The Annual Bank Conference on Africa: Managing the Challenges and Opportunities of Urbanization in Africa took place from June 13-14, 2016 at Oxford University. The original post was submitted to the World Bank Development Impact blog and co-authored by Markus Goldstein and David Evans.
Over the last two days, more than 30 speakers presented research and policy perspectives on “Managing the challenges and opportunities of urbanization in Africa,” as part of the Annual Bank Conference on Africa.
Here is a quick run-down of the ideas presented. We didn’t see every paper, so if you presented your work and it isn’t listed here, please add it in the comments.
In opening remarks, Makhtar Diop (World Bank Vice President for Africa) highlighted both the demographic implications of African cities, with fertility falling more slowly than in other urban areas, and the need for strengthened tax systems to fund the services that cities need (watchable here, starting at 10:07). In the keynote speech, Ed Glaeser from Harvard’s economics department walked us through “The Good and Bad of Cities” (watchable here, starting at 27:43). He taught that African cities can learn more from Latin America’s cities than from China’s, which urbanized very differently; that Google Street View allows a particularly rich measure of urban characteristics in the U.S., but preliminary work in Jakarta suggests lower accuracy (jury is still out on whether it’s usable); and how to deal with the trifecta of density downsides: public management failures (poorly executed projects), political failures (poorly selected projects), and legal failures (unsafe private property). He ended with the stylized fact that in poor countries, people report significantly higher happiness in cities. (This difference drops to zero in rich countries.)
At the end of the conference, Paul Collier asked a panel of policy makers how the research they saw could be more useful to policy. Jennifer Musisi, Executive Director of the Kampala City Authority, pointed out that much of the research fell fall short of actionable policy information, that much of the data she saw was more than ten years old, making it less relevant to current decisions, and that much African data is in disparate locations and needs to be in one place so governments can draw on it. Crispian Olver, former Chief Director for the Reconstruction and Development Programme in the Office of the South African President, highlighted that almost every paper missed the political economy element, “the network of interests and players and interactions between them that dictate the course of events in the system.”
With that in mind, to the research!
Infrastructure, services, markets and well-being
At the end of the conference, World Bank Chief Economist for Africa Albert Zeufack summed up a number of key areas for future research.
All right. Let’s get to it.