Africa's urban population has been rapidly increasing in recent years. The increase is creating opportunities and challenges alike as these cities struggle to adapt as more residents compete for urban resources that are stretched to the limit. However, the rise in population is also creating new opportunities on fiscal, technological, and social fronts.
The Largest African Cities
Lagos, Nigeria – 21 million
Lagos City in Lagos State is Nigeria’s largest city and its economic capital. It is located on the Atlantic Ocean's coastline. It is the 7th fastest growing city in the world. It has a population of 21 million. The population grows at an annual rate of 2 to 3 %. Unlike other states dependent on oil revenues, Lagos has a diversified economy with prosperous manufacturing, transport, construction, service, wholesale, and retail sectors. Lagos State generates $90 billion in goods and services annually. If it were a country, the Lagos State economy would be the 7th largest one in Africa. Two-thirds of the population in Lagos are slum dwellers. Crime is also a problem in the city. The United States' Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) gives it a crime rating of critical. Kidnappings, extortion, carjacks, assaults, rapes, armed muggings, and burglaries are common in the city.
Cairo, Egypt – 20.4 million
Cairo is Egypt’s largest city and capital. It is heralded as the cradle of civilization. It has a population of over 20.4 million. According to a 2014 Population Reference Bureau report, the country’s population is growing at a rate of 2.6 percent annually. Cairo is Egypt’s economic hub with two-thirds of the country’s GDP generated in the greater metropolitan section. Textile and food processing, iron and steel production, consumer good production, etc., are some of the top job-creating sectors in the city. Cairo is also a vibrant hub of tourism, commerce, finance, and government services. Since the January 2011 revolution, economic growth has been affected negatively with food and medicine prices increasing, and unemployment rising. Crime is also a problem in Cairo with OSAC rating it high. The Greater Cairo area has 8 overcrowded informal settlements and large population segments living under the international poverty level of living below $2 a day. Low education levels, high rates of malnutrition, and poor health conditions plague such settlements.
Kinshasa, DR Congo – 13.3 million
Kinshasa is the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital and largest city. It is located next to the Congo River. After Paris, it is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world. Kinshasa’s population is estimated to be around 10 million to 13.3 million. Although the DRC is mineral-rich, 64% of the population lives below the poverty line. Gas, oil, agriculture, and timber are the other key resources sustaining Kinshasa’s economy. Due to corruption and perennial conflicts, most of the population does not benefit from the profits generated from the economy. Crime levels are rated as critical by OSAC. Street gangs operate in the city making it highly danger-prone.
Luanda, Angola – 6.5 million
Luanda is Angola’s capital and largest city. The city’s population was recorded at 6.5 million according to preliminary data in 2014, but the number was later revised to 6.94 million. Luanda has the highest annual growth in population in Africa. By 2030, it is estimated to have 9 million residents. The city hosts the country’s busiest seaport off the Atlantic Ocean coast. The seaport is a gateway to export petroleum, diamonds, iron ore, and fish products. It is also used to import iron, steel, machinery, flour, and coal. Wealth from the mining and oil sectors has catalyzed a boom in construction in Luanda as high-rise offices and posh homes are built. Banking, finance, telecommunications, and tourism sectors are also booming in Luanda. Due to a shortage of accommodation facilities in the capital, hotel and rental charges are very high. In recent years, Luanda has gained a reputation as one of the most expensive cities. Crime levels in Luanda are classified as critical by OSAC, with threats coming from gangs and cybercriminals. Poverty levels are high in Luanda with millions living in slums. About 55 % of Angolans live on less than one U.S. dollar a day.
Nairobi, Kenya – 3.5 million People
Nairobi is Kenya’s capital and largest city. It has an estimated population of about 3.5 million residents of which 60% live in poverty. It is a hub of commerce, technology, industry, and finance in East and Central Africa. Nairobi contributes 60% to Kenya’s GDP. Major airlines and charter plane companies operate from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, thereby opening East Africa to the rest of the world. Crime levels in Nairobi are classified as critical by OSAC with robberies, burglaries, carjacks, and street crimes being prevalent. Crime levels are high in slums like Kibera and Mathare where incomes are low. The slums are classified as the biggest in Africa.
Mogadishu, Somalia – 2.1 million people
Mogadishu is Somalia’s capital and largest city. It is one of the world's most dangerous cities. No meaningful census has been conducted in the city. It is estimated to have a population of about 1.4 million people. A study by US’s Demographia Consultancy, reports the population of Mogadishu is annually growing at a rate of 6.9%. Other estimates by TBN place the population at 1.5 to 3 million. 43% of the population lives in abject poverty in this city. 73% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Regardless of these challenges, Mogadishu is Somalia’s administrative and economic hub with foreign countries pouring aid to fund projects to kick-start this war-torn country’s economy. The First Somali Bank was the country's first bank. It was established in 2013.
Abidjan, Ivory Coast – 4.707 million
The 818 square mile Abidjan City is the economic capital of Ivory Coast. It has an estimated population of about 4.707 million people as of 2014. A study by the University of Ontario – Institute of Technology (UOIT) reports that the population of Abidjan grows by 2.83% annually. The city has a population density of 8578 per square kilometer. Abidjan is Ivory Coast’s hub of industrialization and urbanization. The city accounts for 18% of national employment, 52% of secondary and tertiary urban employment, and 50% of the country’s GDP. Cocoa, oil and natural gas sectors are other major economic contributors. Abidjan has a refinery that processes crude oil. The petroleum extracted is then exported or used to process oil products locally.
Alexandria, Egypt – 4.7 million
Alexandria is a 115.8 square mile historical Mediterranean port and beach city in Egypt. It was founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great. It is the second-largest city in the country with a population of about 4.7 million people. Alexandria’s population grows by 1.7% annually. The city contributes US$46 billion to the Egyptian economy every year. Its economy is anchored largely by tourism. It is thereby referred to as the Pearl of the Mediterranean. Nearly half of Egypt’s industrial activity happens in and around Alexandria, making it a major water consumer. Agriculture, growing population, and rapid urbanization are some of the factors increasing the water needs in Alexandria. The city is run by a Governor appointed by the President. Since the 2011 Egyptian revolution, there have been heightened crime and terrorist threats in Alexandria.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - 3.4 million
The 540 square-kilometer urban area of Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s capital city and commercial hub. It has a population of 3.4 million. In 2014, Bloomberg reported that the city’s population is expected to reach 8.1 million by 2040. Addis Ababa’s average annual GDP is $32.04 billion and is annually growing at an average rate of 12.18%. The city is an industrial and manufacturing hub which contributes 4% to the country’s economy. Addis Ababa is also experiencing a construction boom. In 2015, the first-ever modern urban rail service was built in the city for $470 million. This rail service is first of its kind in Sub Saharan Africa. Still, poverty is high in the city. 80% of urban dwellers in the country live in slums. Crime levels are relatively low in the capital due to the presence of police some in plain clothes. But petty crimes like pickpocketing or purse grabs happen.
Johannesburg, South Africa - 4.4 million
Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, and the capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in the country. It has a population of 4.434 million. From 2001 to 2011, the population increased by 3.18%. Johannesburg generates 17% of South Africa’s wealth and is the 27th largest city economy in the world. The city is a vibrant hub of manufacturing, retail, technology, fashion, and service sectors like hotels. Johannesburg is also a continental financial hub hosting major world banks and Africa’s largest stock in Sandton. Poverty is also rife in the city with over a million people living in the city’s slums. Johannesburg is among the most dangerous cities in the world in terms of crime and homicide. Annually there are about 28.2 murders per 100,000 people in the city.
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – 4.36 million
The 565 square-kilometer Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s largest city. It is also the largest port city in East Africa and has a population of about 4.36 million residents. According to a World Bank report, 70% of Dar es Salaam's residents live on about a dollar a day in informal, unplanned settlements which lack proper roads, water, and proper sanitation facilities. Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s hub for industry, education, and economy. This former capital generates 70% of the national GDP. As a city by the ocean, new external investment is being directed to port expansion. In 2015, the World Bank signed a $565 million deal to double the port’s capacity by 2020. At that capacity Dar es Salaam can make an annual profit of $2 billion. However, the city has a problem of crimes like mugging, purse snatching, pickpocketing, armed robberies, and burglaries.
Casablanca, Morocco – 4.3 million
Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco. This port city has a population of about 4.3 million people. It is the main industrial, economic, trade, and financial center of Morocco. Casablanca’s port is the largest in North Africa, and among the largest of artificial ports in the world. Compared to the rest of the country, the labor force in Casablanca is better educated. 12% of the city's population over 15 years old has higher education compared to 8.1% in the rest of the country. Poverty is rife in the slums on the city’s periphery. There are about 700,000 to a million people living in these slums lacking clean water and basic amenities. In the slums, drug trafficking, prostitution, and Islamic radicalization occur posing a threat to Casablanca's tranquility as a whole.
Accra, Ghana – 4.1 million
Accra is the capital and biggest city of Ghana. It has a population of around 4.1 million. The average growth rate of Accra’s population from 2000 to 2010 was 3.1%. Accra is the country’s main commercial, manufacturing, technology, transport, innovation, and communications hub. It is also the gateway to the world through the Kotoko International Airport, the country’s largest airport. The city’s formal and informal economy contributes about $3 billion to the country’s economy. It is equivalent to 10% of Ghana’s GDP. Accra is largely safe but there are cases of muggings on beaches and crowded places, and pickpocketing in markets.
Durban, South Africa – 3.4 million
Durban is a port city in Kwazulu Natal province of South Africa. It is the country’s third-largest city after Cape Town and Johannesburg. It has Africa’s largest port. Durban and its metropolis host a population of 3.4 million. According to Statistics South Africa, the average annual growth in population in Durban was 1.13 percent from 2001 to 2011. As a port city, Durban handles more cargo than other South African ports. Manufacturing, agribusiness, tourism, and technology are other avenues that anchor this city’s economy. Durban has also distinguished itself as a global financial hub attractive to international investors. Though the city is in the affluent in Kwazulu Natal province, 3 million people are living below the poverty line. Also, crime is spilling over from the slums to city, hotels, and beaches.
Kano, Nigeria – 2.8 million
Kano is the capital city of Kano State in northern Nigeria. It has a population of around 2.8 million people. It is the country’s second-largest city by population after Lagos. According to a 2013 report by Kano State Government Investor’s Handbook, the city has an annual population growth rate of 3.5%. Kano is the economic center of northern Nigeria. It has an average annual gross domestic product of $29.38 billion. Kano acts as a regional trade center that serves as a market for over 300 million people. The most pronounced threat in Kano comes from terrorist attacks prominent in the north perpetrated by Boko Haram. These attacks happen on market days, public and religious holidays. Poor governance, poverty, and unregulated migration cause security issues in the city.
Age-old Infrastructure Stretched to the Breaking Point
Adapting to increasing numbers of people in the urban areas remains the biggest challenge for African cities. That is because in some cities the infrastructure that is existing dates back to the European Colonial Era on the continent. As a result, ongoing rises in population in these cities is pressuring the infrastructure and diminishing the quality of living conditions. That effect is exposing these populations to poor living conditions and susceptibility to prospective illnesses and vices.