The Urbanization Pivot for US-Africa Relations: Proposing the Great Cities Partnership

April 19, 2021

The Biden administration’s policy anchors—responding to climate change, investing in American competitiveness, and supporting global economic recovery—must extend to US policy in Africa. As a candidate, President Biden pledged “an urban initiative. . . to help African cities plan for their growth in terms of critical sectors like energy access, climate change adaptation, transportation and water management.” His instincts were right.

  • The dominant trend on the continent is urbanization. More than 30 cities will exceed 5 million inhabitants by 2050 and, should current trends hold, 13 of the world’s 20 largest cities will by the end of the century.

  • Cities will drive the continent’s productivity, wealth creation, and adaptation to climate change.

  • Other countries are already pivoting to cities, such as a UAE initiative targeting urban digital investment and ubiquitous Chinese urban construction.

  • Yet US Africa policy is largely stuck in the past, overwhelmingly focused on rural development and not yet organized in a way to respond to these new realities.

Thoughtful deliberate US engagement can help to build smart, green, resilient cities, with developmental, security, and economic benefits for both the United States and its African partners. Working with our CSIS colleague Judd Devermont, we outline exactly why such an initiative is urgent along with proposed goals, content, architecture, and resources. The Great Cities Partnership is a potential new multi-agency presidential initiative—drawing heavily on lessons learned from Power Africa and the Millennium Challenge Corporation—to harness existing tools and capabilities to assist African partners to unlock the potential of their cities and foster thriving, green, and resilient urban centers. The goals of the initiative include catalyzing $20 billion in new urban investment over the next decade, creating 2 million jobs by 2030, and enhancing climate adaptation and reducing urban air pollution by 20 percent by 2030.

Read the full Great Cities Partnership proposal here.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.