Of the 13 African cities included in management consulting firm Kearney’s recently released yearly Global Cities report, Johannesburg had the highest ranking, at number 55.
The report provides an analysis of the ranked global cities index (GCI) which uses a multitude of metrics to ascertain city competitiveness in terms of progress, development and innovations, and responses to uniquely urban challenges.
The metrics are based on five key areas – business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience and political engagement and include common economic indicators like gini coefficient, gross domestic product and the number of start-ups.
The destructive impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic against these metrics is also articulated in this year's report.
The report reveals that Cairo was second highest at 64, Cape Town ranked third in Africa at 77, Nairobi ninetieth, Casablanca at 107, Accra at 110 and Tunis at 111.
According to Kearney, the report paints a stark snapshot of a volatile, increasingly fragmented environment characterised by fierce competition among cities for status – a situation acutely exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report, nevertheless, also highlights the persistent benefits of urban concentration, even in the face of unprecedented pressure.
Newly added metrics in the tenth edition of the report include the number of unicorn companies – a key precursor to rapid economic development, and the number of medical universities – a crucial yardstick for gauging the readiness of cities against Covid-19 and any future public health emergencies.
Kearney principal Prashaen Reddy says that, globally, a picture emerges of key urban metros in Asia and the Middle East catching up and even surpassing their North American and European counterparts.
“North America still dominates, although many US cities face volatility and instability, as reflected by dramatic shifts in their positions. Chinese cities are the biggest risers, while Africa as a region remains stable, yet is sadly still by far the lowest-scoring region.”
He adds that, given the immense challenges faced by African city leaders, including the continent’s unparalleled pace of urbanisation compared with other continents, and the volatility presented by fierce global competition as cities vie for the self-reinforcing power of global status, it is “unsurprising” that most of the African urban centres analysed have actually fallen in their rankings.
The African case studies have laid bare existing urban problems, for example the close links between low income and poor healthcare access and outcomes.
However, the report also elaborates on key areas where African cities can improve their outcomes, such as urban value creation, city interconnectedness and positive transformation of urban space.
While each city will have to adapt in its own way to cater for variations in factors like geography, demography and industrial strength, Kearney points out that there is a universal need for leaders to drive innovative progress in these three vital areas.
Africa currently has only three unicorn companies – a reliable indicator of economic vitality. These are Jumia of Nigeria, Promasidor Holdings and not a new start up but privately owned Cell C in South Africa.
“Nonetheless, cities like Cape Town, Lagos and Nairobi have been identified as innovation ecosystem hotbeds, which will hopefully lead to more inclusive economies burgeoning across the continent,” he says.
“Indeed, initiatives like Amazon Web Services have spearheaded cloud-based infrastructural development and digital transformation in a meaningful way that offers cascading benefits for Africa’s economic outlook,” adds Reddy.
But while Covid-19 has drastically altered the character of urban life across the globe, there are hints in the report that suggest a cautiously optimistic outlook for urban governance and development in Africa’s future.
The Global Cities Outlook advocates for urban planning and value creation that echoes the aspirations of the urban citizenry.
“In many African cities like Johannesburg, addressing spatial and economic inequality may be the most crucial project in terms of improving their global city status, as well as their overall resilience and capacity to weather future catastrophes,” he concludes.