Urbanisation: Experts Proffer Solutions To Emerging Challenges In Africa

From the left: Director, Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development (CHSD), Prof. Timothy Nubi, Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Lagos, Prof. Modupe Omirin and Co-director, CHSD, Prof. Taibat Lawanson at the third yearly urbanisation and habitable cities conference in Lagos.

An environmental expert, Dr Dana Omran, says there is a need to strengthen local governments and other institutions, to engender economic growth.

Omran is the  Global Director, Strategy and Operations/Regional Director, (Africa) Resilient Cities Network.

She delivered a keynote address, virtually, at the opening of the 3rd Annual Urbanisation and Habitable Cities Conference on Tuesday in Lagos.

The two-day conference, with the theme: ‘Strengthening Resilience in Africa’, was organised by the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development, University of Lagos.

It was put together in collaboration with the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence for Urbanisation and Habitable Cities.

According to Omran, strengthening the local governments and other institutions will also improve the well-being of citizens, as well as infrastructure.

She said that the local governments, generally, are the closest to the grassroots.

and therefore, need to be given the needed support that will impact directly and positively to residents.

Such, she noted, would create the much-needed platforms to stimulate economic growth as well as improve the standard of living.

The keynote speaker said that giving the local governments the free hand to take full responsibility for the running of activities by themselves would also make for proactiveness.

This, she said, would especially be so in the face of any natural disaster, like flooding, pandemic and others.

She said that compounding crises in healthcare, economy and society had also exposed fragilities in the capacity of cities, governments, their businesses and their communities to survive and thrive.

According to her, cities have the opportunity to equally prioritize investment initiatives and projects that meet the interconnected needs of multiple urban systems and thereby yield multiple benefits.

“Resilience building requires a big tent and an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“Universities and research institutions play a critical role in supporting cities to collect and analyse urban data, support technical project development and apply frameworks and tools to promote more sustainable and resilient long-term planning,” Omran stated.

Also speaking, Prof. Timothy Nubi, Director, ARUA Centre of Excellence for Urbanisation and Habitable Cities, Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development, UNILAG, described the conference as timely and apt.

He noted that the aim of the conference was to be the hub for world-class, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary, applied research on urbanization and habitable cities, connecting researchers to initiate, develop, disseminate and affect change in Africa’s cities.

The director said that it was also to develop a collaborative, interdisciplinary network of African researchers, highly capable of producing knowledge and interventions to address intractable issues in Africa’s urban areas.

According to him, it is also to advance impactful education and capacity-building for postgraduate researchers.

This is to be done through targeted mentorships by way of doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships and research interactions, with leading researchers in Africa and elsewhere, among others.

Nubi, who is the host, stated that the conference was the third in a series of conferences of the network, with particular reference to building resilience in Africa.

According to him, the theme of the conference is of great importance, if Nigeria and indeed Africa, are to adapt and cope with the issues around stability and post- Coronavirus (COVID-19 ) economic and social development.

“Our previous conferences have been focused on transportation in Africa and the informality and inequality in Urban Africa.

“Our focus is to proffer solutions to these endemic challenges across our partner Universities.

“Our partners have worked seriously in the last three years to establish and maintain contact with the public sector and private organisations and civil societies.

“This has resulted in public lectures at the University of Cape Town,  titled Inclusive change in Affordable  Housing and Development in African Cities, and another pathway for Healthy and Resilient Slums in Lusaka after COVID-19:

“We also had another, which is Rethinking the Rationalities and Geographies of Urban Services in the era of Pandemics, which was hosted by the University of Zambia,” he said.

He added that the centre also had masterclasses hosted by the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife on research methods, and the Federal University of Technology Minna on Technological Advancement in grant-winning proposals.

According to him, given the impacts the network has made, the U.K Research and Innovation has extended its activities till May 2023.

He said he was looking to use the opportunity to focus on supporting PhD students and early career researchers across Africa.

Listing notable achievements of the network, Mubi stated that it had presented a platform for transdisciplinary works that stretch beyond academics.

According to him, this is also part of the process of long-term policy plans and impacts directly on the environment.

He said that it had also consolidated network partners to step out and think outside the box, learning creative ways of solving emerging problems and knowledge transformation.

The centre director noted that several clusters think differently and now interface with different stakeholders.

He said that the network had helped Africans to look at climate change for example, from an African perspective.

According to him, the implication is that it enables African researchers to proffer solutions to problems from their lived reality.

In his welcome address, the Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, said the university was delighted to host the gathering of erudite scholars and researchers from across Africa.

Ogundipe was represented by Prof. Bola Oboh, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Research).

He noted that such gathering would avail participants the opportunity to interact, deliberate, engage, collaborates and infer a sustainable pathway toward actualising an African agenda.

According to the vice-chancellor, the strength of any system, society, organization or nation is best evaluated by its ability to withstand shocks and stresses and get back on track.

“The central theme, RESILIENCE, is coming at a no better time than now in our national life and academic history, when resilience in all its ramifications is required, to identify innate/inherent strengths and capabilities, engender preparedness, survival instincts and coping strategies,” he said.

According to him, at the University of Lagos, resilience is embedded in the administrative structure, as well as in its rigorous and carefully crafted programmes, toward providing a critical workforce to fill a manpower gap in the nation’s labour space.

“The 25-year  strategic plan of the university of Lagos deliberately seeks to promote self-reliance, Entrepreneurship and Exemplary Leadership skills and capacity in our students”, thereby building human capacity beyond academic qualifications.

“As the vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos, the university of the first choice and the nation’s pride, the culture and tradition of excellence in research have continued to anchor our engagements, collaboration, consultation and deliberations.

“The P3P agenda in UNILAG, under my humble self, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe led management, is built upon the principle of Public-Private Partnership model to attract support for academics, research and infrastructural needs of the University.

“The P3P strategy which stands for “Pick a Project, Pick a Programme, Pick a Person” has encouraged well-meaning individuals to support the university’s quest for continued growth and global competitiveness, “ Ogundipe stated.

He added that the development had  enabled the institution whether the great storms of the COVID-19 pandemic and still come out stronger than ever

Ogundipe said that as a bastion of research in the university, Nigeria and Africa at large, the African Research Network for Urbanisation and Habitable Cities (AR-NUHC) under the ARUA Centre of Excellence for Urbanisation and Habitable Cities, UNILAG  had consistently been a trailblazer.

He added that it had provided unique platforms to engage, collaborate, research, curate and co-produce local knowledge and workable solutions to Africa’s challenges.

He noted that Urban Resilience in Africa was in line with the objectives of the ARUA CoE to address seemingly intractable problems impeding the functionality of African Cities.

“As predicted by the United Nations, within the three and half decades between 2015 and 2050, about three-quarters of a billion people will be added to urban Africa.

“Simply put, 750 million people within 35 years will find their way to African urban centres. This portends a serious burden on already stretched basic infrastructure, housing and other social services, resulting in a relatively high percentage of African urban dwellers living in slum conditions.

“Without any intervention to these prevalent scenarios, more than 50 per cent of Africa’s population are likely to live in slums by 2025, which is just less than three years away,” Ogundipe said.

He however noted that the brighter side of the coin, where the African strength lies, required confronting the challenges headlong to optimally maximise the vast opportunities that would propel and consolidate Africa’s growth and development.

“Indeed, Africans are resilient. Africa is resilient but the ubiquity of its resilience needs to be documented, curated and theorized to change the narrative and tell Africa’s story from Africa’s point of view,” he stated.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the centre is the hub of the African Research Network for Urbanisation and Habitable Cities, a network of 10 African universities with support from researchers in UK universities.

Some of the 10 African universities are the University of Cape Town, South Africa, the University of Zambia, the University of Nairobi, and Uganda Matyrs University.

Others are,  the Federal University of Technology Minna, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, American International University of West Africa, The Gambia, University of Ghana, and the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre at the Ngala University, Sierra Leone.

Most of the universities were participants in the conference.

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