Rockefeller Foundation: African cities need urgent back-up plans

Mamadou Biteye

As Africa’s economies grow, the risks of rapid urbanisation, unemployment and climate change are expected to increase in tandem. The Rockefeller Foundation works with governments and finances programmes aimed at preparing developing economies to withstand shocks that often roll back economic gains. We caught up with Mamadou Biteye, the foundation’s managing director for Africa, to discuss the continent’s resilience in the face of catastrophe.

How prepared are African economies to withstand shocks to their economies?

The African economy is growing by the day. Globalisation and free trade have increased the efficiency of markets, however, they are also reducing the resilience of economies and societies. Industrialisation is also rapidly growing, which is not in itself a shock, but fast-growing cities and towns that are not well planned, developed and managed can cause untold misery and suffering.

In East Africa, examples of chronic stresses include high unemployment, crime and violence, chronic food and water shortages, lack of affordable housing and homelessness.

Resilience doesn’t just involve the better understanding of hazards, risk assessments and taking action to reduce losses, but also includes tackling underlying vulnerabilities and strengthening the ability to withstand, recover from, and adapt to whatever shocks and stresses the future holds.

How is Kenya doing in terms of resilience?

The private sector has been receptive in the adoption of resilience in doing business. Companies such as Coca-Cola East Africa and Toyota have realised the value of reducing vulnerabilities and potential threats to customers, employees, supply chains and their bottom line.

Nairobi was selected in May this year to be in the final cohort of 33 global cities joining the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) network. 100RC, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, is a $164 million (Sh16 billion) commitment launched during the foundation’s 100th anniversary in 2013 to help cities around the world build resilience to social, economic and physical challenges.

What is the scope of the partnership between the Rockefeller Foundation and Nairobi County?

Nairobi is one of 10 African cities in 100RC. It was selected because it is a prominent economic and political capital in East Africa and beyond, a very influential example for others in the continent.

Faced with challenges like flooding, ageing infrastructure, terrorism and informal settlements, the city joined the network to take the necessary steps to build back stronger, and to learn from cities around the world experiencing similar issues.

By joining the 100RC network, cities like Nairobi benefit from critical resources and networks that will strengthen their development and resilience, and also establish their place on a global stage.

As the number of people in urban areas grows from 50 per cent today to an estimated 70 per cent in 2050, cities around the world face huge deficits in preparedness for rapid growth, and natural and man-made disasters.

What is the role of the public sector in improving resilience in the continent?

The public sector has been receptive to learning and adopting resilience. Some notable examples are the Comesa [Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa] initiative on urban resilience among its members, and the African Union’s African Risk Capacity (ARC) programme. ARC is entrenching agricultural insurance to support farmers during drought or floods. It was established in 2012 and now has 32 member states. To date, it has paid out more than $26 million (Sh2.7 billion) to Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, which have been affected by drought.

However, a lot more needs to be done to sensitise and ingrain resilience in policy plans and government strategies. Although catastrophe is often what pushes resilience strategies to public consciousness, resilience is not just a topic for times of crisis. We will never be able to perfectly predict or prevent extreme events and eventualities.

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