First, the governments responsible for these highest growth cities and towns need specific development plans that zero in on young male employment and female empowerment. The most powerful government economic and social ministries should co-develop these plans so that they simultaneously target the kind of economic growth, job creation, and social development that disproportionately benefits men and women aged 15 to 24.
Specific strategies could include employing large cohorts of young males on SDG-aligned urban infrastructure projects, such as housing, healthcare, roads, energy, water, and farming. It is important that most of these jobs are paid, private sector jobs that could be financed through public-private partnerships and blended finance.
Government programs to encourage youth to become entrepreneurs and to start businesses should be front and center. Private venture and philanthropic capital should also be investing in pro-development African entrepreneurs, 50% of whom should be women.
At the same time, governments should systematically remove the barriers that keep young women out of school, out of jobs, and out of politics. The tax and transfer system could reward families whose daughters graduate high school, provide free access to modern contraception, and cash transfers to the most vulnerable young women. Financial penalties for child marriage should be enforced vigilantly so that the practice sunsets by 2030. After women give birth, paid parental leave and subsidized childcare in the first years should encourage return to work.
As an investment in the next generation of civic leaders, governments could even set time-limited quotas for women in city and state government, until the percentage of women in city legislatures reaches 50%. To measure the success of these types of strategies, governments could set bold targets and monitor and publish progress.
Specific targets in the high-growth cities and towns could include:
- 90%+ male and female high school graduation rate
- <5% male and female youth unemployment rate
- <3 children per woman
- <2% women under 18 married
- 50% women in local government
To finance these urban development plans, governments would only need to capture a tiny portion of the estimated $US50 billion that leaves Africa in illicit financial flows each year. So-called “STAX” taxes could be introduced on sugar, tobacco, and alcohol products as diets change in these urban areas and the threat of non-communicable disease looms. In countries with natural resources, additional levies on the foreign corporations who benefit most from extraction could be targeted to urban development.
Governments could also consider putting conditions on foreign aid, requiring that a significant portion be pooled and invested in the implementation of urban development plans in these areas. As the ten cities and towns in this analysis form two distinct corridors that cross national borders, regional and continental political platforms like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union could champion these investment corridors as flagships.
Imagine a strategic alliance of west and east African city mayors and state governors, large regional employers, national and continental political leaders, multilateral investment banks and development agencies, philanthropic funders and venture capital firms all aligned to invest in the future of these urban populations.