Africa is urbanizing fast, a change that is beneficial for rural and urban areas alike. Today, 66 percent of Africa’s population lives in rural areas, the vast majority several hours travel time from a mid-sized city (see table). But with urban growth rates of 3.9 percent per year, this situation is changing rapidly. By 2020, some 60 percent of Africa’s population will be urbanized.
Urban centers contribute to national economic growth by increasing individual, firm, and industry productivity through agglomeration economies, by increasing household welfare through social mobility and access to health services and education, and by promoting positive institutional change. Proximity to cities is critical to making the transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture, for increasing rural incomes, and for achieving convergence in living standards.
As is typical in the early phases of urbanization, urban household incomes are almost twice as high as rural incomes. This differential mainly reflects the higher productivity of urban areas, which, though home to just one-third of Africa’s population, account for 80 percent of its gross domestic product.
Spatial distribution of Africa’s population by type of country and settlement