Trend Monitoring Report: Urbanization in Eastern Africa

The world is increasingly becoming a city planet, as Stewart Brand notes in his book Whole Earth Discipline: an Ecopragmatist's Manifesto. Half of the world population now lives in the cities and 80% will do so by 2050. The Greater Horn of East Africa (GHEA) region is experiencing similar trends. According to The Economist, nine of the 30 fastest growing cities in the world between 2005 and 2010, were in GHEA region. Looking ahead from 2006 to 2020, another source predicts that seven of the world's 100 fastest growing cities will be in the region. 

What kind of urbanization is taking place?

In his book The City, Joel Kotkin traces the history of urban spaces all over the world and attributes to cities three basic functions; the creation of sacred space, provision of basic security and host for a commercial market. These are largely true of cities in the GHEA region with spectacular commercial building towering, better provision of social services vis-a-vis rural spaces and immerse trading activities many of which are informal.

This issue shows urbanization as a highly differentiated experience where the apparent absence of deliberate urbanization policies is leading to extremes of poverty and prosperity co-existing in the same city (see Part 2 and 3 of this report).

The Society for International Development's (SID) State of East Africa Report 2006 estimated that based on 2001 data, 83% of East Africa's urban population was living in slum conditions (as defined by UN Habitat). 'Urbanization is unstoppable (in East Africa), but what this does is strengthen the case for planned urbanization, one that balances the rural-urban development nexus. I believe that the rural-urban migration in the region is a result of the governments withdrawing from rural development since the 1980s, largely as a result of structural adjustment programmes'. Godfrey Chesang, 'Migration in East Africa: past, present and prognosis' (SID 2007). 

This report  (see Part 3 and 'Juba notes') also features an in-depth analysis of Juba, the largest and most developed city in the semi-autonomous region of South Sudan. In January 2011, Juba may well be East Africa's newest capital city, should the people of South Sudan choose full independence from the north in the forthcoming referendum.

Read the full report

  • In this issue:
  • Editorial
  • Part 1:  Shoe shine boundaries, post-card cities and the villagization of the city
  • Part 2: The feel and flavour of urban life in East Africa
  • Part 3: Introducing Juba, South Sudan's largest city


Photo: Kampala City (Fish East Africa)