“Frightening growth cities in Africa a myth”

Africa’s cities are growing at a frightening rate, as people flood from the countryside to the towns… It is a commonly held view, but a London-based academic, Deborah Potts, has been challenging this received wisdom, asserting that it is based on flawed data, and the rate of urbanization is much lower than people assume.

urbanisatiePotts, a reader in human geography at King’s College London, says she first began to have doubts in the mid-1980s, when she was working in Zimbabwe. “We interviewed 1,000 migrants,” she told IRIN, “and the majority said they would stay in town for a time, but they would leave at some point in the future because they wouldn’t be able to afford to stay. There’s no security net in town. If they got sick, got old, lost their job, they would have to go back to the rural areas.”

In a paper for the Africa Research Institute, Potts cites figures for the level of urbanization given by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). In 2001, it estimated that Kenya was 34 percent urban; by 2010 that estimate had been revised downward to 22 percent. She says that the urbanization levels were cut in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with Tanzania, Mauritania and Senegal also showing particularly significant falls.

Nobody is suggesting that Africa’s towns and cities are actually shrinking. The urban population continues to grow, but so does the population in the countryside. There is still an overall move towards urban life, but it is a slow drift, not a tidal wave.


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