Urbanization is the movement of people from rural areas to urban areas leading to towns and cities growing bigger. Africa is experiencing a rise in the population of urban dwellers. The share of Africa’s population dwelling in urban areas has risen from 27 percent to 40 percent over the last 35 years. By 2035, the number of urban dwellers is expected to pass 50 percent. Africa is expected to be the fastest urbanizing region between 2020 and 2050. Despite these numbers, it is worth noting that a majority of urban dwellers from rural areas end up settling in slums.
Due to lack of structural transformation, existing gaps hamper economic development and leaving scores of urban dwellers wallowing in abject poverty. Service delivery and infrastructure development are not keeping up with the burgeoning numbers of city dwellers. Consequently, there is always a strain on public resources and services. Over 50 percent of urban dwellers live in slums and the percentage of the urban population that has access to improved sanitation facilities has not changed since 1990.
Africa’s economic transition seems to be defying the conventional pattern. Explaining Africa’s rapid urbanization is a bit puzzling since there is yet to be substantial industrial revolutions in cities to warrant the rapid rural-urban migration and the need for additional labour in urban areas. Africa’s industrial base is still in its infancy stages. In 2014, the service sector constituted almost 60 percent of Africa’s Gross Domestic Product.
Most migrants from rural areas are unskilled and uneducated. Therefore, most of them end up settling for informal jobs. The wages from informal job are dismal leaving most of them with no choice other than becoming slum dwellers. Lack of employment and meagre wages translate into a surge in crime rates and other social vices. Another concern is the high fertility rate in SSA’s informal settlements compared to other regions. Substantially higher fertility rates continue to put more strain on existing resources.
Existing challenges call for the formulation of proper policies that address these unique complications. Governments need to address the housing problem in slums through building affordable housing for low income earners. There is need to invest in infrastructure and secondary cities to reduce the strain on existing resources and offer better opportunities for urban dwellers. Governments need to improve human capital and overall productivity by ensuring that less privileged urban dwellers have a chance to boost their incomes and shift from the informal sector and move towards high productivity services. This can only happen through proper education.
Urbanization leads to agglomeration economies. These economies lead to greater resource sharing, faster knowledge spillovers and lower transaction costs. These factors raise the overall productivity of workers and businesses. For this to happen in Africa, there needs to be structural reforms.