Urban livelihoods and urbanization trends in Africa: winners and losers?


Deborah Potts

Publication date: 

Monday, 1 April 2013


  • Article


External to ACUI

Project theme: 


There is much speculation today that urban economies in sub-Saharan Africa are greatly improving and that the region may be on the brink of an upsurge in economic development. However, in terms of a broad, multi-dimensional, understanding of the term ‘development’, into which social justice must be factored, there are real concerns about whether the undoubted improvements in GDP growth in many countries are strongly connected to urban- located investment and job growth. Many African countries remain poorly placed, in terms of global comparative advantage, to attract significant foreign investment except in primary sectors. The extreme inequality in the ways in which the benefits of current growth are being shared in many countries is another huge problem for the creation of urban employment growth. This paper relates these issues to evidence about levels of economic (in)security in many African cities, and to how these have been reflected in a slowing in the rate of urbanization in many countries. It also reviews the evidence about the distribution of incomes in sub-Saharan Africa, and argues that the development of middle classes with their associated higher consumption patterns, is minimal as yet. Finally it reflects on the links, both current and prospective, between internal economic stimuli from, for example, natural- resource based activities including mining and agriculture, and African urban economic development and growth. Deborah Potts, Environment, Politics and Development Research Group, Geography Department, King’s College London. Paper for EPD occasional paper series.