First post: Making the case for migration research with African intermediary cities
by Janina Stürner-Siovitz
According to the OECD, Africa is the continent with the fastest urban growth worldwide, with a population expected to double between 2020 and 2050. Two-thirds of this growth will take place in urban areas, with intermediary cities exhibiting particularly high growth rates and forecast to absorb about half of the overall increase in urban residents.
What does it take to be considered an intermediary city in the African contexts or elsewhere? Recent work pioneered by actors such as Cities Alliance and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) has broadened the focus from population figures towards intra- and inter-city connectivity. The newly launched Equal Partnerships research project developed by the University of Nuremberg, UCLG Africa, Samuel Hall and the German Development Institute builds on the idea that this perspective is highly valuable for research on urban migration governance. In particular, this conceptualization allows taking into account a city’s inner social, economic, political, and physical networks as well as a city’s position in and connections within regional, national, and global systems. From this viewpoint, an intermediary city’s functionality and connectivity can be shaped through networked flows formed by human mobility, ideas, technology, trade, and capital among other factors. Intermediary cities are thus particularly sensitive to external influences but can also influence other rural and urban areas, and may therefore play central roles in addressing interdependent global challenges such as climate change, migration, and inequality.
On the African continent, a growing number of intermediary cities are becoming nodes for mixed migration movements. Not necessarily intended as final destinations, persons on the move may consider intermediary cities more accessible – financially, geographically and socially – than capital cities, especially during the early phases of a migration journey. Opportunities for mobile populations to make use of an intermediary city’s connectivity to both rural and urban areas may play an important role in understanding why intermediary cities are expected to contribute substantively to Africa’s urban growth in the coming decades (with important disparities between different regions). Research should therefore focus on the effects that short and long-term, domestic and cross border, as well as circular migration have on intermediary cities in different African regions. Much will depend on the ability of local and regional authorities to integrate human mobility into city planning and work with local, national, and international actors to broaden access to services and employment opportunities. So far, intermediary cities, also referred to as “secondary cities[AS1] ,” often remain disadvantaged with regard to economic status, municipal capacities, and resources, as national development strategies (and international support) for urban planning have traditionally prioritized capital cities or other economic centres considered most important within a given country. Such situations are also exacerbated by municipal loss of revenue in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on data from the Africa Local Finance Observatory, a 2020 report by UN-HABITAT, UNCDF, UCLG Africa, and UNECA projected that African local authorities may lose on average between 30% (best case scenario) and 65% (worst case scenario) of their local finances in the pandemic.
Recognizing both the risks of continued neglect as well as the potentials of intermediary cities to respond to global challenges through partnerships with national and international actors and better access to funding, the G20 launched the G20 Platform on SDG Localisation and Intermediary Cities in 2021. In the same year, the second UCLG World Forum of Intermediary Cities proposed pooling funds for “forgotten cities” to enhance local authorities’ access to financial markets and to establish an “Intermediary Cities Green Fund.”
In an African context, the city network United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa) will dedicate the 9th iteration of Africities, a triennial pan-African summit of local and regional governments next to be held in May 2022 in Kisumu, to the role of intermediary cities in implementing the Agenda 2030 and the Agenda 2063. In particular, Africities’ sessions focusing on mixed migration could provide fertile soil for participatory research on urban migration governance in African intermediary cities.