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Dr Kouadio Nda NGuessan: « The dream is allowed, the nightmare is not to exclude »

This question on urban development in Africa resonates with more echo in think tanks, universities and urban schools, research centers and even the study centers in  ministries, municipalities and other local authorities. This issue is also discussed outside the African continent, by the various economic operators and partners of Africa, particularly in terms of development cooperation programs and public assistance to the economic emergence of the African continent, as for multinationals looking for profitable and sustainable business.

The dream is certainly permitted, but the nightmare is not excluded. Indeed, we dream, in sub-Saharan Africa, where urbanization is still in its early steps  (only 50-60 years, against centenarians and millennia elsewhere) .We dream of cities that have been able to take good lessons from other urban civilizations ahead of us, European, American, Asian… These lessons are primarily political, in terms of communities organization, training and consolidation of settlements; later, planning and management of urban dynamics, facing particularly strong demographic trends, including migration from rural to urban, and even migration of small and medium towns to major cities of the same country or neighboring countries where the ladders of upward mobility are, by the formal or informal work.

Prevent the dream from becoming a nightmare

What steering institutions of urban growth, large cities, and urban decay, to the cities of the hinterland? Which investment programs to implement in time and in space, hoping to frame this dynamic push and pull of  inland cities to the coastal cities, ports, terminals of the rail, the economic hubs and business centers? What political, economic, cultural and social model of devolution and decentralization to optimize the distribution of urban development centers throughout the country , or the sub region (ECOWAS, UEMOA, the CEMAC), so to master the large population flows at the base of urban growth (in terms of urban sprawl)?

The answers to these questions are closely related to a thorough knowledge of the potential and opportunities of our territories (national and regional), positive relationships and cycles that we could for example install in the city-country relationships (by making them proactive with regard to the movement of population, capital goods and services). But beyond all that falls within the study, analysis, planning and implementation of development plans, well fed (in analytical data) and thoughtful (in urban investment programs ), we must have a different view, parallel to the first, which is to « prevent our dream of becoming a nightmare » for the generations to follow. Therefore, we also need, while reflecting on ourselves, on our particular case of city in Africa with our constraints, our risks, obvious opportunities, our specific potential, the national, regional, continental, if possible, enter into negotiations with globalization, with global dynamics (political, economic and cultural).
The city : an economic phenomenon

What are the major issues at the global level? Of course, global warming, for which we are certainly innocent, but at the same time the first endangered if nothing is done. What immanent injustice? But beyond that, long before the great fear of climate change, we must look at the issues of resources available for the development of our cities in Africa: energy (fossil or renewable source), water (for humans but also for agriculture, sanitation, urban landscape and thermal comfort, natural ventilation or air conditioning, heating or air conditioning in architecture). In the same way as before, all African villages get their bearings from a drinking water source, even far away, for man, for the woman and her housework, livestock and agriculture (including the Sahel).Thus today and tomorrow, energy issues (besides water) and issues of waste (solid, liquid, industrial and automotive pollution) are the survival and development challenges for African cities and their economy .

It’s the economy and job opportunities that attract the youth in the city. The concept of « social mobility » by the urban phenomenon is not only in relation to education, training, universities, but also with the informal sector of the commercialization of urban goods and services, of resourcefulness, of innovation and creativity in terms of small business and « new city of trades ». They also acquire professional skills in the informal sector, unlike what is often thought. Indeed, as before with the « public writes » in front of the post office, today we have the « hackers » and « grazers » in African cities, who become as smart as their counterparts in America or Asia in the use of opportunistic pockets left by the computer programs at the e-banking and money transfers for example (the children of Abidjan, Accra, Lagos, Cotonou have shown again that they are capable of notching the computer systems of the northern banks). These are, even if we fight, new professions that young people learn much faster than in large conventional schools, which are only externalities that can generate negatively the pursuit of our dream city  » developed « and » modern « .

The global world is simply a closed ecological system

How? By the good management (control) of energy and water (supply sources, in quantity and quality) to prevent the rapid race to the African city of the 21st or the 22nd century to be stopped by water or energy deficit; ditto, for the proper management of waste, sewage and other effluents (storage, disposal, recycling…), so that the urban dynamic, unable to digest its own waste; Finally, for the proper management of new technologies, to avoid that in seeking to become a « smart city », we were generating at the same time pirates and gangsters of new computer and cyber technologies, who know perfectly how to plunder the wealth produced by the urban economy. However, we need to remain positive and optimistic because the global world is simply a closed ecological system, which, like any other ecological system manages itself, its imbalance, through actions, sometimes unexpected, which automatically generate reactions uncontrollable by human intelligence. That is why I am convinced, and I know that I open here an endless debate that neither the  lack of planning nor the lack of energy and water, nor yet too much computerization of urban economic activity, are capable of killing, irreversibly urban dynamics in Africa. Maybe that could ultimately succeed more easily and quickly diseases and pandemics ….


Nda Kouadio NGuessan, Civil Engineer Architect, Urban Planner. Doctor of Applied Sciences, Catholic University of Louvain. After a long career of 38 years, at universities and research centers, urban development projects in Europe and Africa, Dr Kouadio Nda NGuessan is now general manager of a research department  in Urbanism and Architecture, in Abidjan, as well as the President of the  Commission Strategy and Development of the National Order of Architects of Côte d’Ivoire, offering its international expertise in Ivory coast  and the UEMOA.

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