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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

(introductory text...)

The continuing rapid rate and scale of urbanization
The urban environment
The limitations of industrialization
The impact of structural adjustment
Sub-Saharan Africa as the global periphery
Implications for urbanization and industrialization


David Simon


It is inevitably impossible within the scope of a short paper to do justice to the diversity of urban conditions in the 46 countries 1 comprising Sub-Saharan Africa. For this the reader is referred to the several comprehensive accounts that are available (e.g. O'Connor 1983, 1991; Gilbert and Gugler 1992; Simon 1992). Only a brief summary of the five most salient recent trends and issues is given here. Many recent urban and economic studies have focused upon tropical Africa rather than Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. South Africa, Namibia, and the BLS countries (i.e. Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland) have thus unfortunately been excluded, as if they formed a distinct and discrete subregion. This is difficult to defend. South Africa, in particular, is vital, given its historically pivotal role in southern and central Africa, its status as Sub-Saharan Africa's most highly urbanized and industrialized country, and the current implications of this as its economic and political relations with the rest of the Sub-Saharan countries mushroom even before the formal demise of white minority rule.

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)

The urban environment

Although urban areas are generally better served with infrastructure and public utilities than are pert-urban and rural areas, major disparities in access to these forms of collective consumption exist within towns and cities. Whereas the urban elites and most of the middle classes enjoy adequate facilities, in some cases on a par with first world standards, the urban poor endure varying degrees of deprivation. Two components of inaccessibility can be distinguished:

1. Inadequate service or infrastructure provision, in that the resources and political will to expand piped water and reticulated sewerage networks, refuse and other solid waste collection services, and health care and education systems in accordance with urban growth have proved lacking. Even the reduction of standards, e.g. pit latrines and communal standpipes, as commonly incorporated in site and service or shanty upgrading schemes, for example, has not enabled such services to reach anything like all urban residents. Many peripheral and poor neighbourhoods are thus unserved, while infrastructural maintenance in older low-income areas, even of formal dwellings, has often been deficient or neglected (Hardoy and Satterthwaite 1984; Hardoy, Mitlin, and Satterthwaite 1992; Simon 1992).

2. The unaffordability to the poor of services that do exist. This problem is particularly acute in the absence of state health care, for example, or when residents are unable to afford the cost of water and electricity installations and payments. As discussed below, the situation in this regard has deteriorated markedly since the early 1980s as a result of public expenditure cutbacks and widespread retrenchments under the impact of structural adjustment and economic recovery programmes. Class, ethnicity, gender, and access to employment are becoming, more than ever, the critical determinants of urban quality of life in urban Sub-Saharan Africa.

The urban environment of large cities is also suffering increasingly as a result of industrial pollution. Although there have fortunately been no disasters on the scale of Bhopal or Mexico City in SubSaharan Africa, industry is a major polluter in metropolitan areas such as the PWV and Lagos. On calm days, the smog enveloping Cape Town is on a par with that choking Los Angeles. Here and elsewhere, high motor vehicle concentrations play a role. In addition to atmospheric pollution, groundwater and soil contamination by toxic chemical discharges, leaks, and unscrupulous dumping is widespread across the continent. Notorious cases of imported toxic dumping in several African countries have hit the headlines in recent years (O'Keefe 1988). Factory workers are often at great risk from hazardous substances and processes, for which they commonly receive inadequate training and/or protective clothing.

In many countries, the basic problem is the absence or inadequacy of environmental legislation and emission controls. However, even in countries such as Nigeria and to some extent South Africa, which now have relevant laws on the statute book, the problems persist. This reflects inadequate enforcement of the regulations on account of staff and equipment shortages, lack of muscle, political corruption and nepotism/clientelism, or executive decisions to play down environmental considerations in the pursuit of employment and industrial output. A recent United Nations Environment Programme/World Health Organization (UNEP/WHO) study found that, overall, megacities in countries of the South now suffer more severe air pollution than their counterparts in the North (UNEP/WHO 1992). Although no African city was included, the implications for large cities such as Cairo, the PWV complex, and Lagos are ominous.

Finally, in this context, it is necessary to record that poverty is also a source of urban air pollution. The great majority of urban Africans still rely on fuelwood, charcoal, or coal as their primary energy source for cooking and heating. At night, especially in winter, large lowincome areas are often submerged under thick blankets of smoke.

The limitations of industrialization

It is no coincidence that Sub-Saharan Africa is not only the world's least urbanized continental region but also (apart from the Caribbean) the least industrialized. There are no newly industrializing countries (NICs) and no industrial cities on the scale of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, or Mexico City. Even where industry forms a significant activity and has diversified since the 1960s, as in the major metropolitan centres and cities such as Bulawayo, it is geared essentially to import substitution for the domestic market rather than for export (Simon 1992). Many inappropriate prestige industrial projects have failed to operate efficiently, and such investments, especially when funded by the state, have drained resources from other sectors of the economy.

The emphasis has remained on primary import substitution, i.e. production of consumer non-durables, whereas Latin America and South-East Asia have made considerable progress in the spheres of consumer durables and light capital goods and in adopting successful export-substitution strategies. Moreover, the benefits to Sub-Saharan Africa of import-substituting industrialization have been reduced by its continued heavy import dependence on inputs and intermediate goods. Currency devaluations, especially as an element of structural adjustment of the economy over the 1980s, have aggravated the problems, leading to poor utilization even of existing industrial capacity. Even in South Africa, the most sophisticated Sub-Saharan economy, manufacturing (as distinct from all industry) provides only about a quarter of gross domestic product.

The impact of structural adjustment

The role of structural adjustment and associated policies deserves specific attention. Their impact across the continent has been profound, often exacerbating macroeconomic conditions, at least in the short to medium term, and having the most severe consequences for the poorest countries, the most powerless groups (notably the poor and female-headed households), and the environment, which is now subject to even more intense exploitation pressures. Many infrastructural, social, and related programmes that were vital to the urban (and rural) poor have been savagely cut or abolished, while the loss of subsidies and rapid decline in purchasing power of low- and most middle-income earners have hit people hard (see Save the Children Fund/Overseas Development Institute 1988; Onimode 1988, 1989; South Commission 1990; O'Connor 1991; Cornia et al. 1992; Stewart et al. 1992; Woodward 1992). Let me add at once that I do not deny the need for radical economic restructuring and political change; nor is it realistic to blame Sub-Saharan Africa's predicament exclusively on external forces. Africa undoubtedly bears significant responsibility too. My problem is far more with the treatment and its wider consequences than with the diagnosis.

Sub-Saharan Africa as the global periphery

Furthermore, it is important to underscore the seriousness of the African situation in comparison with other third world regions. Africa has become the outer periphery of the world economy, the poorest continental region of the world (Simon 1992, 1993) and commensurately marginal politically (Harbeson and Rothchild 1992). A glance at some World Bank and OECD data underscores the point.

Sub-Saharan Africa's dismal economic performance, relative both to all low-income countries and to other continental regions of the South, is starkly illustrated in table 5.1. Whereas the region experienced the fastest growth of value-added in industry until 1973, it has been the slowest growing since then and even declined during 1980s. In fact, during the 1980s, Sub-Saharan Africa's results for all three sectors were the poorest. This situation is clearly unsustainable, given population growth rates and rising expectations.

The rate of return in industry has been so low that transnational corporations (TNCs) disinvested during the 1980s (Bennell 1990; Simon 1992, 1993). Even in South Africa, sanctions proved little more than an expedient political flag under which TNCs withdrew. The Sub-Saharan countries now account for an insignificant percentage of the industrial foreign direct investment (FDI) portfolios of most TNCs, given the strong performance of the Pacific Rim economies, for example. Thus, in respect of global industrial FDI by United Kingdom firms, Sub-Saharan Africa's share fell from around 4 per cent in the mid-1970s to 0.5 per cent in 1986 (Bennell 1990). I see little prospect of major new net FDI flows into Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole in the foreseeable future, despite the severity of structural adjustment having been predicated largely on the assumption by the IMF and the World Bank, in particular, that creating the "right" economic conditions would prove attractive to large-scale FDI. Yet, although still the world's least urbanized continental region (30-35 per cent), Africa (and Sub-Saharan Africa) - the poorest continent - is actually experiencing the most rapid rate of urbanization (O'Connor 1991; Gilbert and Gugler 1992; Simon 1992).

From table 5.2 it is evident that, although the net indebtedness of the Sub-Saharan countries is comparatively small in US dollar terms, it is extremely serious and unsustainable relative to the size and structure of the continent's economies - as measured by debt service ratios. Moreover, Sub-Saharan Africa's position deteriorated dramatically during the 1980s and is now worse than that of Latin America, the continent that precipitated the debt crisis and that has shown modest improvement over the 1980s on some indicators. Table 5.2 includes three slightly different forms of debt service ratio in order to highlight both the consistency of the region's deterioration across these variables and the sensitivity of the magnitude of such change to the particular variable(s) used. Table 5.3 shows the extent of Sub

Table 5.1 Sectoral growth rates, 1965-1989 (average annual percentage change of value-added)





Country group 1965-73 1973-80 1980-89a 1965-73 1973-80 1980-89° 1965-73 1973--80 1980-89
Low-income economies 2.9 1.8 4.3 10.7 7.0 8.7 6.3 5.3 6.1
Middle-income economies 3.2 3.0 2.7 8.0 4.0 3.2 7.6 6.3 3.1
Severely indebted middle-income economies 3.1 3.6 2.7 6.8 5.4 1.0 7.2 5.4 1.7
Sub-Saharan Africa 2.2 - 0.3 1.8 13.9 4.2 - 0.2 4.1 3.1 1.5
East Asia 3.2 2.5 5.3 12.7 9.2 10.3 10.5 7.3 79
South Asia 3.1 2.2 2.7 3.9 5.6 7.2 4.0 5.3 6.1
Latin America and the Caribbean 3.0 3.7 2.5 6.8 5.1 1.1 7.3 5.4 1.7

Source: World Bank (1990: 162).
a. Figures in italic in the 1980 89 columns are not for the full decade.

Table 5.2 The external debt burden' 1990 and 1980

Region/ineome categorya

Total external debt as % of exports of goods and services

Total debt service as % of exports

Interest payments as % of exports

  1990 1980 1990 1980 1990 1980
Sub-Saharan Afriea 324.3 96.8 19.3 10.9 8.9 5.7
Low-income countries, of which 218.5 105.1 20.1 10.3 9.3 5.1
1 Mozambique 1,573.3 - 14.4 - 7.7 -
2 Tanzania 1,070.7 317.8 25.8 19.6 10.9 10.0
3 Ethiopia 480.3 136.2 33.0 7.6 8.1 4.7
4 Somalia 2,576.2 252.0 11.7 4.9 5.8 0.9
9 Malawi 328.5 260.8 22.5 27.7 9.1 16.7
17 Nigeria 242.7 32.2 20.3 4.2 12.1 3.3
18 Niger 464.2 132.8 24.1 21.7 8.9 12.9
25 Kenya 306.3 165.1 33.8 21.4 14.8 11.3
27 Ghana 353.4 116.0 34.9 13.1 9.9 4.4
34 Lesotho 41.2 19.5 2.4 1.5 0.8 0.6
Lower-middle-income countries, of which 179.0 115.2 20.3 18.8 8.4 9.1
45 Zimbabwe 155.0 45.4 22.6 3.8 9.6 1.5
46 Senegal 236.8 162.7 20.4 28.7 8.1 10.5
48 Cote d'lvoire 487.4 160.7 38.6 28.3 13.3 13.0
56 Congo 352.5 146.7 20.7 10.8 10.5 6.7
71 Botswana 22.9 17.S 4.4 1.9 1.6 1.1
Upper-middle-income countries, of which 132.1 159.6 17.9 31.0 8.2 16.6
93 Gabon 138.4 62.2 7.6 17.7 5.0 6.3
East Asia and Pacific 91.1 88.8 14.6 13.5 5.8 7.7
South Asia 281.5 162.9 25.9 12.2 13.1 5.2
Bangladesh 448.2 345.6 25.4 23.2 7.7 6.4
India 282.4 136.0 28.X 9.3 15.9 4.2
Europe 125.7 90.6 16.9 15.9 6.8 7.1
Middle East and North Africa 180.3 114.9 24.4 16.4 8.1 7.4
Latin America and Caribbean 257.4 196.8 25.0 37.3 13.3 19.7
Mexico 222.0 259.2 27.8 49.5 16.7 27.4
Brazil 326.8 304.9 20.8 63.1 8.2 33.8

Source: World Bank (19Y2).
a. Regional and income category averages are weighted hy size of flows.

Table 5.3 Official development assistance (ODA) by region and origin, 1984-1990 (current US$m)

  1984 % 1988 % 1989 % 1990 %
Net disbursements (all sources), of which 414.7 1 522.6 1 356.7 1 1,496.5a 3
from DAC countries 302.0 73 477.1 91 358.7 101 783.5 52
by multilateral agencies 74.3 18 86.0 16 39.7 11 41.5 3
Net disbursements (all sources) 11,375.2 37 17,694.0 38 18,286.2 39 25,512.0 43
from DAC countries 7,515.9 66 12,532.1 71 12,654.0 69 16,561.9 65
by multilateral agencies 2,823.3 25 4,924.6 28 5,528.8 30 6,104.2 24
Africa north of Sahara:
Net disbursements (all sources) 2,424.3 8 2,527.2 5 2,445.9 5 7,146.4b 12
from DAC countries 2,156.0 89 2,205.9 87 2,090.8 85 4,142.3 58
by multilateral agencies 211.0 9 286.1 11 355.0 15 265.4 4
Africa south of Sahara:
Net disbursements (all sources) 8,211.1 27 14,801.6 32 15,304.3 32 17,879.4 30
from DAC countries 5,216.1 64 10,123.5 68 10,220.7 67 12,146.3 68
by multilateral agencies 2,506.7 31 4,482.4 30 4,983.5 33 5,626.1 31
North & Central America:
Net disbursements (all sources) 2,248.4 7 3,213.6 7 3,380.4 7 3,991.1 7
from DAC countries 1,775.3 79 2,697.3 84 2,865.0 85 3,471.8 87
by multilateral agencies 473.2 21 515.9 16 514.5 15 519.6 13
South America:
Net disbursements (all sources) 1,101.6 4 1,639.4 4 1,885.6 4 2,078.0 3
from DAC countries 774.5 70 1,271.6 78 1,518.0 81 1,631.9 79
by multilateral agencies 329.6 30 368.1 22 368.3 20 446.2 27
Middle East:
Net disbursements (all sources) 3,456.2 11 2,441.5 5 2,305.4 5 4,118.2c 7
from DAC countries 1,537.1 44 1,913.9 78 1,806.9 78 2,200.5 53
by multilateral agencies 233.7 7 232.8 10 364.0 16 560.2 14
South Asia:
Net disbursements (all sources) 4,544.7 15 6,718.9 14 6,309.8 13 6,334.6 11
from DAC countries 2,184.2 48 3,991.2 59 3,658.7 58 3,343.3 53
by multilateral agencies 2,310.3 51 2,767.5 41 2,693.7 43 3,004.4 47
Far East:
Net disbursements (all sources) 2,852.4 9 5,520.9 12 6,292.2 13 6,997.9 12
from DAC countries 2,205.2 77 4,326.4 78 5,086.1 81 5,595.4 80
by multilateral agencies 547.8 19 1,200.0 22 1,208.1 19 1,364.2 19
Net disbursements (all sources) 971.7 3 1,436.4 3 1,361.6 3 1,348.5 2
from DAC countries 912.4 94 1,291.3 90 1,273.6 94 1,214.7 90
by multilateral agencies 59.3 6 144.9 10 87.8 6 133.5 10
Net disbursements (all sources) 30,984.9 100 46,370.1 100 47,281.1 100 59,828.2 100
from DAC countries 19,693.8 64 33,155.9 72 34,228.1 72 40,225.7 67
by multilateral agencies 7,637.0 25 11,326.9 24 11,736.3 25 13,447.1 22

Source: OECD, Geographical Distribution of Financual Flows to Developing Countries: Disbursements, Commitments, Economic Indicators, 1987/1990. Paris, 1992.
Note: Neither the annual totals nor percentages for all regions add up exactly to the global totals because of various unspecified and unallocated disbursements.
a. Turkey received a dramatically increased allocation in 1990.
b. Egypt received a dramatically increased allocation in lsso.
c. Syna received a dramatically increased allocation in 1990 (back to levels of 1987 and earlier).

Saharan Africa's current high aid reliance relative to other regions, a picture unlikely to change much in the near future.

Implications for urbanization and industrialization

The preceding analysis leads me to the following set of linked contentions with respect to the future prospects for urbanization and industrialization in Sub-Saharan Africa.

1. Urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly urbanization of and by the poor; urban environments are increasingly environments of poverty, with all the attendant pressures and problems not least for the poor themselves.

2. In the struggle to survive, poor people inevitably put today's food and income ahead of tomorrow's environment, be it urban or rural. Generally, the environment suffers, although refuse-pickers and associated scrap-recycling activities may reduce urban solid waste disposal and litter problems significantly - albeit under unhealthy and even hazardous conditions (see Furedy 1990; Bouverie 1991).

3. Industrialization in Sub-Saharan Africa is highly unlikely to expand and diversify dramatically or to provide a great many more jobs in the near future, even after restructuring, more selective investment, and greater domestic sourcing of inputs where possible. The most significant industrial growth is likely to occur in the relatively small-scale sector (see 5 below).

4. Moreover, recession and state sector cut-backs under structural adjustment are exacerbating industrial pressures on the environment and often make the enforcement of conservation or pollution abatement legislation - even where such does now exist, as in Nigeria - more rather than less difficult.

5. Existing urban conditions and current trends are clearly unsustainable, and rather more radical changes will be required to promote sustainability than is implied in more official pronouncements by local, regional, or national state bodies and private companies around the world on the subject. Equally, the view that the environment is of secondary importance to the imperative of employment generation and economic growth must be challenged as untenable in the face of the wealth of available evidence. The basic prerequisite is action on poverty in the broadest sense. Different forms and types of industrialization, technology, and energy policies must be explored, promoting local suitability, greater local and sustainable resource use, and, where appropriate, more labour-intensive techniques (Environment and Urbanization 1992). The building materials industry is a prime case for treatment (Simon 1992), with major potential environmental and economic benefits. Generally, the "informal" and wider small business sectors can play a significant role within integrated strategies but do not represent a panacea in themselves. There is now a well-established case for addressing the problems and needs of small enterprises (both formal and "informal") in an integrated manner (Bromley 1993).

6. Urban management and government (or "governance," in contemporary international agency parlance) will also need to undergo major reorganization in line with these objectives, the need to democratize structures, and fuller public participation and control (Stren and White 1989; Environment and Urbanization 1991; Devas and Rakodi 1993; chap. 6 in this volume). Although the new rhetoric is now being widely adopted, substantive change is still rarely evident. Addressing the continued alienation of a sizeable proportion of the urban population represents a formidable challenge.

7. Given Sub-Saharan Africa's global position, greater collective selfreliance and innovativeness will be necessary. The shift in emphasis underlying the reconstitution of the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in August 1992 is indicative of such thinking. Counter-trade and other unconventional forms of exchange may need to be expanded. Current democratization across Sub-Saharan Africa could also be instrumental, if it proves genuine and substantive rather than purely symbolic. Overall, the problems remain formidable but I do sense renewed hope and energy amid the poverty, despair, and violence in many parts of the continent. Although the much-vaunted dawning of a post-Cold War "new world order" has clearly proved premature - in Africa as elsewhere - some significant gains have been made in many states, even as Angola and Somalia sink ever deeper into chaos. It is also worth reminding ourselves that the critical instability currently gripping Sub-Saharan Africa's most populous and well-endowed countries (Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zaire) symbolizes the difficulties and resistance to be overcome in moving to a more open, democratic, participatory - and therefore potentially sustainable - order.


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