The rise of Africa’s megacities

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Over the last 35 years, the share of Africa’s population living in urban areas climbed from 27% to 40%. This number is expected to pass 50% by 2035, and between 2020 and 2050, Africa will be the world’s fastest-urbanising region, according to UN figures.

Of the largest cities in Africa, which include Lagos, Abidjan, Kano, Johannesburg and Cape Town, only three – Cairo, Lagos and Kinshasa – currently fall into the category of ‘megacities’, which are cities with a population of 10 million or more.

Megacities are home to one in eight of the world’s urban dwellers, and this number is growing. According to the 2014 World Urbanisation Prospects Report, in 1990 there were only 10 cities globally with more than 10 million inhabitants. To date, that number has nearly tripled.

Through a combination of natural population growth and rural-to-urban migration, Africa will add to this number in the coming decades. Among the cities poised to break through into the megacity category are Dar es Salaam, Casablanca, Nairobi and Khartoum.

Urbanisation rates

Whereas north-African countries Morocco and Sudan are urbanising relatively slowly – with average rates of change of 0.9% and 0.4% respectively over the period 2010 to 2015 – east Africa’s Tanzania and Kenya have witnessed far more rapid change, with average annual rates of change of 2.3% and 1.7%. In both Great Lakes countries, mobile-phone ownership and mobile banking have played a significant role in creating new economic opportunities.

In its 2016 African Economic Outlook report, the African Development Bank (AfDB) classes Tanzania, Kenya and Sudan as ‘Late Urbanisers’ – countries that are predominantly rural at present, but which have begun the processes of urbanisation, fertility transition (controlling fertility rates) and structural transformation.

In Kenya and Tanzania, less than a third of the population is currently urbanised. A quarter of Kenya’s citizens lived in urban areas as of 2014, as did 31% in Tanzania. In Sudan, the figure is 34%. Morocco’s inhabitants, on the other hand, are already majority urban-dwellers, at 60%.

Infrastructure and diversification

The main challenges for rapidly urbanising countries, according to the AfDB, include the improvement of infrastructure – particularly transportation linking different urban growth centres – and breaking into manufacturing and higher-value services. “Developing a network of intermediary cities can support the rapid urbanisation that is currently taking place,” the report notes.

Major infrastructure projects are set to feed into growth projections and provide opportunities for further expansion in Africa’s burgeoning megacities. The Mombassa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway Project (funded by Export-Import Bank of China) is scheduled for completion by 2017, while the AfDB is helping to secure investor funding of $7bn for the financing of rail links between Dar es Salaam and neighbouring landlocked countries.

Morocco, however, falls into the category of ‘Diversifiers’, according to the AfDB report: Countries at the most advanced stage of urbanisation, fertility transition and structural transformation. Their aims are to increase both productivity and economic complexity (a measure of the production characteristics of a country).

Inclusive growth

The 2015 MasterCard African Cities Growth Index measures cities in terms of growth in GDP per capita, living standards, market and resource access; and assesses levels of corruption and the strength of the regulatory environment.

According to these measurements, Casablanca, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi all have some of the strongest prospects for inclusive growth on the continent.

All three cities fall into the medium-high range, in positions two, five and nine respectively, of the ‘Large City’ category (those with 1 million plus inhabitants). Khartoum fares less well, however, registering medium-low growth potential and coming in at 36th position – placing it above Cape Town at 39 but below Johannesburg, at 28.

For its own part, Khartoum – which has bridge connections with its sister towns, Khartoum North and Omdurman – has been focused on managing the stresses of urbanisation; unplanned urban sprawls; service provision for the influx of migrants from surrounding rural areas; allocating funds for water; and rail infrastructure upgrades.

Casablanca, meanwhile, has plans for the Wessal Casablanca Port – a project which will develop a new fishing port and shipyard and upgrade existing infrastructure.

Urbanisation means that African cities are growing as consumption hubs, and residents’ disposable income is attracting foreign investors. Urban areas in Africa account for more than 55% of the continent’s GDP, according to the AfDB. Relative to GDP, private consumption across the continent close to doubled (from 1.6% to 2.7%) from 2014 to 2015, representing 73% of total GDP growth last year.