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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 1: Economy and society: development issues
close this folderUrbanization and industrialization: What future for Sub-Saharan Africa?
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe continuing rapid rate and scale of urbanization
View the documentThe urban environment
View the documentThe limitations of industrialization
View the documentThe impact of structural adjustment
View the documentSub-Saharan Africa as the global periphery
View the documentImplications for urbanization and industrialization
View the documentReferences

The continuing rapid rate and scale of urbanization

Although Sub-Saharan Africa is the world's poorest and least urbanized and industrialized continental region, it does now have several metropolises with over 3 million inhabitants and problems comparable in intensity to those in megacities elsewhere in the third world. However, the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging (PWV) complex, centred on Johannesburg, Lagos, Kinshasa, Durban, Cape Town, Kano, and Ibadan are still the exceptions. Most capital cities and major industrial centres in Sub-Saharan Africa have populations below 2 million; in the smallest states they house no more than 100,000-150,000. In international terms, these would rank as merely modest intermediate or secondary cities. Yet the majority of urban Africans still live in cities, towns, and villages of this size or smaller.

Nevertheless, it is misleading to focus exclusively on absolute urban size. Far more critical in terms of the ability to absorb, house, and employ people is the rate of urban growth. In this respect, SubSaharan Africa has for some time now led the world, with rates of 5-6 per cent per annum. Many primate centres and some secondary cities have experienced persistent growth of 9 11 per cent per annum, which means that their populations double in less than a decade. These rates are two to three times higher than the respective national population growth rates, which average 3-4 per cent per annum and are themselves among the highest in the world.

Although obviously increasing, the levels of urbanization in the Sub-Saharan countries remain among the lowest in the world. International comparisons are impeded by the widely differing definitions of urban areas adopted by national statistical offices, as well as great variation in the coverage, accuracy, and base years of national censuses. Nevertheless, World Bank compilations are useful as an indicator of orders of magnitude (fig. 5.1). South Africa and Zambia were the only two countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with over half their populations classified as urban in 1990. Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Mauritania, and Zaire fell in the 40-49 per cent range, but the majority of countries had levels of between 20 and 39 per cent. The average in SubSaharan Africa is just over 30 per cent.

It follows from the above that, in contrast to Latin America and much of Asia, rural-urban migration remains the principal source of urban growth, although the contribution of natural increase is rising in the more highly urbanized countries such as Zambia and South Africa. One of the principal reasons for such rapid urbanization has been poverty and the persistence of longstanding urban-rural disparities in the diversity of income-earning opportunities, average incomes, infrastructure, and service provision. Conditions obviously vary across the continent but, on the whole, agricultural mechanization has been rather less of a contributory factor to migration than in more intensively farmed regions of the world. On the other hand, over the past 20 years or so, drought, famine, and armed conHict have forced millions of Africans off the land.

Fig. 5.1 Levels of urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1990 (Source: World Bank 1992)