A new partnership between Cities Alliance and the World Bank's Africa Region Urban and Water Unit highlights how Cities Alliance members are working together, implementing the new Cities Alliance business model and leveraging partnerships to help local governments respond to urbanisation in Africa.


[24 May 2011] – Long one of the world’s least urbanised regions, Sub-Saharan Africa is urbanising rapidly. Over the next 20 years its urban population is expected to double, and by 2030 a majority of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa will live in cities. 

The sheer speed, scale and magnitude of Africa’s urban transition poses considerable development challenges for African governments at all levels, particularly local governments that are grappling with increasing decentralisation, and their development partners. 

There is also a tremendous opportunity. Because Sub-Saharan Africa’s urban transition is taking place after urbanisation shifts in other parts of the world, the region has a chance to learn from the experiences of other countries and turn urbanisation into a vehicle for economic growth and poverty reduction. 

Within that context, the World Bank’s Africa Region is leading new thinking on how to support African countries as they respond to the challenges of urbanisation. This bold, new approach to urban development seeks to shift the focus away from individual, single-sector projects towards a more programmatic approach that can effect urban transformation at scale. 


A new Joint Work Programme between Cities Alliance and the World Bank’s Africa Region Urban and Water Unit (AFTUW) highlights how Cities Alliance members are working together, implementing the new Cities Alliance business model and leveraging partnerships to help local governments respond to urbanisation in Africa and effect urban transformation at scale. By 2030 a majority of Sub-Saharan Africa's residents will live in cities. Photo: Arne Hoel/The World Bank

None has grown to high income without vibrant cities.” -- The 2009 World Development Report


New thinking on urban emerges at the World Bank 

The Africa Region’s new approach to urban development has its roots in the 2009 World Development Report (WDR), which argued that urbanisation is a crucial part of generating prosperity for nations, in particular through the agglomeration of urban economies. 

This contrasted sharply with the view held by many policymakers in the developing world in the 1960s and 1970s that urbanisation should be curbed or controlled. 

Building on the messages of the 2009 WDR, the World Bank developed a new urban strategy that focuses on harnessing the potential of urbanisation to deliver equitable and inclusive growth and poverty alleviation. 

These principles formed the basis of a strategy for Africa launched in March 2011 that emphasises regional integration, partnership and inclusive growth. 


Sub-Saharan Africa a priority focus for Cities Alliance

At the same time the World Bank was formulating its new urban strategy, Cities Alliance was also undergoing a shift in focus. The Cities Alliance Medium-Term Strategy for 2008-2010 emphasised longer-term relationships with fewer cities and countries, as well as new ways to engage Cities Alliance members. 

These principles subsequently became the foundation of a new Cities Alliance Charter, approved in 2010, which underscored the partnership nature of the Alliance. 

In November 2010, AFTUW participated in a watershed Cities Alliance Consultative Group (CG) meeting in Mexico City. At that meeting – chaired by Clare Short, former Secretary for International Development (DFID/UK) and Member of Parliament – the Consultative Group unanimously decided that Sub-Saharan Africa would be a priority focus for the work of the Cities Alliance. 

The CG also adopted a new business model to guide Cities Alliance operations that featured a more strategic, programmatic approach, which meshed well with the direction the World Bank’s Africa Region was taking. 

It became clear that there was an excellent opportunity for partnership. For Cities Alliance, supporting the World Bank in its new thinking on Africa would be a key building block of a broader action plan to scale up support for the urban sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. It would also serve as a platform for engaging a number of Cities Alliance members active in the region. 

For AFTUW, the partnership would provide an opportunity to leverage the major urban programmes of the World Bank and other Cities Alliance members in Sub-Saharan Africa to improve impact, coherence of effort and knowledge sharing. 


The Large Cities Support Programme will support eight metropolitan governments in South Africa. Photo: Durban, South Africa. 


Leveraging partnerships to achieve impact

In April 2011, Cities Alliance and AFTUW signed an agreement for an initial three-year Joint Work Programme to support a range of governments in Sub-Saharan Africa, from middle-income countries like South Africa to lower-income countries such as Mauritania. 

The partnership espouses a programmatic approach to urban development in Africa. Rather than funding specific projects or studies, it aims to support a series of activities that will help countries adopt an economy-wide and sector-wide approach to urban development. 

In the first year, the activities will emphasise the following components:

  --  Supporting policy analysis and advocacy to raise the profile and importance of urban issues among national policy-makers in Africa, catalyse active dialogue on urban policy and financing, and provide targeted assistance at the national and municipal level to promising clients; 

  --  Facilitating capacity building and peer to peer learning for national and municipal leaders, urban local governments and other stakeholders, and integrating other training and capacity building activities of the World Bank and other Cities Alliance members; and  

  --  Providing targeted operational assistance for the development, design, financing, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of national and city-level policy and investment programmes to support Sub-Saharan Africa’s transition to an urban economic and political system. 


The Joint Work Programme will be implemented by AFTUW in coordination with the Cities Alliance Secretariat, other Cities Alliance members, and development partners. Both the activities and the focus countries will be based on direct demand from clients. 

One of the first activities of the new Cities Alliance-AFTUW partnership is the Large Cities Support Programme, a Government of South Africa initiative that aims to increase the overall efficiency of service delivery in South African cities. 

It is emerging as an important national programme of support for the country’s eight major urban centres and reaffirms the role that cities are expected to play in South Africa’s economic development. 

The programme builds on the history of Cities Alliance support for South Africa, which began with a city development strategy for Johannesburg in 2001. At the invitation of the South African Department of National Treasury, the World Bank is providing global knowledge and expertise in support of the design and implementation of the Large Cities Support Programme alongside Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and other bilateral partners. 

Both the programme and its approach are expected to generate considerable knowledge and sharpen an urbanisation response model that could benefit other African countries. This is consistent with Cities Alliance experience that learning from middle-income countries such as South Africa and Brazil is extremely useful for other countries that are expanding or beginning an urban programme. 


Activities in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal are also likely to be supported under the Cities Alliance-AFTUW partnership.

The programmatic approach at the centre of the partnership ties in well with the Cities Alliance Country Partnership Programmes, which seek to mobilise Cities Alliance members around long-term, demand-oriented interventions that are uniquely tailored a country’s specific urban context and needs. There are currently Country Partnership Programmes underway in three Sub-Saharan African countries: Uganda, Ghana and Burkina Faso. 

In addition, Cities Alliance is initiating the rollout of State of the Cities Reports in cities across Sub-Saharan Africa. The programme, which is also supported by the World Bank Institute and UN-HABITAT, is being implemented by the African Centre for Cities located within the Planning School at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. 

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