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Dense, overcrowded, congested, unproductive agglomerations… Overcoming these negative stereotypes about African cities is the aim of the report on “African urbanization dynamics” published this Tuesday, April 26th by the Club du Sahel et de West Africa (SWAC) the OECD, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
“For many it is still the rural world that produces wealth and the city that lives at its expense, confirms Laurent Bossard, director of the CSAO. Today only a few African countries promote an urban development policy. It’s not about contrasting the rural and the urban, but this continent is becoming predominantly urban: networks of cities are developing everywhere, transforming the entire territory. This reality urgently needs to be taken into account. »
Based on data collected from more than 4 million individuals and businesses in 2,600 cities in 34 countries, this report aims to shed light on the world “The Economic Impact of African Cities”, which surpasses that of the country in almost all areas. The staff is usually better trained and better paid than in the countryside. The share of the labor force with skilled jobs ranges from 41% to 50% for men and from 20% to 25% for women in cities, compared to only 18% and 11% in rural areas.
One of the main reasons: better access to education. Depending on the size of their city, young city men and women benefit more from three to five years of study than young rural residents. That “The significant gap is not primarily due to selective migration, but to easier access to education in cities and its increased importance in urban economies,” The report points out: “Since education has a major positive impact on employment opportunities, Health outcomes and other dimensions of well-being throughout a person’s lifetime, the economic and social benefits will last 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% in cities with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants and 80% in cities with more than 1 million inhabitants. About 7% of rural residents have access to tap water, compared to 25% of residents in small towns and 33% in metropolitan areas.
Also, the proportion of people living in a household with a bank account is over 50% in big cities and almost 40% in small towns, but under 20% in rural areas. City dwellers are also more likely to have a birth certificate or be registered with the authorities, speeding up access to the formal economy.
As everywhere in the world, the larger a city is, the more it realizes advantages of agglomeration – the larger, services and infrastructure it has, there are more potential users – and the more it improves its productivity, which translates into an increase in GDP. After an estimate “prudent” According to the report, between 2001 and 2020, urban population growth contributed about 29% to average annual growth in Africa’s GDP per capita.
And the rapid urbanization of the continent is also having a profound impact 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 the cities, but the villages, which become cities simply through the growth of their population.
More and more rural households live close to a city and can thus benefit from its economic opportunities, services and infrastructure. “For rural areas, cities serve as entry points into more interconnected and diverse economies, emphasizes Philipp Heinrigs, economist at the OECD. They provide markets where agricultural producers can sell their produce and rural households can access services and buy basic necessities. »
Today, 50% of rural people live within 14 km of a city and 90% of them within 47 km. “Tomorrow and the day after, these figures will increase in the knowledge that the population will continue to grow and should automatically lead to a reduction in the relative share of poverty in rural areas,” notes Laurent Bossard.
“A strong lever against poverty”
Although Africa’s urban population has tripled since 1990, cities have managed to absorb the arrival of millions of people with no discernible decline in their overall economic output or living conditions. “The rate of increase in the standard of living corresponds to the increase in the urban population. It’s an extraordinary achievement.” emphasizes Laurent Bossard.
However, despite these positive impacts, urbanization has not resulted in a sustainable transformation of cities, the report notes. The proportion of skilled jobs in cities, for example, has remained constant. And the ownership rate of consumer durables like cars and refrigerators has increased little, if at all.
The report calls on African states to give local governments more capacity and accountability to sustain economic development. “Today African cities, with the possible exception of capitals, are growing with very few resources and very little planning, and suffer from a lack of investment, observes Philipp Heinrigs. The positive effects of urbanization on economic development will be more pronounced if 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 try to share its beneficial effects with as many people as possible. »
In fact, local governments in most African countries have only modest administrative capacities and their responsibilities are not clearly defined. Their financial resources are extremely limited (almost no access to credit, weak taxing power, sporadic financial transfers from the state), which puts a strain on investments, while these would be economically and socially beneficial and would lead to an increase in their tax revenues in the long run.
“Africa’s urban population will almost double in the next two decades, notes Laurent Bossard. But spontaneous urbanization will not make poverty go away. There are and will be many poor people in African cities, even if on average they are less poor than the rural population. On the other hand, well thought-out and controlled urbanization is a powerful lever against poverty. »