Even if the Africa of the villages is far from having disappeared, the continent is gradually becoming predominantly urban. Since 1990, the number of cities in Africa has more than doubled in number, from 3 300 to 7 600. Accelerated urbanization which has a profound impact on the economic performance of the continent and the standard of living of the population.

A singular urbanization

In Africa, it is not the rural exodus that feeds the cities, but the villages that become cities simply because of the growth of their population. And cities eventually become metropolises over time.

This singular urbanization is often chaotic with its share of traffic jams, pollution, water or electricity cuts. Nevertheless, this urbanization is a powerful economic lever and is accompanied by a marked rise in the standard of living, according to the Sahel Club report (OECD) published on April 26, 2022 and titled Dynamics of urbanization in Africa : the economic influence of African cities” which brings a new perspective on African urban economies.

Despite 500 million additional inhabitants in thirty years, African cities offer better education and better jobs. Which tend to require higher skills and are better paid than in rural areas.

Fertility rates in large cities are 37% lower than in rural areas. Fewer children per woman often means better education for children. Young people in large cities receive on average almost five years more education than in rural areas.

In large cities, 80% of households are connected to the electricity grid, compared to only 20% of those in rural areas. Some 7% of rural people have access to running water, compared to 25% of inhabitants of small towns and 33% of metropolitan areas.

“Africa’s rapid urbanization is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Governments should focus their efforts to make the most of it.”

Club du Sahel (OECD) and the African Development Bank (AfDB)

In the report

The benefits of urbanization

The benefits of urbanization also spill over to rural areas. More and more rural households live close to a city and can thus sell their production there but also benefit from its services and infrastructure.

However, further efforts are needed to transform cities into engines of sustainable economic growth. “Many African cities are not well planned, lack infrastructure and offer insufficient public services, compared to cities in other parts of the world”, qualify this report, however.

“Spontaneous urbanization will not make poverty disappear. There are and will be many poor people in African cities, even if they are on average less poor than rural people. On the other hand, reasoned and managed urbanization is a powerful lever against poverty”, says Laurent Bossard, director of the Sahel and West Africa Club (OECD). An essential reflection while the urban population of Africa is still expected to double over the next 25 years.


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