On September 10th 2015, Cities Alliance, in partnership with the African Centre for Cities, launched a new think tank for addressing urban issues in African cities at the inaugural meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. According to Cities Alliance, “The Africa Think Tank will generate compelling analysis and arguments to better address the key challenges and gaps of urban development in Africa, and will be a resource through which Cities Alliance can review the impact of its existing portfolio of work in the African context and within the framework of its Africa Strategy. The think tank will also address gender equality in city development”.
Olayemi Cardoso, Chairman of Citibank Nigeria joins the think tank alongside a highly distinguished panel of members including Trevor Manuel, a former minister of Trade , National Planning and Finance in South Africa; Clare Short, a former Member of British Parliament (MP) and one-time UK Secretary of State for International Development; and Fébé Potgieter-Gqubule, Deputy Chief of Staff at the Bureau of the Chairperson for the African Union Commission. Cardoso, former Lagos State Commissioner for the Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget (MEPD), is involved with policy discussions and applied solutions for urban issues facing Lagos State and is expected to be a highly welcome addition to the panel. He shares his reflections on the inaugural meeting of the Cities Alliance think tank and on what he believes the newly established think tank will be able to offer to policy makers in Africa’s existing and emerging urban centres.
OC= OLAYEMI CARDOSO
MEPD: THE STATE GOVERNMENT THINK TANK
OC: The inaugural meeting of the Cities Alliance think tank evoked memories of my entrée into Government in 1999 when I was appointed Commissioner for Lagos State’s Ministry for Economic Planning and Budget (MEPB). This new ministry which I set up was essentially the state government’s think tank. It had the responsibility for crafting policies and articulating the vision of the government, ensuring that agencies and ministries stayed within defined limits of the administration’s blue print. This model was highly successful in driving and coordinating the activities of the state towards achieving the administration’s objectives such that other states began to follow our lead. Today, almost all of the thirty six states of the federation now have an MEPB.
URBAN CHALLENGES OF AFRICAN CITIES
OC: During my time in the leadership of the MEPB, faced with planning and managing a budget of what had essentially been viewed as a failing urban metropolis, I had the opportunity to engage with world thought leaders on urban issues. From these discussions, the concept of Lagos as a mega city began to emerge, with its challenge of rapid population growth without a corresponding growth in resources. It was clear to the administration that there was now a pressing need to significantly expand revenues independently of the Federal Government. From this was born the revenue diversification plan and today Lagos State internally generates most of its revenues.
Lagos State’s urban challenge is characteristic of similar trends across the continent. Sub-Sharan Africa is undergoing rapid urban transition as well as facing high population growth. According to the United Nations statistics, almost 40 per cent of Africans, about 314 million people, live in urban centres today. Additionally this proportion is anticipated to swell to 48 per cent –744 million people—by 2030. This represents more than a doubling in urban population within fifteen years, and with it a tremendous demand on resources, particularly in areas such as housing, healthcare, clean water, education, public transportation, waste disposal and treatment, and electricity.
OC: Faced with these enormous challenges, Cities Alliances’ has set up this high level think tank bringing together a diverse range of experts and thought leaders with established international reputations to provide leadership and to draw attention to the need for a focused African urban strategy. It would have made the task easier during my period in government had a focused think tank such as this existed to tap into for ideas on policy; therefore it is hoped that bureaucrats on our continent will take advantage of the wealth of experience and knowledge that this body has to offer.