Migration flows can be sensitive indicators of the geography of economic opportunity and vitality. In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) assumptions are too often made about the scale and direction of migration flows between rural and urban areas and about the ubiquity of rapid urbanisation across the region. This can divert attention from the economic realities of the developmental landscape in individual countries and from the increasing differentiation between them. This paper will demonstrate, using census data and other sources, that the rate at which urbanisation levels have recently been increasing in many large mainland SSA countries where the majority of SSA people live has significantly reduced, although some continue to urbanise very rapidly. It will also show that SSA is not, as is often asserted, the world’s fastest urbanising region: many Asian countries (according to UN Habitat data) are urbanising faster. A key reason why SSA urbanisation levels in some countries are rising more slowly is changes in the net rate of in-migration to urban areas in many countries, often because of rising rates of circular migration related to weak urban economies. This paper will discuss the reasons why misleading ideas about SSA urbanisation remain common and reflect upon the need to study in greater depth the ways in which the region’s current natural-resource based GDP growth feeds through into urbanisation and migration flows.
Potts, D. Rural-Urban and Urban-Rural Migration Flows as Indicators of Economic Opportunity in Sub-Saharan Africa: What Do the Data Tell Us? Migrating out of Poverty RPC Working Paper 9. Migrating out of Poverty Consortium, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK (2013) 39 pp.