Africa’s blooming cities are set to play an increasingly important role in the continent’s development while the growth of smaller, secondary cities will present nascent opportunities.

These were some of the key messages to come out of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) Summit Africa 2018, which took place in Sandton recently.

Financial empowerment

During his opening conference address, RICS Chief Executive, Sean Tompkins, stressed the growing importance of cities, and the need for metropolises to be more financially empowered in dealing with urbanisation and infrastructure challenges.

“From Accra to Nairobi, African cities are booming, but local financing of infrastructure is not keeping pace with population growth,” Tompkins explained.

“Cities need to become more independent from national budgets. Kampala, for instance, has turned to property taxes as a new source of revenue… But, to keep pace with urbanisation, cities can’t rely solely on user or property charges to retrofit and expand themselves,” said Tompkins.

Smaller cities are one to watch

Addressing the gala dinner of RICS Summit Africa, Xoliswa Daku, of CEO of Daku Group, said while mass urbanisation in Africa was seeing much of the focus being place on major cities, smaller or mid-sized cities were the ones to look at too in terms of investment and infrastructure roll-out.

“I believe there is value to be had for businesses and developers to invest in small cities. It is also a way of dealing with urbanisation more sustainably, where people don’t only descend on the big cities for opportunities,” she said.

A good physical environment

RICS President, John Hughes (FRICS), said Africa’s economic growth is dependent upon a good physical environment to operate in.

“We can’t have cities where you sit for hours in traffic trying to get to the airport… In Africa and much of the developing world, the pace that urbanisation is taking, is outpacing physical infrastructure development,” he said.

He added that as a global organisation with 150 years of experience, RICS could contribute to addressing some of these challenges. He said collaboration was key for RICS, as it partnered with organisations in Africa to contribute to the development of sustainable and more resilient cities, and the broader built environment sector on the continent.