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A slower urbanisation in Africa?

October 12, 2011

Africa Research Institute recently highlighted the widespread exaggeration – whether through wishful thinking, group think, sheer laziness or whatever – of the “rapid urbanisation” phenomenon in most of Africa. For example it turns out the Kibera so-called slum in Nairobi has a population of less than a quarter million, rather than the 700,000 – 1 million so often reported; and Lagos has 10m rather than 15m; and so on.

The ARI reports that this slower-than-desired-by-many urbanisation rate is largely because of the lack of jobs and other economic pull factors in the city.

I would argue – and have done so elsewhere – that the slow rate of migration to the cities is equally the result of the lack of economic transformation policies in the countryside of so many African countries. The problem – if it is one – is that political leaders are often loth to implement the kind of land tenure and other changes which would encourage the formation of large, commercially viable farms; because to do so would lose them votes among the peasantry which they would find hard to replace among the more skeptical urban classes. Thus peasant farmers remain on their land, undisplaced by the more commmercial forms of agriculture which most governments say they want. Thus not only is there an insufficient pull factor, but also an insufficient push factor towards the cities.

But this may be a blessing in disguise, despite slowing down the projected rate of ecnomic growth. Because large unplanned cities with poor governance and security have already shown they are breeding grounds for gangs, for criminality and endemic violence.


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