African cities are growing fast. A highly controversial solution is the construction of so-called “new cities”. Based on a study of the new Urban Hub of Diamniadio (UHD) in Senegal, this paper unpacks and challenges the idea of new cities as a horizontal, one-size-fits-all solution. The paper argues that the UHD represents an inherently political policy tool, used to reassert central state power over strategic territories. As a political flagship project of President Macky Sall, the UHD is a top-down approach that excludes decentralised bodies and citizens from urban policy making.
Urbanisation offers great potential for Africa’s economic and social development but the rapid transformation is also putting a strain on Africa’s cities. Citizens have long demanded participation in urban governance that goes beyond elections. Although participatory processes have become increasingly evident, they are still far from being institutionalised at scale. This policy brief argues that participatory processes need to be thoroughly embedded in politics in order to move beyond particularistic gains towards a structural improvement of relations between citizens, CSOs, and local governments.