C&B Notes

Africa’s Population is Exploding

From 2018 to 2035, the UN predicts that the world’s 10 fastest growing cities will be African.  Many people on the continent will simultaneously rise out of poverty.  Big structural issues remain, however, and Africa’s rate of progress on poverty has slowed.

Karim Kane is a carpenter, not a speculator.  But the plot of land he bought a decade ago is worth nearly 25 times what he paid for it.  In 2007, the village chief sold it to him for the equivalent of about $450.  Mr Kane built a house for his wife and six children on land that today he reckons is worth nearly $11,000.  The area where Mr Kane lives is little more than muddy hills with scattered plots of land given over to cows and goats.  Peddlers lead donkey carts loaded with plastic jerry cans of potable water. But despite its semi-rural appearance Mr Kane has no doubt that he is now a resident of Mali’s capital.  “I’m a Bamakois,” he says, using the French word for a citizen of Bamako…

In parts of the neighborhood, shacks built by people recently arrived from the countryside jostle with houses being constructed by Bamakois who are snapping up cheaper plots of land on the city edge.  As Bamako has grown exponentially it poses huge logistical problems for the cash-starved authorities that are replicated across the continent.  According to a World Bank study, 472m people in sub-Saharan Africa live in cities.  High birth rates and migration from the countryside mean that by 2040 Africa’s urban population will more than double to 1bn, it says, a rate that far outpaces urbanization elsewhere in the world.  Tann vom Hove, a senior fellow at City Mayors, which puts Mali’s capital at the top of the list with an annual expansion rate of 4.5 per cent, says the trend is more important than the precise ranking.

Estimates from the UN say other cities, including Dar es Salaam, a city of nearly 5m in Tanzania, are growing even faster than Bamako.  Some of Africa’s megacities, including Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital of 21m people, and Kinshasa, the chaotic capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, are sucking in hundreds of thousands of new people each year.  Smaller cities, such as Yaounde in Cameroon, are growing almost as fast.

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The World Bank estimates Bamako’s population today at 3.5m, more than 10 times its size at independence in 1960.  But managing urban growth, with its associated problems of service provision, housing, crime and congestion, has become one of the biggest policy challenges on the continent.  “For me this is a catastrophe foretold,” says Issa N’Diaye, a professor of philosophy at the University of Bamako, of his city’s untrammeled growth.  “Bamako is a time-bomb.”  Bamako, he says, and by implication many other cities in Africa, lacks the resources and institutional capacity to cope with explosive growth.  There is not even a proper land registry, he says, meaning multiple claims on the same plot can be tied up in court for years.  Skyrocketing land prices have led to rampant corruption, Mr N’Diaye says, alleging that land allocated for schools in his own neighborhood has been sold off by unscrupulous officials.  Rapid urban expansion has also left people bereft of services, he says.  “There’s been no planning whatsoever of the road system, water drainage, electricity or urban transport.  The city is becoming more and more unlivable.”

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