Africa must develop its rural towns and give local authorities more power in order to ease a strain on cities which are creaking under heavy growth, officials and international planners said on Monday.

Sub-Saharan Africa's traditionally rural-based society is fast disappearing, with more than half of its roughly 700 million people seen living in urban areas by 2030.

African mayors, local leaders and international planners are meeting in Nairobi this week for a five-day Africities summit to tackle rapid urbanisation on the continent, where capitals are afflicted by crime, overpopulation and tired infrastructure.

These shortcomings in our cities and towns compel us to come up with more innovative and urgent measures to reverse the situation, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki told the conference.

There is a need to reorient our strategy for urban development in rural areas to enable the small urban centres eventually become mid-sized towns and cities.

Unchecked flows of rural poor seeking better lives has put an unbearable strain of Africa's major cities.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of annual urban growth in the world. By 2030, its urban population will make up a larger population than that of Europe, according to the United Nations.

Some 72 percent of the region's urban population lives in slums.


We have no permanent place to live, we build mud houses which are demolished by bulldozers, it is like we are from nowhere, Virginia Wangechi, who lives in a Nairobi slum, told Kibaki.

Slum people like us are not regarded as part of the community, said Wangechi, who has a stand at the summit and hopes for more rights for slum dwellers across the continent.

We are encouraging governments to promote small and medium sized towns, so that everybody does not come to the big city, so we can avoid huge cities, Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of the U.N. Human Settlements Programme U.N.-HABITAT told Reuters.

(African cities) are growing very rapidly and the authorities are not able to cope with the pace of growth.

Some major cities have seen this migration stabilise, like in South Africa, where people are increasingly moving to smaller centres, especially those hosting the 2010 soccer World Cup.

The thousands of delegates meeting at the summit are looking at ways to empower local authorities to meet the U.N. Millennium Development goals such as halving extreme poverty by 2015.

There has to be more decentralisation in Africa, said one delegate. (Local authorities) are the people who are the closest to the slum dwellers and those in need.