Urbanization Impact in Africa

Africa is urbanizing at twice the rate of Europe

Africa’s urbanization rate has had a profound effect on its continental communities. According to the OECD, Africa is currently urbanizing at twice the rate that Europe did. The urban migration rate in Africa’s total population increased from 14% in 1950 to 40% in 2016. OECD experts also report that it took Europe 110 years to move from 15% urban in 1800, to 40% urban in 1910. However, Africa achieved the same transformation in 60 years, which is almost half the time. The continent’s urban environments are growing at historical rates coupled with its rapid population growth. For example, the population living in most major cities doubled between 1995 and 2015. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to be urbanized.

This rapid urban transition creates vast opportunities for infrastructure, industrialization, increased productivity, safety and improved living standards– through innovation, bigger regional markets, and greater demand for higher value-added goods. In order to benefit both rural and urban economies, Africa will require, among many strategies, improved urban infrastructure and public goods provision, land management, education, better quality housing, as well as multi-level governance. Like their global counterparts, Africa’s cities and towns are engines of growth that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.

The African Economic Outlook 2016  concludes that Africa’s urbanization holds immense potential for accelerating structural transformation that drives economic growth. Cities impact economic output primarily by stimulating growth in key economic sectors like infrastructure, agriculture, energy education and healthcare. For example, two-thirds of the investment in urban infrastructure needed by 2050 has yet to be made to accommodate the growing urban population in Africa. Infrastructure development is a big economic opportunity for domestic and foreign investors, with the potential to create millions of jobs on the ground. This is possible through a safer and inclusive urban housing, and robust environmental management in urban centers, as clean access to water and other natural resources, controlling air pollution, developing clean cost-efficient public transportation systems, improving waste collection and increasing access to energy.

African cities by design, should increase the consumer base for African food producers. By 2016, the consumer urbanized  sector accounted for 40% of the total population, 50% of total food consumption and 60% of the food consumer market. The West Africa Club estimates that the food sector created a food economy worth US$180 billion in 2010, by far the region’s biggest private sector-industry. Higher agricultural productivity, industrialization, services stimulated by a growing middle class and foreign direct investment in urban corridors stimuli will generate real economic growth. As a result, it is now virtually impossible to ignore the economic, social and environmental impact of effective urbanization. Yet, realizing the promise of cities requires cashing in on the urbanization dividend through bold policy reforms and sound planning. Well-functioning cities don’t just happen; they are created to ensure functionality well. This requires tailored and sustainable urbanization strategies, systems, and programs.

The Smart Cities have to be designed and implemented to reflect specific contexts and diverse urban realities. Better matching of formal real estate markets with housing demands by clarifying land rights is one necessary policy reform. Improving connectivity with rural areas as well as building infrastructure and expanding services within and between cities are other strategic components. Today, however, less than a third of African countries have their own urbanization strategies. Well-functioning cities also need capable, transparent governance. The urban investment requirements of sub-Saharan Africa alone are estimated between $12.5 billion and $35 billion per year contingent on urban growth and population densities.

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