The African model of urbanisation is an idiosyncratic model of development. Africa’s urban population is expected to grow at an annual rate of 3.09 between now and 2030, the highest in the world. At this rate, there will be a billion more people living in African cities by 2063.
Urbanization offers opportunities for economic growth, social and cultural development but has also come with its own challenges. But just as our cities require long-term, integrated urban planning and design, sustainable financing frameworks and the cooperation of all levels of government for an urban paradigm shift, so rural Africa requires a rethinking in terms of an extension of its potential and facilities. Town and country are part of a continuum where different economic activities take place. The success of these activities is linked to access to markets and proximity to urban centres. We need more inclusive development policies for both urban and rural inhabitants as well as a healthy flow of people and goods through linkages. This continuum must be nurtured especially because it has the potential to drive agro-industrial transformation.
Agro-industrial transformation remains the most sustainable and stable path of development for the continent. Being the sector that employs the majority of Africans and accounting for a third of Africa’s GDP, it is 11 times more effective at reducing poverty than growth in any other sector. The impetus of a properly framed and financed agricultural economy is not to be underestimated. Smallholder farmers need financial support to stop piloting and go to scale with what works and to treat agriculture as a business. African women constitute close to 70% of the agricultural workforce and mainstreaming their participation and empowerment in Africa’s agricultural revolution is therefore critical.
Over and above agricultural production, other jobs can be created in the rural areas, from hairdressers to medical doctors, mechanics, notaries, agronomists. Many rural areas also have tourist industries that are fundamentally changing employment structures. The reinforcement of agro-industry, urban traits and facilities in the rural areas can decrease the differences between villages and cities, and this without spoiling the rural cachet if we ensure that environmental pressures are minimized.
Our attention also needs to be on the urban corridors, the areas near the city which facilitate the movement of people in and out of the city and demand an extension of facilities. Many of these areas have a multiplicity of non-farm enterprises and a considerable proportion of the economically active population.
Rural-urban linkages allow the flow of people, goods, money, technology, knowledge, information. Agricultural products flow to urban areas, and goods from urban manufacturing areas to more rural areas. If well managed, the interactions between towns and countryside are the basis for a balanced regional development which is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. It is time to rethink the town-country continuum by leveraging on solidarities, complementarities, governance, better livelihoods and environments for all.