Not to miss any African news, subscribe to the newsletter “World Africa” from this link. Every Saturday at 6 am, he finds a week of news and debates covered by the newsroom “World Africa”.
Dense, crowded, congested, unproductive agglomerations … Breaking these negative prejudices about African cities is the aim of the report on the “Dynamics of African Urbanization” presented this Tuesday, April 26 by the Club du Sahel et of West Africa. (SWAC) of the OECD, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
“For many still, it is the rural world that produces wealth and the city that lives at its expense, confirms Laurent Bossard, director of the CSAO. Today, only a small handful of African states promote an urban development policy. It is not a question of opposing the rural and the urban, but this continent is in the process of becoming predominantly urban: networks of cities are developing everywhere that are transforming the whole territory. It is urgent to take this reality into account. »
Based on data collected from more than 4 million people and businesses in 2,600 cities in 34 countries, this report aims to bring to light “the economic influence of African cities”, which exceeds that of the field in almost all areas. In general, staff are better trained and better paid than in rural areas. The proportion of skilled workers in cities is between 41% and 50% for men and between 20% and 25% for women, compared to only 18% and 11% respectively. in rural areas.
One of the main reasons: better access to education. Depending on the size of their city, urban young women and men benefit from three to five years of study more than rural youth. That “The considerable gap is not mainly due to selective migration, but to the ease of access to education in cities and its growing importance in urban economies.” the report states: “Because education has a great positive influence on employment opportunities, health outcomes and other dimensions of well-being throughout a person’s life, the economic and social benefits will persist for several decades. »
Electricity, running water and bank account
Another advantage of urban centers is the easy access to services and infrastructure. Less than 20% of rural households are connected to the electricity grid, compared to 58% of cities with less than 50,000 inhabitants and 80% of those with more than 1 million inhabitants. About 7% of the rural population has access to water by canalization, compared to 25% of the inhabitants of small towns and 33% of metropolitan areas.
In addition, the percentage of individuals living in a household with a bank account is more than 50% in large cities and about 40% in small ones, but less than 20% in rural areas. Urban dwellers are also more likely to have a birth certificate or be registered with the authorities, which speeds up access to the formal economy.
Like the rest of the planet, the larger a city, the more agglomeration economies it has – as its size, services and infrastructure grow, the more potential users – and the better its productivity, which translates into an increase. of GDP. According to an estimate “prudent” According to the report, urban population growth accounted for around 29% of average annual GDP growth per capita in Africa between 2001 and 2020.
And the continent’s rapid urbanization is also having profound effects on rural areas. Since 1990, the number of African cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants has more than doubled, from 3,319 to 7,721. Many cities have sprung up, often in densely populated rural areas. In Africa, it is not the rural exodus that feeds cities, but the peoples who become cities simply by the growth of their population.
More and more rural households are living near a city and can benefit from its economic opportunities, services and infrastructure. “For rural areas, cities serve as entry points to more connected and diverse economies. underlines Philipp Heinrigs, OECD economist. They offer markets where farmers can sell their produce and rural households access services and buy basic necessities. »
Today, 50% of the rural population lives within a radius of 14 km around a city and 90% of them live within a radius of 47 km. “Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, knowing that the population will continue to grow, these figures will increase and should mechanically lead to a reduction in the relative rate of poverty in rural areas.” points out Laurent Bossard.
“A powerful lever against poverty”
Although Africa’s urban population has tripled since 1990, cities have managed to absorb the influx of millions of people without a noticeable decline in their overall economic performance or living conditions. “The rate of increase in the standard of living is equivalent to that of the increase in the urban population. That is a very extraordinary performance. ” Laurent Bossard insists.
However, despite this positive impact, urbanization has not led to a sustainable transformation of cities, the report notes. The proportion of skilled jobs in cities, for example, has remained constant. And the rate of ownership of durable consumer goods, such as cars and refrigerators, has risen little, if at all.
The report calls on African states to empower local governments with greater capabilities and responsibilities so that they can support their economic development. “Today, African cities, except perhaps the capitals, are growing with very few resources and very little planning and are suffering from a lack of investment. Philipp Heinrigs observes. The positive impact of urbanization on economic development will materialize more if it is accompanied by appropriate national policies, with real urban development strategies, a coherent framework and favorable financing systems. Governments should see urbanization as an opportunity and want to share its beneficial effects with as many people as possible. »
In fact, in most African countries, local governments have only modest administrative capacity and their responsibilities are not clearly defined. Its financial resources are extremely limited (almost no access to credit, weak fiscal capacity, sporadic financial transfers from the state), which weighs on investments, while these would be economically and socially beneficial and produce an increase in the long run. of its taxation. income.
“Africa’s urban population has yet to double over the next two decades, points out Laurent Bossard. But spontaneous urbanization will not eradicate poverty. There are and will be many poor people in African cities, although on average they are less poor than rural people. On the other hand, reasoned and managed urbanization is a powerful lever against poverty. »