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Why young leaders will make their cities succeed or fail?

/ April 2017 at 10:00am

Geci Karuri-Sebina & Angelo Fick

Why young leaders will make their cities succeed or fail? There’s something we keep overlooking in the race to grow our economy. SMME and skills development, yes. Jobs creation, naturally. But there’s another factor than weighs heavily in on the debate... the development of our cities. 

Welcome to City Season.“Urban Explosion!” “Urbanisation Crisis in Africa”. “Africa’s future is urban”. “The city triumphs, again!” “Sex in the City.” “If Mayors Ruled the World.” The headlines are dramatic and the city, as a subject, has taken the centre stage more than ever before. As such, we have both a new global urban agenda (ratified under the auspices of UN Habitat in Quito in 2016) and a new national urban agenda — South Africa’s Integrated Urban Development Agenda, approved by Cabinet in 2016. Furthermore, we witnessed (and likely participated) in cities becoming the battle frontier for the August 2016 local government election. Everywhere, the talk is about cities, cities, cities. So why all the hype… and what does it mean for urban dwellers, entrepreneurs and leaders?

Human beings have been gathering in larger and larger urban centres for millennia. Over the past 5000 years, those settlements have grown into what we would recognise as cities, the earliest ancestors of the places we now know as Ur, Babylon, et cetera. At first, our predecessors may have sought to build cities for the sanctuary and the security they offered — we know this from the location and defensive structures which survive as remains or relics in their modern incarnations. Think of places like Rome, Athens or Jerusalem — or, on this continent, Cairo and Tunis. The presence of natural resources like water or gold also explain the existence of many cities on river fronts or at natural harbours on coastlines. Strategic locations along trade routes, and the presence of specific commodities at specific times, also explain the rise of many modern cities, including some of South Africa’s urban conglomerates. Cape Town was, for example, originally a halfway station on the sea route between the Netherlands-based Dutch East India Company and its East Indian colonies. Durban developed as a coastal settlement during the Portuguese exploratory voyages and colonial expansion. And Johannesburg, one of the continent’s most vibrant urban centres, arose little over a century ago because of the gold in the rock on which it was built.

Factors such as hope and progress, safety and survival, the lure of the new and the exciting pulse of commerce and industry tend to explain cities’ origins and go some way towards explaining their continued existence and growth. And grow they have! In this century, for the first time in the planet’s history, the majority of human beings are now living in urban centres. Closer to home, after a century of measures by the colonial and apartheid governments in South Africa blocking the trend, the majority of South Africans are also residents in urban spaces. Cities are the largest of such conglomerations. View full article here.

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Contributors:

Geci Karuri-Sebina is an Executive Manager at South African Cities Network, and an Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellow. She has two decades’ experience working and publishing in the fields of urban development, innovation and foresight. Her most recent publication is the book Innovation Africa (Emerald Books, 2016).  

Angelo Fick is a writer and broadcaster, who specialises in current affairs and news analysis. Before he joined the media industry he spent twenty years teaching across a variety of disciplines in the humanities, sciences and applied sciences in various universities in South Africa and Europe. He regularly publishes a column at eNCA.com.