Putting Africa’s Secondary Cities First

With Africa urbanizing faster than any other world region, governments there urgently need to craft national development strategies for harnessing the economic benefits that cities can provide. The key will be to focus not just on rapidly expanding megacities, but also on the intermediary cities needed to achieve inclusive growth.

In the latest Mercer Quality of Living City Rankings, the highest-ranked African city, Port Louis, Mauritius, comes in at 83rd out of 231. That appears to be in keeping with a broader pattern: in terms of the quality of life in its cities, Africa lags behind most other world regions.

African cities’ poor showing is a worrying indictment of urban planning on the continent, particularly given that urbanization there is barreling ahead, regardless of whether its leaders have plans in place to manage the process. According to the OECD, because “Africa is projected to have the fastest urban growth rate in the world,” its “cities will be home to an additional 950 million people” by 2050. Given these trends, African policymakers urgently need to make the region’s cities more attractive to international investors, business people, and tourists, while also ensuring that urbanization remains inclusive.

But there is another key trend that has been neglected: the growing importance of Africa’s secondary cities. Urbanization in Africa is not just about emerging megacities like Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Nairobi, Khartoum, Casablanca, and Greater Cairo, which alone will be home to an estimated 38 million people by 2050. Population is also booming in Africa’s “intermediary cities,” which link remote and rural areas to larger urban centers.

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