across all three chapters there is an emphasis to come to terms with both the bottom-up dynamics of African cities and the structural investments required to steer the city a macro level through effective state institutions.

The final chapter by Susan Parnell and David Simone provide a very useful framework for thinking about how best to address the urban crisis at the national level of policy. Their chapter clarifies the crucial difference between urbanization policy versus urban policy. For Parnell and Simon, urbanization policy sets out how to guide the national urban spatial system or the network of cities and towns). In contrast, national urban policy captures what sovereign states aspire to through and in their major settlements. They remind us that both are important, are intimately related, but lead to very different policy clusters and choices. Urbanization or spatial frameworks hinge on where investment and people are (to be) concentrated, while urban policy debates are about what happens within, especially the largest, cities. They demonstrate that this simple distinction and clarification can go a long way to build broad-based policy networks and consensus about coming to terms with urban imperatives and taking purposive and effective action