Urbanisation: Tough choices must be made

  • May 25, 2017

The rate at which Africa is urbanising– one of the fastest in the world – is giving African decision and policy makers an opportunity to rethink the urbanisation path and adopt strategies that will contribute to Africa achieving the continental targets for inclusive growth and transformation. The Economic Report for Africa 2017, which was launched during the Africa Development Week in Dakar, Senegal – with the theme “Urbanisation and Industrialisation for Africa’s Transformation”, said that Africa has so far followed its own urbanising path, which is weakly linked to structural transformation. This, the report said, has resulted in the loss of many opportunities for enhanced growth and productivity, for poverty reduction and for social development. Urbanisation in many African countries has not been driven by improving agricultural productivity. Most countries are urbanising rapidly amid declining or stagnant industrial output and low agricultural poverty. But with Africa now approaching 50% urbanisation, governments, at all levels, have to make hard choices for the scale and type of investments they need to make, and for the spatial pattern and urban form they want to see, the report said. It encourages governments to take advantage of the changing patterns of urban consumption and rising demand for manufactured and processed goods to conceive and implement industrialisation policies to cater for such needs. The largely unmet urban housing needs also provide an opportunity to improve living conditions and generate construction and service jobs, the report indicates.

The Economic Report for Africa 2017, which was launched during the Africa Development Week in Dakar, Senegal – with the theme “Urbanisation and Industrialisation for Africa’s Transformation”, said that Africa has so far followed its own urbanising path.

It further argues that because of its multi-dimensional implications, urbanisation should be anchored in national development plans that would harness it through a strategic crosssectoral policy framework. Governments also need to better manage urban form, improve public land management and the efficient functioning of property markets, streamline social housing programs, prioritise strategic infrastructure investments and place industry at the front rank for local economic development, the Report added. It said it would also be important to back urbanisation and industrialisation policies by financing and institutional set ups that allow for coordinated implementation and budgetary support. “Capacity building should also be given consideration in urbanisation and industrialisation projects since the paucity of knowledge and evidence remains one of the biggest challenges in harmonizing urban and industrial development. “It is vital to develop tools to guide policy makers, planners and practitioners in formulating and implanting urban and industrial policies in a coordinated way, as they focus on national targets of growth and transformation.”

Urbanization is growing in both developed and developing countries. The proportion of the world’s urban population is expected to increase to about 57% by 2050 from 47% in 2000. More than 90% of future population growth will be accounted for by the large cities in the developing countries. In the developing world, Africa has experienced the highest urban growth during the last two decades at 3.5% per year and this rate of growth is expected to hold into 2050. Projections also indicate that between 2010 and 2025, some African cities will account for up to 85% of the population. As shown in figure 2, in 2010, the share of the African urban population was about 36% and is projected to increase to 50% and 60% by 2030 and 2050 respectively. This rapid expansion has changed the continent’s demographic landscape. Yet, urbanization in Africa has failed to bring about inclusive growth which, in turn, has resulted in proliferation of slums, urban poverty and rising inequality. Inequality in African cities remains the second highest in the world with an average Gini coefficient of about 0.58, well above the average of 0.4. Ruralurban migration and natural population growth rates in cities are the major causes of the increasing rate of urban growth and slum proliferation in Africa.

Explosive city growth in sub- Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa’s urbanization rate went from 15 percent in 1960– approximately the same as 1600s Europe – to 38 percent today, which is higher than South Asia. The number of urban residents in Africa nearly doubled between 1995 and 2015 and is projected to almost double again by 2035. Infrastructure and service delivery have not kept pace: Over 50 percent of urban dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa live in slums and only 40 percent of the urban population has access to improved sanitation facilities, a rate that has not changed since 1990. Moreover, Africa’s fertility rate is substantially higher than other regions Figure 2, which means that the urban child dependency ratio is 40 percent higher than Latin America and 65 percent higher than Asia.

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