Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



During the past three decades, the cities of the developing world in general, and of Africa in particular, have witnessed a remarkable and in many ways unprecedented demographic growth spurt. Despite some slowdown in rates of increase in the past few years as a result of falling wages, contracting social services, and changing demographic trends, contemporary urban areas remain the growth poles of economic progress and the lightning rods of political and social unrest. Nowhere is this dilemma more visible nor the resulting problems more intractable than in the crowded cities of sub-Saharan Africa, where projections of urban population growth remain the highest in the world. This essay focuses on the conceptual, empirical, and policy-relevant linkages among urbanization, rural-urban migration, and economic development. First, recent trends and future scenarios for urban population growth are reviewed, with special emphasis on African urbanization. Then, the growth and significance of the urban informal economy and the role of women in informal economic activities are examined. Rural-urban migration is discussed in both a descriptive and an analytical framework; the economic crisis in Africa and its relationship to urbanization and migration are considered. An analysis of policy options designed to ameliorate the deteriorating economic, social, and environmental dilemmas posed by Africa’s rapid urban growth concludes the study.