Ideas

Facing Climate Emergency, Africa Must Reinvent Its Cities

Due to climate change and pollution, entire neighborhoods and cities on the continent are destined to vanish. A new vision of African urbanism is needed to replace the illusion of the "city without limits."

A photo of two women on a dirt road in Kinshasa.

The 13.2 million inhabitants of Kinshasa will be twice as many in 2035

Tarik Oualalou

-Analysis-

Sebha is bound to disappear. The capital of Libya's hydrocarbon-rich Fezzan region has become the largest city in the Sahara. For years, it has seen the convergence of public and private capital, and a steady flow of migrants. Subjected to major demographic pressure, the city of the sands is now doomed. Sooner or later, the lack of water will empty it of its inhabitants — and return its territory to nature.

Sebha is not an isolated case. Everywhere, districts and cities face similar fates. Some because of rising water levels, others subject to rampant desertification, mega-fires or repeated cyclones. These are the devastating and unprecedented consequences of climate change, of course, that the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just reminded us of.

But that's not the only cause. By participating in toxic production systems, we have degraded nature and altered climates. At the same time, since the industrial era, we have readily adhered to this crazy fantasy of the limitless city, capable of absorbing ever more inhabitants, without questioning its capacity to meet their basic needs.


​African cities like Los Angeles

Look at Los Angeles: For a long time now, California's largest metropolitan area has not had enough water resources. It gets its water from the Sierra Nevada, nearly 600 kilometers (373 miles) away. Even in one of the richest regions in the world, this infrastructure, which does not care about borders and distances, is running out of steam. Los Angeles has been suffering from water shortages for two decades, a problem out of step with its residents' standard of living.

Africa is home to 86 of the world's 100 fastest growing cities.

In rich countries, the system is breaking down more quickly than we thought. In Africa, it is an absolute emergency. It is the last continent to urbanize, and the one that is doing so the fastest, without a state structure capable of financing the infrastructure that this implies.

Between high birth rates and rural exodus, Africa is home to 86 of the 100 fastest growing cities in the world. At least 79 of them — including 15 capitals — are facing extreme risks due to climate change.

photo of lots of cars in Cairo

A traffic jam in Cairo

Imago/ZUMA

​Kinshasa's floods to Cairo's "urban hell"

The 13.2 million inhabitants of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are already regular victims of flooding. They will be twice as many by 2035. In Ethiopia, the number of city dwellers will increase from 24 to 74 million in the next three decades. Egypt's urban population will then reach 85 million, compared to 43 million today. It's so much growth that the authorities will have to create a new capital to relieve the urban hell of Cairo.

How to provide housing and equipment, roads and transport, drinking water and sanitation at such a sustained rate? It is impossible. Tensions over access to water, energy and telecommunications will increase as cities continue to have needs that exceed their territorial production capacity. Conflict is inevitable. We are heading for disaster.

That is unless we radically change the way we build our world. In Africa as elsewhere, this means first of all putting an end to the illusion of the city without limits. Some, like Sebha, will have to be abandoned to nature, and thousands of new ones will have to be built. But the thinking must be reversed, to find a balance between populations, resources and territories.

The new city must be appropriately sized, limited by its own resources: if a given territory can provide water and energy for 50,000 people, then the future city must not exceed that size.

Nomads not refugees

To do this, we must reconnect with the visible infrastructure of the past, which was part of the landscape, calling for collective governance. This was the case of the Roman aqueducts and also of the Agdal basins, which integrated urban agriculture, as well as the wells located in each neighborhood, as is still the case today in Venice. This is now being tried in Morocco, with the creation of the city of Mazagan, near El-Jadida, which we already know will not have more than 200,000 inhabitants.

The consequences of climate change, demographic pressure and rampant urbanization leave us no choice: Africa must be the scene of the reinvention of the city in the 21st century. And for that, it is urgent that it becomes again a laboratory of architectural and urban experimentation, with all the more legitimacy that it will no longer be, as in the past, a colonial laboratory.

We must decolonize our thinking.

On the contrary, we must tap into what Africa is capable of offering the world through modes of organization, traditional resource management and the use of materials that have fallen into oblivion. This kind of experimentation is, for example, the raison d'être of the Moroccan Pavilion at the Dubai 2020 World Expo. Made of raw earth, the building stretches 34 meters tall, an unprecedented height. More durable than concrete, raw earth, an African material par excellence, also makes it possible to do without air conditioning in one of the hottest places on earth.

If Africa continues to impose urban planning models thought up elsewhere, without a critical dimension, it will end up in chaos. Here too, we must decolonize our thinking and imagine collective organizations that will enable us to adapt to the major displacements that climate change is already imposing on us. It is in Africa that we can learn to be nomads again, so as not to become refugees.

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Geopolitics

"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.


The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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