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People crowd a street at the central business district in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos ahead of Christmas December 23, 2016. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye - RTX2WC3Q
Africa in focus

Foresight Africa viewpoint: Supporting secondary cities

Editor's Note:

Below is a viewpoint from Chapter 4 of the Foresight Africa 2017 report, which explores six overarching themes that provide opportunities for Africa to overcome its obstacles and spur inclusive growth. Read the full chapter on bolstering urbanization efforts here.

foresightafrica_brandingbadgeRapid urbanization is inevitable in Africa given its demographic structure and vulnerability to climate change. Thus, city planners are often left with the challenge of managing urbanization rather than designing optimal city size, since both pull and push factors affect urbanization.

Successfully managing Africa’s urbanization thus involves finding the balance between getting the basics right in megacities and promoting population and industrial de-concentration into secondary cities.

Successfully managing Africa’s urbanization thus involves finding the balance between getting the basics right in megacities and promoting population and industrial de-concentration into secondary cities.

In settings where there are not as many primary cities, the negatives of population density (such as congestion, high prices, and rents) hardly offset the economic incentives of locating in urban clusters (such as knowledge spillover, lower transaction costs, and cheaper provision of public goods), creating a strong inertia on businesses and workers to concentrate in primary cities. Political economy of resource allocation and public good provision across municipalities also dictate geographic concentration of population in primary cities. The problem is, though, there are not as many primary cities in a typical low-income sub-Saharan African country. Thus, productive job creation should be integral part of urban planning. Without it, urban clusters get overcrowded and informal employment rapidly expands.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for governments is to promote population and industrial de-concentration through secondary towns, which includes policies supporting infrastructure provision and job creation as well as ensuring connectivity not only to primary cities but also to key industries in agricultural value chains.

Studies have shown that this is a very slow moving process, though promotion of special economic zones (SEZs) and improved transport networks have proven promising in promoting the growth of secondary cities. Clearly defined land rights are also bedrock for promoting the formal housing market, curbing urban sprawl and informal settlements, and promoting free movement of labor across occupations, regions, and labor markets.

The task seems to be daunting for a typically resource-constrained developing country government. But the returns are great—ranging from structural transformation to poverty reduction in both urban and rural areas. In addition, a bit of empowerment and transfer of resources to local governments can go a long way in instilling competition among municipal governments as they improve their business environments and tax incentives in order to attract businesses and as they enter into creative partnerships with the private sector to create local solutions for local problems.

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