Africa is where it all began for our species and where a ton of the action currently continues. The long history of influential settlements, ever-evolving in the face of changing tides, has now combined with the modern, fast-paced world to form dominant metropolitans. These cities have positioned themselves at the mouth of major oceans, bays, and seas, next to some of the most famous rivers in the world, and at crucial inland transition points. The following ten entries have established such notable populations not only because of a storied past and favorable geographic position but also the economic opportunities that are afforded by these places.
The 10 Largest Cities in Africa
- Lagos, Nigeria
- Kinshasa, Democratic Republic Of The Congo
- Cairo, Egypt
- Kano, Nigeria
- Alexandria, Egypt
- Abidjan, Ivory Coast
- Ibadan, Nigeria
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Casablanca, Morocco
- Durban, South Africa
1. Lagos, Nigeria - 15,388,000
This fast-paced, former capital of Nigeria, in Western Africa, is the continent's largest city and one of the most populous urban agglomerations. Not only does the city (proper) have nearly double the residents of the next two entries on this list, but the population shows no signs of slowing, with an approximate growth rate of 3.54% in the past year. Lagos has long been a vital port city, and while it is no longer the administrative epicenter (the capital was changed to Abuja in 1991), the oil industry ensures that it is the economic backbone of the nation – generating roughly one-quarter of Nigeria's gross domestic product.
2. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic Of The Congo - 7,785,965
Kinshasa is the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in West-Central Africa. Both Kinshasa (or "Kin" as it is locally known) and Brazzaville, the capital city of the Republic of the Congo, share the banks of the region's natural highway, the Congo River (South and North, respectively). Interestingly, this administrative and population cluster is right next to the deepest part of the world's deepest river. Kin is a mix of the older, geometrically designed city and the sprawling slums that are the primary driver of the city's physical expansion (estimated at 8km per year). Kinshasa's economy (mainly informal) accounts for the vast majority of DRC's GDP.
3. Cairo, Egypt - 7,734,614
Cairo is the capital of Egypt, and while it is the third largest African city, it is actually the largest urban agglomeration on the continent (estimated at nearly 22 million). Situated on the shores of the revered, life-giving Nile River, Cairo is just North of the Great Pyramids of Giza, which, when seen from above, are contrasted against the infinite layers of infrastructure, both old and new. Cairo readily celebrates its antiquity, displaying the world's largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (EMC). Life in Cairo is also very much centered around the present governmental functions, as well as growing commerce connections and industrial production.
4. Kano, Nigeria - 4,103,000
Heading back to Nigeria, this time in the far North, the ancient settlement of Kano has blossomed into one of Africa's most substantial cities. The capital of Kano State is an important stop along the trans-Saharan trade route – today and for thousands of years into the past. Though efforts are underway to diversify the economy, the major drivers of prosperity continue to be trade, particularly the export of agricultural goods (such as cotton, hides and skins, peanuts, and livestock), as well as local retail services and traditional industries such as leather and cloth tailoring (centuries old dye pits are still utilized), metalwork, and pottery.
5. Alexandria, Egypt - 3,811,516
Despite her long and ultimately destructive past, Alexandria has regained its status as a powerhouse of not only Egypt but the whole Mediterranean region. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, this legendary port city sits just 114 miles North of Cairo, on the Southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, on the Western limit of the Nile's delta. Given the city's strategic location and bustling population, it proudly shoulders much of the country's industrial and commercial economy. Tourism is also an important draw for the city, with many visitors hoping to plug into a bit of the ancient wonder that radiates from the history books.
6. Abidjan, Ivory Coast - 3,677,115
This former capital of West Africa's Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) benefits from its position on both the Gulf of Guinea (which leads into the Atlantic Ocean) and the Ébrié Lagoon. Though officially relieved of its administrative duties in 1980 (replaced by Yamoussoukro to the North), Abidjan is still home to government offices, political institutions, and foreign embassies. It is also the clear economic capital of the nation and is home to over 1/5th of the Ivory Coast's population. This French-speaking city enjoys upscale retail and a drive for business that has dubbed it as both "the Paris" and "the Manhattan of West Africa."
7. Ibadan, Nigeria - 3,565,108
Africa's seventh largest and Nigeria's third most-populous city (but largest by geographical area) sits about 80 miles Northwest of Lagos. Ibadan is the capital of the Oyo State and serves as a key hub to bridge the gap between the Southwest coast and the large Northwestern rural region. Ibadan specializes in agriculture (diminishing slightly but still relatively pronounced for a big city), commerce and handicrafts (independent markets are quite prevalent throughout both the traditional core and beneath the vast expanse of rust-colored suburban roofs), manufacturing, and service industries. The University of Ibadan sports the largest library in the country – a surefire way to attract budding minds.
8. Cape Town, South Africa - 3,433,441
This impressive cosmopolitan sits at the bottom of the continent, on South Africa's Southwest coast, and acts as the legislative capital of the nation, as well as the capital of the Western Cape province. Cape Town peaks out into the Atlantic Ocean, sheltered by Cape Peninsula and False Bay. This former co-host of the FIFA World Cup is a consistent crowd-pleaser for visitors and residents alike. Cape Town is blessed with beautiful beaches in the shadow of Table Mountain (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). This city acts as a vital industrial center for South Africa and a major seaport, particularly for the fishing industry.
9. Casablanca, Morocco - 3,144,909
Casablanca, located on the North African Atlantic seaboard, is Morocco's largest city and chief port – helping to bridge the gap to Europe. Though the Port of Casablanca is actually smaller than Tangier-Med (a little way up the coast), it is one of the largest artificial ports on the planet. The Royal Moroccan Navy has also established its primary base here in Casablanca. The rapid expansion of this city, which kicked off with the French occupation during the early 20th century, has propelled the "White House" into a high-ranking Global Financial Centre and the clear economic capital of Morocco – accounting for the majority of industrial production and bank transactions.
10. Durban, South Africa - 3,120,282
Close in tow to Cape Town, South Africa's second-largest city has set up shop on the Southeast Coast – this time providing access to and from the Indian Ocean via Natal Bay. This sometimes-overlooked sister city of Cape Town was also the 2010 FIFA World Cup co-host. This massive sporting event was the impetus for completely redeveloping The Golden Mile – a glorious stretch of cosmopolitan waterfront that rivals any in the country. "Durbs" is not only a massive commercial port and ever-growing tourist magnet but also a place that attracts an eclectic mix of residents. The largest concentration of people of Indian descent (outside of India, of course) have left their cultural imprint on this city.
Africa's biggest cities (in terms of population) are as intriguing and varied as the continent's rich history. Everything from bustling ports and ultramodern skyscrapers to traditional markets and complicated slums makes up the energetic mix of these places. Like most major cities worldwide, the promise of supported livelihood, business opportunities, and education draw and sustain such big numbers. Every city does things a little differently, but each of these ten metropolises certainly has a distinct flavor unique to the African bedrock.
The 50 Largest Cities In Africa
|2||Kinshasa||Republic Of The Congo||7,785,965|
|8||Cape Town||South Africa||3,433,441|
|14||Dar es Salaam||Tanzania||2,698,652|
|33||Lubumbashi||Republic Of The Congo||1,373,770|
|48||Port Elizabeth||South Africa||967,677|