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Urbanization is growing in both developed and developing countries, and the rapid rise in urbanization in Africa in particular, has received wild attention from and around the world. Indeed, urbanization can mean that, there is an improvement in the social status of people living in rural areas, or upgrading or renaming of rural areas as urban centres, or is the physical growth of urban areas as a result of rural migration and even suburban concentration into cities, particularly the very large ones.

The realties of rapid urbanization and population growth in Africa are objectively patent with the realities of diversity of challenges, constraints and threats to service delivery in urban centres. Urban centres are attraction centres for rural population and, through multiplier effects, population sizes continue to grow concomitant with the demand for the services thus, (hospitals, schools, industrial and commercial zones, security, etc.).

The United Nations projected that half of the world’s population would live in urban areas at the end of 2008. By 2050 it is predicted that 64.1% and 85.9% of the developing and developed world respectively will be urbanised. According to AfDB, more than 90% of future population growth will be accounted for by the large cities in the developing countries. In the developing world, Africa has experienced the highest urban growth during the last two decades at 3.5% per year and this rate of growth is expected to hold into 2050.

Yet, urbanization in Africa has failed to bring about inclusive growth which, in turn, has resulted in proliferation of slums, urban poverty and rising inequality. Inequality in African cities remains the second highest in the world with an average Gini coefficient of about 0.58. Rural-urban migration and natural population growth rates in cities are the major causes of the increasing rate of urban growth and slum proliferation in Africa.

The rapid rate of urbanization in Africa, can be associated with people moving into cities to seek economic opportunities. In rural areas for instance, it is difficult to improve one’s standard of living beyond basic sustenance. Cities, on the other hand, are known to be places where money, services and wealth are centralised. Cities are made attractive where fortunes are made and where social mobility is possible. It is easy to see why someone living on a farm might wish to take their chance moving to the city and trying to make enough money to send back home to their struggling family. There are better basic services as well as other specialist services that aren’t found in rural areas. There are more job opportunities and a greater variety of jobs.

Health is another major factor. People, especially the elderly are often forced to move to cities where there are doctors and hospitals that can cater for their health needs. Other factors include a greater variety of entertainment (restaurants, movie theaters, theme parks, etc) and a better quality of education, thus tertiary, especially universities.

Urbanisation again occurs as individual, commercial, and governmental efforts to reduce time and expense in commuting and transportation while improving opportunities for jobs, education, housing, and transportation. Living in cities permits the advantages of the opportunities of proximity, diversity, and marketplace competition. Businesses, which provide jobs and exchange capital are more concentrated in urban areas. Whether the source is trade or tourism, it is also through the ports or banking systems that foreign money flows into a country, commonly located in cities.

Moreover, just as rural – urban migration is a cause of rapid urbanization, it can as well occur by natural increases in the urban population as well as the reclassification of rural areas as urban.

Urbanization in Africa has largely been translated into rising slum establishments, increasing poverty and inequality. According to the UN Population Fund’s State of World Population 2007 report, some 72 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s urban population currently lives under slum conditions.

However, the relatively fewer slums in North African countries is mainly attributed to better urban development strategies, including investment in infrastructure and in upgrading urban settlements. In contrast, SSA has the lowest proportion of urban population (32.8%), but the highest proportion of slum dwellers (65%). Most SSA cities are characterized by insufficient basic infrastructure, particularly in low-income areas. Only 20% of SSA’s population has access to electricity, and in 2010, 3% and 53% of Africans had access to fixed or mobile phones, respectively; 84% of the continent’s urban dwellers have access to potable water while 54% to sanitation (AfDB et al., 2012). More broadly, 60% of African citizens live in places where water supplies and sanitation are inadequate.
As most of the migrants from rural areas are uneducated/unskilled, they end up in informal sector which accounts for 93% of all new jobs and 61% of urban employment in Africa. As a consequence, many African cities have to deal not only with slum proliferation but also with increasing insecurity and crime. Weak institutions have contributed to poor urban enforcement, resulting in dysfunctional land and housing markets, which in turn has caused mushrooming of informal settlements.

Another challenge from Africa’s rapid urbanization is the increasing pressure of urban populations on natural resources and the environment. The expansion of cities is generally at the expense of destruction of forests and other natural environment or ecosystems, and increasing pollution (especially air pollution) with the related diseases.

Furthermore, African governments have neglected the key drivers of productivity which include small and medium-size enterprises, human resource and skills development, and technological innovation. These factors are essential in advancing predominantly informal, survivalist and basic trading activities to higher value-added work.

In order to address the challenges of urbanization facing many African cities, some key reforms should be pursued by governments. These include the provision of integrated infrastructures and services that target the marginalized groups, including the poor, youth, women and elderly people, thus upgrading the informal settlements. In addition, governments should act proactively to ensure orderly urban development by defining and implementing clear urban development strategies.

Again, mobilizing urban financing from local and foreign investors a strategy can be used. These resources should be efficiently and adequately allocated between central and local governments’ urban projects and should encourage strengthening the role of municipalities.

Governments on the continent must as well make the concerted effort to improve human capital through equal access to education and healthcare services and facilities for all categories of citizens in order to meet labor market needs.

Moreover, diversification of economic activities through the creation of new economic hubs oriented towards high sustainable and value-added production and exportation. These reforms should be more inclusive to ensure that all categories of citizens, regardless of their age, race, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic conditions, have equal access to adequate housing, basic infrastructure and services and equal job opportunities.

Paul Frimpong
University of Ghana
Associate Chartered Economic Policy Analyst- ACCE-Global
Tel: +233 -241 229 548
Email: py.frimpong@yahoo.com

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