The Challenge of Urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Tale of Three Cities

October 22, 2014

While Sub-Sahara Africa is often seen as a largely agrarian region, it is quickly urbanizing.

In countries such as Angola, Ghana and Nigeria, urban populations now account for close to or exceed half of the total population; and their urbanization rates are among some of the fastest growing in the world.

This report summarizes some of the historical evidence of the critical importance of urbanization to social and economic development, highlighting especially the recent experience of China to set the context for understanding the challenges of urbanization in Sub-Sahara Africa.

The report argues that the Chinese experience, as successful as it has been, is not likely to be easily replicable for Sub-Sahara Africa. For most of the countries in this vast region, they will have to forge their own ways forward, taking account of specific local conditions while leveraging their unique resources and capabilities to get urbanization right.

In this context, the three African cities of Lagos, Maputo and Nairobi are examined to illustrate the challenge of urbanization facing Sub-Sahara Africa. The bottom line is that if urbanization can be properly managed, the fast growing cities in Sub-Sahara Africa can become the portals to a much better future. Otherwise they could become millstones around the region’s neck, holding back development and progress. Much is at stake in getting urbanization right.

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