Urban growth’s natural increase

Click to enlarge

Africa’s urban population growth rate was the world’s fastest at 4% between 1960 and 2010, and it is clear that urbanisation across its 54 countries will continue to pose policy challenge in the years ahead. But unlike in many other regions of the world, people quitting the countryside to settle in cities will not be the main driver of that growth.

For years, rural-urban migration fuelled the expansion of African cities, but while it will continue to be important, it will be outstripped by natural population increase within urban areas, as the ratio of birth rates to death rates widens. True, Africa’s rural population will also continue to grow by over 350 million in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050, a trend unseen elsewhere in the world. However, at the same time, the pace of rural-urban migration is slowing, and though it accounted for at least half of all urban growth in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, it accounts for less than a third today.

According to the African Economic Outlook 2016, migration is set to play a lesser role in future urbanisation for several reasons. One is that urbanisation itself will be an opportunity for existing rural populations to stay connected to the land, thanks to higher demand for their produce and an upgrading of agricultural supply chains that should make it more attractive to remain connected with the land. Another is that migration patterns themselves are changing as a gradual improvement in infrastructure, including the adoption of mobile phones, is leading to a growing tendency towards more temporary migratory flows.

A third factor is as important: the traditional rural and urban dividing lines have become increasingly blurred, with almost three-quarters of Africa’s population living in rural-urban interfaces of fewer than 500,000 inhabitants.  Africa’s urbanisation has thus reflected a mushrooming of “urban villages”, spurring growth along a chain of small towns. It is a model not unknown in the development of Europe, particularly Germany, where small and medium cities have been the norm.

As African cities grow, pressures to tackle the likes of mass transit, housing and poverty will be a considerable challenge. But rather than focusing only on cities, understanding the drivers of migration could inspire a broader set of policies that incorporate rural-urban dynamics and interactions that favour cities and regions alike. For instance, policies that focus on improving public services could reduce the push to migrate away from rural areas, since surveys show that dissatisfaction with these is a more important reason for moving to cities than looking for work.

©OECD Observer September 2016

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017