The impact of urbanisation and urban growth on humanity has made megacities an important and burning agenda in contemporary political and development discourse. Megacities, most especially those in the Third World, are fast becoming emerging frontiers for socio-economic growth and development in an increasingly globalised international system. There is no doubt that megacities have become a phenomenon that is worth the attention of academics, politicians, policymakers, the organised private sector and civil society. In 2014, the Ramphal Institute launched its megacities project; a programme conceived and designed to identify best practices and practicable solutions to the problems of governance, service delivery and finance in megacities within the Commonwealth. But what is the importance of a Commonwealth perspective to the discourse on megacities and how will it impact the debate on urbanisation and urban growth?
Urban settlements within the Commonwealth feature prominently among those with exponential increase in their population. Cities like Bombay, Dhaka, Karachi, Lagos and New Delhi are currently home to over 10 million inhabitants each. These cities are now important political and economic centres that shape, in a decisive manner, the fortune and future of their respective countries, regions and population. What transpire in these Commonwealth cities have serious impact on international political and economic relations. It is this stark reality that should make megacities an issue at the front burner of development discourse in the Commonwealth especially among a cross-section of stakeholders within members of the organisation.
The Commonwealth, therefore, cannot afford to take a back seat especially when one considers the fact that over 100 million of its citizens reside in megacities and are confronted with everyday challenges of urbanisation and urban growth. While some benefit from the opportunities these cities present, millions are trapped under the burden of their challenges and contradictions. This makes the involvement of the Commonwealth strategic and important. Being an established international organisation with long standing reputation, the Commonwealth can and should provide a platform through which the exchange of ideas on how best to address the inherent problems in its megacities can flourish. Given the fact that megacities are by nature complex and dynamic societies in terms of demographics, socio-economic outlook and organisational structure, the Commonwealth can help leverage the establishment of functional linkages and interrelationship among the megacities within the group. Such relationships are non-existence at the moment in spite of the spiral effect events in megacities have on each other and the rest of the world.
While the lack of functional linkages among Commonwealth’s megacities is mainly due to their geographical spread, ideological dissimilarities, racial and cultural diversity, and complex governance structure, these issues if well managed can become problem solving opportunities instead of hindrances. They can provide a premise for exploring areas where potential connections can be established among these cities based on common interests, shared values, and similar challenges. This is especially the case with Commonwealth’s megacities in Africa and Asia where neither cross-continental research nor city-level policy assessment of opportunities and challenges has been done. The lack of knowledge at this level is a limitation to the development of effective intervention mechanisms, at the Commonwealth’s level, to reduce the negative effects of urbanization on megacities.
Therefore, given the possibility that inter-city cooperation among Commonwealth’s megacities may play an important role towards securing their future prosperity, there is a need to develop a sound evidence base framework on how the interactions can be established and sustained. There is no organisation better positioned to midwife the establishment of this relationship than the Commonwealth.
By Adesoji Adeniyi, PhD - Ramphal Institute Research Associate