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Address to the Africities Summit by Mrs. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UN-HABITAT
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Your Worships,
Honourable Councillors,
Dear colleagues in the United Nations Family,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to open my remarks by saying thank you to His Excellency Paul Biya, President of the Republic of Cameroon and members of his government; His Excellency President Joachim Chissano, President of Mozambique and current Chairman of the African Union; other Honourable Ministers and members of the Government of Cameroon; the Ministers of Finance, and Local Government in charge of decentralisation from around Africa; His Worship, the Honourable Arthur Hussene Canana, the Mayor of Maputo and Chairman of the Political Committee of Africities 2003; Chairman Nicolas Amougou Noma, the Government Delegate for Yaoundé Urban Community; Your Worships the Mayors, and Honourable Councillors; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Sister UN Organizations; and, representatives of our bilateral and multi-lateral partners.

On behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, it gives me great pleasure, and it is indeed a great honour, for me to address such a distinguished gathering of key national and local leaders from across the continent meeting in Yaoundé for this Third Africities Summit. I wish to thank and congratulate the Municipal Development Partnership- PDM, for inviting me personally, and for its tireless efforts to support the municipal movement and the decentralisation process in Africa

We in the United Nations system hail your presence here today because this meeting is focusing on access to basic services for millions of our fellow citizens living on the fringes and in the poorer neighbourhoods of towns and cities across Africa. Many of you here today joined us last year in Johannesburg at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Your deliberations here over the next few days will be pivotal to the implementation of the Johannesburg Commitments at the local level.

Johannesburg was a red flag to the international community for more focus on Africa, and its development needs. We meet here now to take up the reins and help show the way forward. The impassioned calls of many leaders, some of them in this audience, still echo in my mind: the time for talking is running out. It is now time for action.

Distinguished Delegates,

In sub-Saharan Africa only 48 per cent of urban households have a water connection, but in the informal settlements only 19 per cent have such a connection. Only 31 per cent of urban households are connected to the sewerage system, but in the informal settlements only 7 per cent are connected. Just 54 per cent have electricity in their homes, but in the slums this figure is 20 percent. While just 15.5 per cent have a telephone, only 3 percent have this luxury in the slums. These figures speak to us of the urban divide in Africa.

In October, UN-HABITAT, the UN Agency for Cities and other Human Settlements, published its Global Report on Human Settlements 2003. Its research carried some other daunting facts: Sub-Saharan Africa has the world's largest proportion of urban residents living in slums. These slums are home to 72 per cent of urban Africa's citizens. That percentage represents a total of 187 million people.

Yet to many people, both here and abroad, Africa is hailed as the last great un-urbanised continent on earth. Even today, two-thirds of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa is rural - 200 years after the beginning of the industrial revolution. Most of us imagine that this will always be true. Because our ties to the land and our rural roots run so deep, we believe and hope that they will continue to sustain us, no matter what the economic circumstances at the surface.

Africa has the world's fastest annual rate of urbanisation. The annual average urban growth rate is 4 per cent, twice as high as Latin America and Asia. Already, 37 percent of Africans live in cities, and by the year 2030 this is expected to rise to 53 per cent.

It is a disturbing fact that two out of five of these urban residents today live in circumstances deemed to be life and health threatening. Be it my home country, Tanzania, or our host country, Cameroon, the problems we confront here are quite similar.

The United Nations Millennium Declaration recognises the dire circumstances of the world's urban poor. It articulates the commitment of Member States to significantly improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020. UN-HABITAT is tasked with coordinating action towards meeting this goal.

We are painfully aware that this poverty in African cities is characterised by large and growing backlogs in the delivery of basic services to city dwellers because demand outstrips both institutional capacity and financial resources. It is characterised by worsening access to adequate shelter and security of tenure, and all the problems of overcrowding; it is characterised by growing vulnerability to environmental health problems, and natural disasters; it is characterised by growing inequality and increasing crime and violence which has a disproportionate impact on women and the poorest of the poor; and, it is characterised too, by a lack of community participation in decision-making.

So the challenges of sustainable urbanisation in Africa that we face are many and varied: Security and safety, environmental degradation, growing slums, a lack of human and financial resources at the municipal level, insufficient decentralisation of powers and resources, and poor urban governance that leads to divided cities.

Inadequate water and sanitation is a major urban challenge. One of the Millennium Development Goals that UN-HABITAT is also tasked with coordinating is reducing by half the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation. In Africa, over half the urban populations lack these basic human necessities.

With water, energy, health, shelter and other basic services required to help alleviate Africa's urban poverty, need I remind you that this is the crux of the urban challenge in Africa.

UN-HABITAT runs two major world-wide campaigns: the Global Campaign on Urban Governance, and the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure. These coupled with the agency's various programmes have helped develop substantive initiatives to service local authorities in Africa.

UN-HABITAT's Water for African Cities programme is showing in seven countries: Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, how to put in place an integrated urban water resource management strategy that helps integrate urban development with environmental and water management. The water crisis in African cities is not so much a problem of scarcity, but rather one of weak policies and poor management.

Growing as they are at unprecedented rates, our cities and towns are gaining importance too as the cultural, economic and political trend setters of the future.

Cities are indeed part of the problem. But they are also very much part of the solution. If well managed by you as mayors, they are true engines of growth for the social and economic advancement for our Nations.

And here in our host city Yaoundé, and in 22 other towns and cities across Cameroon, I am delighted that UN-HABITAT is working closely with local authorities and communities at every level to make these towns better places for their citizens. Already 4,000 locally elected leaders in Cameroon will join us early next year for training on every aspect of urban management ranging from crime prevention and good governance to financing. And they in turn will train others. We are all learning from one another, and together we are designing the Urban Millennium Partnership so that we can tailor the Millennium Development Goals to suit local needs in building up the local authorities.

Mr. President, Honourable Mayors,

I can only commend this country's strong commitment to the Habitat Agenda, to improving its human settlements, and for doing so in such exemplary coordination with UN-HABITAT, the United Nations Development Programme, the European Union and the French Cooperation. And I am delighted to recall here that UN-HABITAT has appointed a Habitat Programme Manager in Cameroon to further cement this cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Your deliberations over the next few days will also be of prime importance for further elaborating the excellent headway already achieved by NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

As you know, NEPAD, was conceived as an innovative people-centred framework for speeding up the sustainable development of Africa and the eradication of poverty. It springs from the conviction of African leaders that democracy, stability, good governance, human rights and economic development on the continent are the prerequisites for reversing poverty and attracting foreign investment. Thus it recognises that urbanisation in Africa must be urgently addressed. It strives for sustained economic growth and development, a goal impossible to achieve without sustainable urbanisation.

African cities provide the platform for advancing the new partnership, while NEPAD in turn provides the impetus for cities to be appreciated beyond their national boundaries as nodes of regional integration.

But do we know enough about our cities for them to be truly appreciated?

The UN-HABITAT figures I cited earlier come from a variety sources. These include field surveys conducted by our staff and by our local authority partners in various parts of Africa. They are then gathered by UN-HABITAT's Global Urban Observatory, again in close collaboration with municipalities, to try and give as accurate a picture as possible of a given situation - be it the number of people living in slums, the numbers without clean water and sanitation, the victims of crime, those afflicted by health hazards.

We find constantly, however, that many towns and cities, either lack accurate data and the financing and resources to obtain it. I am not exaggerating when I speak of an information crisis.

UN-HABITAT's Global Urban Observatory is trying to redress this situation using the latest satellite technology and Geographical Information Systems to help towns and cities get a bird's eye view of themselves. Photograph a city from space, magnify it, look at a few streets in any area, and then fill in the blanks: How many people live there? How many have access to water and sanitation? Are the roads in need of repair? What is the crime rate? How many people have AIDS or malaria? Is there a public transport infrastructure? Are there enough bus stops? Where are the most overcrowded slums?

Working with municipalities, non-governmental organizations and universities to get as precise a picture as possible of a given town or city, we have discovered that many places do not have the information they need, or that when they do, they do not have the capacity to analyse the data. The disparity here between the wealthier nations and the developing world is staggering.

Yet armed with the right information properly packaged in a bird's eye overview, it is far easier and cheaper to resolve the myriad urban problems we face than one would think possible.


The timing of this Third Africities conference connects directly with the African Union Summit last June in Maputo on promoting the development of sustainable towns and cities in Africa. It was at that meeting where African Heads of State and Government expressed concern at the urbanisation of poverty, at the squalid conditions in slums and other unplanned neighbourhoods without basic services.

They stressed their commitment to the global declarations, and they made particular reference to the Habitat Agenda. They demanded of us in the United Nations system, that we in UN-HABITAT, uphold support for the Commission of the African Union in that decision. So, I reiterate their call for implementation.

Indeed, it is here that we welcome and pledge to continue supporting the local government agenda, as part of the collective continental agenda, and as an effective part of the global agenda.

In the urban challenge facing African local governments, you cannot, at this juncture, afford to be left out of this important process.

At a series of workshops over the next few days, several of my colleagues at UN-HABITAT will be joining members of this distinguished audience to see how we can devise concrete new actions in this joint quest. I invite you to see how, with our other international development partners, we can draft a New Agenda of Cooperation with Africa by localising the Millennium Development Goals through capacity building for local authorities, good urban governance and transparency, effective decentralisation, and large-scale upgrading of our slums.

Let's get down to business and act now.

I thank you for your kind attention.

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