While the pain of the COVID-19 pandemic may have been shared across the world, it has not been shared evenly. At city, state and national level, existing inequities have been exacerbated. The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened furthest in those places where social disparity is most deeply entrenched. In Africa, home to roughly two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor, the past 18 months have been especially exacting.
Continental GDP fell by 2.1% in 2020 – marking the first pan-African recession in 50 years. Long term scarring from the crisis (unemployment, skills deterioration and other drags on productivity) will hit low-income countries seven times harder than their high-income counterparts. And if those same low-income countries are to meet their UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, they will require financial support equivalent to 2.6% of global GDP. Clearly, they cannot raise this money alone.
There is, though, much cause for optimism regarding Africa’s future. It can only be hoped that 2020 was a blip in an otherwise half-century long growth story. In their Economic Outlook for 2021, published in March of this year, the African Development Bank strikes a bullish tone about the prospect of an immediate and sustainable recovery. Already the world’s youngest continent, by 2030 it will trail only Asia in the global urbanisation charts. Its cities are youthful, thriving and ambitious places. Some – the titular superstars of this report – make a spectacularly outsized contribution to the continental economy.
Urban centres are well established as the primary engine rooms of growth, opportunity and prosperity across the world. This is one of the few respects in which Africa is not exceptional. If the continent is to make good on its potential, the enormous promise of its superstar cities must be harnessed by public and private sector alike.
This report does not represent a definitive document on which to base enabling policy or investment decisions in those cities. It is, nonetheless, a fresh resource for anyone interested in the economic and social progress of this marvellous and multifarious place. Accordingly, we are proud to introduce it to you and hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to life.
With many thanks to this paper’s peer reviewers: