Africa’s Cities Are About to Boom – and Maybe Explode

This article was originally published by Bloomberg on July 25, 2019.

Africa is rural. Or that’s what senior Western officials envision when they talk about the continent. America’s top diplomat for the region, Tibor Nagy, recently said that Africa is “by and large an agricultural society.” He isn’t alone: Germany’s recent Marshall Plan with Africa insists that “rural areas will determine Africa’s future.”

This is wrong. Dangerously wrong.

Africa is increasingly urbanized, and its future will be shaped not in sleepy remote spaces but in the dense vibrant clusters of Lagos, Addis Ababa and Kinshasa. Big cities are becoming the engine of the continent, with huge implications for future energy needs, security, governance and public services – as well as rising risks if urban growth is poorly managed.

According to the World Bank, urbanization is the single most important transformation the African continent will undergo this century. Sub-Saharan Africa is already 40 percent urban, while tens of millions of people are flooding into cities every year. By 2050, it’s estimated that the continent will host at least nine “megacities” of more than 10 million people and more than two dozen in excess of 5 million, about the size of metropolitan Washington. Many are far off the current radar: Antananarivo in Madagascar; Guinea’s capital of Conakry; and N'Djamena, Chad.

Cities, of course, have for millennia been the locus of economic activity, wealth creation and especially jobs. By one detailed measure, Africa’s consumer class is already more than 300 million and heavily concentrated in a handful of large metropolitan areas such as Cairo, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos and Luanda. The African Development Bank estimates that up to 12 million young Africans finish school and join the job market each year. The most attractive, well-paid and high-productivity jobs - in finance, information technology, creative arts, data processing and even manufacturing – will nearly all be in densely populated clusters.

Read the full article in Bloomberg here.

Todd Moss