Africa is the 21st century changemaker – global outcomes of sustainable urban development

Africa is the 21st century changemaker – global outcomes of sustainable urban development

The inaugural RISE Africa Session sets the motivation for our Action Festival, arguing that Achieving local and global sustainability goals can only happen if we ensure Africa urbanises sustainably

The African Union Agenda 2063 offers a roadmap for our continent’s future. The Africa we want is a global powerhouse, standing out champion of just, inclusive communities and leading innovative sustainable solutions that reframes resource production and consumption. The Africa we want develops inclusive green industries that foster economic recovery and support youth employment and the empowerment of women, building strong regional collaboration and solidarity. The Africa we want hosts thriving cities that preserve cultural identities and work with and for their people.

Africa is the next global changemaker, whose development will determine whether we meet regional and global sustainability and equity goals. In this session, we explore key trends, movements and developments in our cities that are influencing global agendas. We unpack the emergence of new regional strategies and goals such as the African Continental Free Trade Area, the implementation of Agenda 2063, and the localisation of the SDG’s and Paris Agreement. Through the lenses of urbanisation, youth and women’s participation, trade and governance, we deliberate on the development trajectory of Africa, and the vital role of its cities.


L’Agenda 2063 de l’Union africaine fournit une feuille de route pour l’avenir de notre continent. L’Afrique que nous voulons est une puissance mondiale, championne des communautés justes et inclusives et leader de solutions durables innovantes qui recadrent la production et la consommation des ressources. L’Afrique que nous voulons développe des industries vertes inclusives qui favorisent la reprise économique et soutiennent l’emploi des jeunes et l’autonomisation des femmes grâce à une collaboration et une solidarité régionales fortes. L’Afrique que nous voulons accueille des villes prospères qui préservent les identités culturelles et œuvrent avec et pour leurs habitants.

L’Afrique est le prochain acteur du changement mondial, dont le développement déterminera si nous atteignons les objectifs régionaux et mondiaux de durabilité et d’équité. Au cours de cette session, nous explorerons les tendances, mouvements et développements clés dans nos villes qui influencent les agendas mondiaux. Nous analyserons l’émergence de nouvelles stratégies et de nouveaux objectifs régionaux tels que la Zone de libre-échange continentale africaine, la mise en œuvre de l’Agenda 2063, et la localisation des ODD et de l’Accord de Paris. À travers le prisme de l’urbanisation, de la participation des jeunes et des femmes, du commerce et de la gouvernance, nous délibérons sur la trajectoire de développement de l’Afrique et le rôle vital de ses villes.


Host: ICLEI Africa

Edgar Pieterse

Director, African Centre for Cities

Dr Debra Roberts

Head of the Sustainable and Resilient City Initiatives Unit in eThekwini Municipality

Aya Chebbi

Activist, peace-builder, diplomat

Kobie Brand

Deputy Secretary General: ICLEI; Regional Director: ICLEI Africa

Malika Ndlovu 

Performance Poetry

Luc Gnacadja

President, GPS-Dev

Paul Currie

Manager: Urban Systems Unit, ICLEI Africa

Edlam Abera Yemeru

Chief Urbanization and Development Section United Nations ECA

Session Summary

The inaugural RISE Africa session sets the motivation for this year’s Action Festival. Moderated by Edgar Pieterse Director African Centre for Cities, the session argued that achieving local and global sustainability goals hinges on sustainable urbanisation in Africa.

Edlam Yemeru, Chief of the Urbanisation and Development Section at UNECA highlighted the importance of integrating cities and urbanisation into continental policies and strategies. Presently, the urban agenda is often relegated to a sector or to the local scale. Transforming Africa however is contingent on transforming our cities, she argued, with cities and local governments not only being drivers of COVID-19 recovery but economic transformation more broadly.

Aya Chebbi, African Union Youth Envoy highlighted the marginalisation of the youth in Africa and the need to do away with the generational gap in leadership. Instead of thinking of the role of cities for sustainable development, we should think of the role of young people in developing sustainable cities since they are most likely to live and work in cities, and therefore shape and transform them.

Kobie Brand, Regional Director of ICLEI Africa highlighted the role of inclusive governance in achieving sustainable cities. Efforts must be geared towards improving governance systems and processes such that the voices of those who live in our cities are incorporated into the decision making that will shape the future of our cities. Similarly, Luc Gnacadja, President Governance and Policies for Sustainable Development (GPS-Dev) argued that for Africa to develop sustainably, the ways of designing leadership processes and institutions must change to embrace inclusivity. Bottom-up design processes need to be prioritized and government must be humble enough to listen to, and involve everyone in conceiving the value proposition for each region, he added.

Malika Ndlovu, South African Poet, emphasised the importance of creative expression and the need to cherish and nurture our connections to our ancestral inheritance and indigenous knowledge. Although embedded in their practice is the desire to honour all voices and invoke something bigger than a single idea or narrative, artists are often not invited to the spaces in which changes that impact our lives are decided. Artists’ ability to contribute to and shape narratives and nation building must be acknowledged.

The session concluded by reiterating that through creativity, resilience, participation and agency, we will not only be able to learn and imagine future possibilities, but more importantly act to ensure sustainability in Africa.