Although Africa is the least urbanized region in the world, with only 40% of the population living in cities and towns, this rate is expected to rise to over 50% by 2030. With an urbanization rate of 4%, almost twice the rate of Latin America and Asia, the need to confront the challenges of urbanization and promote stable urban development is urgent.

A key challenge that many African cities face is how to foster good governance and democratic institutions. On June 7 and 8, 2005, The Comparative Urban Studies Project hosted a two-day conference in Maputo, Mozambique to raise awareness of "transformational development". This type of development accomplishes more than raising living standards or reducing poverty; it transforms countries through comprehensive, fundamental changes in government, human capacity and economic structure. In particular, the forum stressed the important role cities play in fostering more effective governance strategies and stable democracies. The panelists consisted of a wide range of stakeholders with an interest in promoting transformational development. These included mayors from both small and large African cities, council members, managers of urban infrastructure projects, heads of urban planning agencies, leaders of civil society groups, academic researchers and urban specialists, development practitioners and representatives from donor agencies including USAID, AFDB and the World Bank.

The first day of the conference focused on a panel of keynote speakers who addressed specific topics relevant to Mozambique's current development strategy and its ability to confront urban challenges. In addition, keynote speakers discussed the nexus between urban governance and transformational development, examining the impact of urban policies on national development and stability.

Following the set of keynote presentations, experts addressed the following topics: 1) increasing economic opportunities in urban areas; 2) democratic urban governance: service delivery, accountability and transparency; 3) the challenge of slums and urban environmental management; and, 4) addressing critical urban health problems. Participants were divided into four working groups to further explore these issues.

On the second day, Group 1 led the discussion about increasing economic opportunities in urban areas. They reported that collective needs (in terms of goods and services) are primarily determined by specific age groups. Productivity levels in the business environment are low, while bankruptcy rates are high and the legal system is inefficient. Markets also need adequate infrastructure to supply sustainable jobs and foster a stable economy. Taxes need to be reduced or the government needs to establish tax benefits for small and micro enterprises.

Group 2 led the discussion on democratic urban governance. Governance and civil society must be linked together. There needs to be a balance between economic, human and technical development. Political boundaries should correspond to economic boundaries. The task of the central government is to eliminate restraints on small and medium sized cities. The task of the municipal government is to establish markets with the necessary infrastructure. Cities, in turn, must work to change cultural habits, particularly in terms of tax payment.

Group 3 led the discussion on the challenge of slums and urban environmental management. The group recognized the alignment of planning instruments within government as a major challenge to urban areas. There needs to be a link between the development of housing in urban and rural settings. There is need for more research on slums and how to improve them. Any measures to improve slums must be backed by well-informed studies. The group also raised the question of what land tenure options are available to the poor. Cooperative housing and community partnerships exist, but how many of them are actually documented? The group also emphasized the need to create attractive conditions for residents to want to be a part of their community. Finally, local capacity building is necessary.

Group 4 led the discussion on critical urban health problems. The group discussed the need to draft a multidisciplinary strategy to address health and educational services. There needs to be education for hygiene particularly in schools, linking health with sanitation. If a program is successful, it should then be replicated in other parts of cities and localities. There should be basic health benefits for all citizens. In addition, community participation in health programs must be fostered at all levels. The challenge that remains is improving an education system to include health education.

In conclusion, conference participants agreed that new approaches to local development could become the engine of greater economic development. Policy priorities that reinforce urban governance include: 1) improving the delivery of urban services; 2) improving living conditions; and, 3) empowering citizenry. Investing in education and building on human capacity is a crucial element in the process of transformational development. Fostering transformational development in African cities also requires engaging civil society in local government, developing methods and tools of intervention and promoting transparency and fiscal responsibility.