The key to unlocking effective investment towards more sustainable African cities

June 21, 2021

Urban Africa needs an investment strategy for more sustainable cities grounded in evidence, that responds with urgency to the needs of urban residents and matched by the investment priorities of funding institutions.

Africa will undergo unprecedented levels of urbanisation over the next 30 years, with its population projected to double by 2050. This presents both growing challenges and huge opportunities for sustainable, prosperous African cities of the future. It’s time to have a realistic conversation about urgent needs and emphases for impactful investment strategies. Which sectors should be prioritised – renewables, e-mobility, housing? To match investment to these needs, we must also understand who is financing urban infrastructure, where, and why, to mobilise effective investment and cultivate an appetite for investment in the right places.

Urban Africa requires evidence-based investment strategies for more sustainable cities that respond urgently to the requirements of urban residents and are in line with the investment priorities of funding institutions. The session titled "Africa Now! An Urgent Case for Investment Towards More Sustainable Cities and Towns" provided an opportunity for a frank discussion of the pressing needs and priorities for effective investment strategies.

“Africa is one of most innovative places in the world for finance, technology and innovative ways for development"   - Saliem Fakir

Saliem Fakir began by emphasising the necessity of integrating sustainability into infrastructure investment and the opportunity for Africa to "leapfrog" the rest of the world in decarbonisation efforts. Fakir emphasised the need for innovative, comprehensive investment strategies to unlock Africa's potential and position the continent at the vanguard of innovations in financing, technology, and urban investment models.

Kecia Rust presented the work of CAHF in the Affordable Housing sector and emphasised the significance of sharing data with open access in order to expand on existing knowledge and develop more effective investment strategies. Rust remarked on the dearth of accessible data in the sector and the reluctance of developers and financiers to share information regarding investment landscapes and feasibility. According to Rust, this "hoarding" of data impedes access to green finance and the advancement of research on effective investment and sustainable housing strategies. Important information is required at all levels, from the household to the continent, and consistent contributions can facilitate improved decision making.

“Housing has become more expensive while people, our governments, and suppliers have become poorer. As affordable housing practitioners, we need to do much more, but with much less. We must ask: is sustainability imperative in housing a challenge or an opportunity?” - Kecia Rust

Samantha Naidu, speaking on behalf of the national government via the South African National Treasury Cities Support Programme, described ongoing efforts to achieve meaningful investment through context-specific and adaptive investment and enhancing the agency of local actors - constructive relationships to "do the fundamentals." Naidu drew attention to the significant impact that climate change will have on urban development, thereby highlighting the need for improved foresight, innovation, sustainability, and collaboration.

“By 2030, weather-related and other disasters will cost cities $314 billion, which is more than South Africa's GDP” - Samantha Naidu

Kioi Wambaa then presented the case for urgency by describing the realities and pressures of urbanisation - with rapid population growth and substantial economic growth, Africa is expanding in every manner. Wambaa, citing decentralisation as a critical response to these pressures, cited the devolution strategies in Kenya as a successful example of enhancing the investment capacities of local governments, particularly in supporting housing development. Wambaa elaborated on the necessity of reimagining the roles of government as facilitators rather than sole providers of investment into housing and other essential infrastructure, citing South Africa as a unique example.

The session served as a reminder of the large appetite for financing sustainable infrastructure in Africa, particularly in the housing sector, but that miscommunication, a lack of data, and inadequate cooperation between stakeholders remain a significant barrier to direct investment where it is required. Fostering trust, fostering a culture of data sharing, prioritising sustainability, and establishing a city agency that enables investment for a better future are essential for pragmatic and effective investment.

“There’s a direct correlation between the increase in population and GDP: Cities drive development and the more we urbanise and develop urban areas, the more we get out of them and access to finance." - Kioi Wambaa


  • Saliem Fakir, Executive Director, African Climate Foundation
  • Collins Sekele, Projects Director, National Treasury of South Africa
  • Kecia Rust, Executive Director and Founder, Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa (CAHF)
  • Kioi Wambaa, International Housing Solutions Kenya
  • Samantha Naidu, Lead on the Governance and Fiscal components of the Cities Support Programme, National Treasury RSA
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