Snapshots of rapid urbanisation across Africa

Nairobi, Kibera

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs recently updated its population and urbanization numbers, making clear once again that Africa is witnessing rapid rates of urbanization.

Africa currently holds 16% of the world’s population. The continent’s population is projected to double by 2050 and by 2100 Africa will contain 40% of the global population. At present 60% of Africans live within a rural area, which is 14% higher than the international average. This suggests that there is a a large body of people who are likely to migrate to urban areas in the near future.

There are several countries with fairly small populations that are urbanising at rapid rates, with strong growth in their capital cities. Niamey in Niger and Bujumbura in Burundi are predicted to more than quadruple in size by 2050. The urban growth rates in Ethiopia and Uganda suggest that Addis Ababa and Kampala will be nearing mega-city status (more than 10 million inhabitants) in the same period.

To put Africa’s rapid urbanisation into perspective, realise that there are presently only 28 mega-cities across the world and Africa will have doubled its present number of mega-cities to at least six in the next 50 years, Kampala being one of these. Yet at the moment Uganda is the fourth least urbanised country in the world.

The snapshots of African cities below look at the urban form produced in cities in four of the world’s most rapidly urbanising countries for the 2014 to 2050 period. Satellite imagery offers a glimpse from above, while figure grounds (at a scale of 1:5000) produced from open mapping  data talk to both the differing urban forms as well as what geographic information is being mapped and why. Figure grounds use negative and positive colouring to clearly differentiate between the built and non-built environment, offering a useful tool to interpret the fabric, form and scale of an urban environment.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa snapshot

Bujumbura, Burundi

Bujumbura Burundi snapshot

Kampala, Uganda

Kampala Uganda snapshot

Niamey, Niger

Niamey Niger snapshot


Mark Jackson is an editorial intern at UrbanAfrica.Net with a background in environmental sciences as well as city and regional planning. He is presently studying at UCT in the engineering and built environment department, doing research into the project management success factors behind large scale urban developments.

Data sources:

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. 2015. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, (ST/ESA/SER.A/366).

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. 2015. World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables. Working Paper No. ESA/P/WP.241.

Mapping data:

© OpenStreetMap contributors

Satellite imagery:

Google and DigitalGlobe.

Photographic imagery:

Burundi – Hubert Schonberg

Uganda – Sarahemcc

Ethiopia – Magnus Franklin

Niger – Jean Rebiffe

Post header image: Schreibkraft


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