Published on 27 Jun 2023

Surbana Jurong of Singapore to help build 123 new cities in Africa

The continent is struggling to manage rapid urbanisation and population growth

SMEC, a global infrastructure advisory firm owned by Surbana Jurong, a Singaporean urban planning company, is assisting in the Africa123 initiative which aims to address Africa's unchecked urbanisation by developing 123 new cities across the continent.

The driving forces behind Africa123 are Regen Africa and urban development company Communitgrow. Their focus is to tackle Africa's significant urban infrastructure deficit. The continent is facing a shortfall of at least 51 million housing units, which has forced many into informal settlements. The housing crisis is amplified by swift urbanisation and a growing population forecast to almost double to 2.5 billion by 2050. In the next two decades, Africa is projected to become predominantly urban, adding more than 500 million people to its cities. Existing urban centres are ill-equipped to cope with this fast growth. 

The vision of Africa123 is to build sustainable cities with a core focus on ensuring food, water, and energy security. These communities will encompass both residential and commercial real estate, including industrial sites, retail spaces, and offices. Essential transport, utilities, and communication infrastructures are planned, along with facilities such as schools, hospitals, places of worship, and recreational spaces.

John Anderson, the COO of SMEC's Africa division, told Bloomberg that his firm is currently assisting with funding applications and could potentially support future projects under the programme. The African Union Development Agency NEPAD is reportedly also in discussions with the initiative's promoters to collaborate on a pilot project.

The initiative aspires for each of the 55 African Union member states to construct between one to three new cities. The projected funding requirement for this ambitious endeavour is estimated at US$150bn, intended to cover the basic infrastructure, essential services, and the construction of the foundational structures in each city. The idea is for local employees, who help in the initial construction phase, to secure their homes using a residential mortgage bond fund. The income from these first home sales will be used to finance subsequent construction phases until the city's completion. The initiative also includes a plan to convert new home loans into bonds. The aim is to sell these bonds to investment and pension funds within each respective country, creating a continuous source of funding for the remainder of the project.

Plans are in place to this year kick-start rezoning and feasibility studies for four potential city locations – one in South Africa and three in Ghana. The proposed South African site, dubbed Milkwood City, is situated on the outskirts of Cape Town, with the aspiration to house 200,000 homes for 800,000 residents. The Ghanaian sites are spread across the greater Accra region, near Kumasi, and in the Bono East region in the country's centre.

Aside from the Africa123 scheme, SMEC and Surbana Jurong are currently involved in creating a masterplan for the Lake Volta region in Ghana. This study will outline a long-term, integrated regional development plan to unlock the economic potential of Lake Volta and its surrounding areas, while safeguarding the natural environment.

SMEC's work in Africa goes beyond Ghana. For instance, the company has been contracted to supervise the upgrade of a 63km road project in Rwanda, and in neighbouring Uganda, the Ministry of Water and Environment engaged SMEC to review designs and oversee construction of several water projects. Additionally, SMEC is behind the design of Zanzibar's first double-carriage flyovers.



Africa Housing Forum in Nairobi highlights need for innovative and inclusive approaches to solve housing challenges’, ReliefWeb, 12 May 2022

SMEC designs Zanzibar’s first double carriage flyovers’, SMEC, 07 November 2022

SMEC appointed to lead Lake Volta Master Plan, Ghana’, SMEC, 01 February 2023

SMEC to supervise upgrade of Base-Butaro-Kidaho road, Rwanda’, SMEC, 02 March 2023

Forecast of the total population of Africa from 2020 to 2050’, Statista, 28 April 2023

SMEC to carry out design review and construction supervision for World Bank Water program, Uganda’, SMEC, 01 June 2023

Reimagining economic growth in Africa: Turning diversity into opportunity’, McKinsey & Company, 05 June 2023

Temasek subsidiary may back $202b plan to build 123 new cities in Africa’, The Straits Times, 08 June 2023

AFRICA123 Initiative’, Regen Africa, Accessed 26 June 2023

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