Africa Map
Africa Map



  • Author : Udoh
  • 2018-07-07

Development is a multi-dimensional process involving reorganization and reorientation of the socio-economic system to improve, spread, enlarge and promote factors of prosperity and progress to enhance the quality of human lives within a polity. In everyday parlance, a country is considered developed if its citizens, irrespective of where they reside, whether in urban or rural areas, have access to essential social amenities—hospitals/clinics, schools, legal system, good road network, transport system, industries and closeness to government institutions that provide security and legal protection to the citizens. The onus is, therefore, on the government or local authorities to bring about economic and social transformation of the country aimed at (i) raising peoples’ living standards, e.g. incomes and consumption levels of food, medical services, education through relevant growth processes, (ii) creating conditions conducive to the growth of peoples’ self-esteem through the establishment of social, political and economic systems and institutions which promote human dignity and respect, e.g. security and legal apparatus, and (iii) increasing peoples’ freedom to choose by enlarging the range of their choice variables, e.g. varieties of goods and services.

In the colonial era, and for the comfort of foreign settlers and local elites, social amenities were concentrated in major cities, such as, Dakar, Accra, Lagos, Nairobi, Yaoundé, Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Harare, Freetown, etc. Also, to facilitate shipment of natural resources out of Africa to Europe, harbours and port cities, such as, Tema, Lagos, Mombasa, Abidjan, Maputo, Lomé, Pointe Noire, etc. were developed. These localized developments were made, not to spread prosperity in the colonies, but as conveyor belts for the exportation of valuable raw materials for the development of the metropolitan countries. After independence, the colonial policy of concentrating development in the major cities was continued, with the blessing of the local elites. Todate, major parts of the African countries remain remote and rural. This article discusses the impact of concentrating factors of prosperity and progress in the urban areas has had on the rural communities and proposes new paradigms for a sustainable socio-economic development for the benefit of both the rural and urban inhabitants, particularly to stem the tide of rural-urban migration, which is a major problem in Africa.

Global trend toward urbanization is a recent phenomenon.  In 1800, about 3 percent of the world’s population lived in cities. That number increased to 15 percent by 1900. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. This is the result of massive urban-rural migration, especially in the developing countries where more than 5 million people migrate to urban areas every month.  It is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population will be urbanized by 2030, with the highest urbanization rate in the world happening in Africa and is projected to grow 50 percent by 2030.[i]

Urbanization is inextricably associated with economic transformation; but it does not mean it is a reliable engine of economic growth. Urbanization may lead to economic growth and high income among working class but not without challenges in terms of provision and/or access to services, such as, housing, sanitation, education or employment, for the growing number of people moving into cities. Tensions in urban areas are constant due to competition between new arrivals and established residents for common services. In the absence of sound public policy, the positive effects of urbanization tend to be outweighed by costs relating to pollution control, traffic congestion, and high costs of living.  In Africa urbanization has not resulted in raising standards of living, which triggers rural-urban migration. Instead it has brought about high urban unemployment rate, squalor and slums dwellings.[ii]  Other problems that are not commonly reported but are generally in big cities include the social tensions that come with rapid urbanization. Migrant families living apart, thus losing the comfort associated with the traditional nuclear family relationship; the children of young immigrants, who are struggling to make ends meet, are being raised by grandparents. Another cultural anathema, in the case of Africa, is that migration to the city means the elderly are left behind in rural areas, with little or no social support.

Rural area is commonly defined as a geographic area, made up of small towns, villages or hamlets, within a country, outside the densely populated urban areas commonly called town or city. It is not uncommon to use population density and distance to large cities to define the rurality of a given area.[iii] The primary occupation of the rural dwellers is farming. Most people live and work on farms or ranches. The lack of economic diversification and social facilities in the rural areas, has left agricultural sector competitive, thus triggering mass migration by the youth to urban areas: (i) where opportunities for employment in non-agricultural sector are high due to location of industries; (ii) for those interested in improving their education, where institutions of higher learning are located; (iii) where security apparatus, e.g. courts and the police force, are located as against insecurity in the remote rural areas; (iv) where social services infrastructures, e.g. hospitals, are located; and (v) many jobs in urban areas are paying higher wages than the same jobs in rural areas.

Recent UN/FAO study reveals that Sub-Saharan Africa's population increased by 645 million people between 1975 and 2015 and is likely to reach a total of 1.4 billion by 2055. This is a unique demographic feature in world history.[iv] The same FAO report estimates that by the middle of this century, rural population in Sub-Saharan Africa will increase by 63 percent, making Sub-Saharan Africa the only Region in the world where rural population will continue to grow after 2050.[v] The FAO report is significant in that while the majority of Sub-Saharan Africans, 854 million people (63 percent) live in rural areas,[vi] rural areas remain relatively isolated, or ignored by the government, marked by extreme lack of social and physical infrastructures. In addition to the lack of infrastructures, rural areas are most often over-exploited, serving as the principal sources of food and cheap labour for urban establishments.

Consequences of rural-urban migration

The consequences of rural-urban migrations are staggering. Because agriculture is the major source of livelihood for most Africans, rural-urban migration deprives rural areas of labour in agricultural sector. A fewer number of people working in the farms leads to less productivity, which leads to increases in the prices of commodities for both the rural and urban dwellers. It is the urban dwellers that have the most impact of rural-urban migration in the form of (i) increases in the prices of commodities, (ii) increases in population lead to increases in housing and transportation costs, (iii) it increases the rate of unemployment in urban areas; (iv) breaking of families and cultural ties in the rural areas; and (v) pressure on the social services, e.g. health and educational facilities, due to increase in population. These problems stifle development in the urban areas. The urban landscape becomes dirty and less attractive; crime rate increases due to population increase, intense competition for scarce social resources, particularly housing, opens the floodgate for “they” and “we” feeling, thus exacerbating ethnic conflict.

New paradigms for sustainable development

The core argument of this article is that development must be integrative, inclusive and sustainable. City dwellers owe their roots to rural areas. The wealthy income earners and business owners in the cities depend on the peasants in the villages to grow the food they eat. The villagers are the labour force used in the mining of the valuable minerals, e.g. gold, diamond, etc. which are used for the development of the cities and to fatten the local elites. Painfully, these villagers are used as the “sacrificial lambs” when it comes to development in African countries.

It is contended that rural development is vital to the economic, social and environmental viability of any nation. It is essential for poverty reduction or eradication since most people with low income or without income at all, are in the rural areas. There is great dividend to be derived from coordinating rural development initiatives, recognizing the remoteness and potentials in rural areas, that contribute to sustainable livelihoods nationwide. Rural communities in African countries are still faced with challenges related to access to basic services, economic opportunities and lack of coherence in planning related to rural-urban divide. There is very little investment in environmental protection, rural infrastructure and in rural health and education, which are critical to sustainable rural development and can enhance national well-being.

Most problems in the urban areas are caused by rural-urban migration. The government needs to take steps to stem the tide of mass internal migration. This can be achieved by strengthening the human capacities of rural people, with emphasis on creating access to facilities that drive people out of the rural areas, e.g. health and educational infrastructures, and farm and non-farm employment opportunities. That would mean strengthening rural health-care facilities and capacities, training and increasing the number of health and nutrition professionals and expanding access to primary health-care systems, including promoting equitable and improved access to affordable and efficient health-care services for effective disease prevention and treatment.

Severe burden of disease hampers social progress and economic development in many African countries. Majority of Africans do not have access to basic health services. With emerging of new and re-emerging of old diseases (HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and Malaria), coupled with problems of chronic diseases, such as, diabetes, hypertension, and other noncommunicable conditions, such as, mental health, African countries risks retardation of socio-economic development without substantial improvement in the health of the population.[vii] Health is wealth; therefore, African leaders must locate health infrastructures in the rural areas to prevent untimely death of youths and productive groups and to stem the tide of flight of people to the cities for medical services.

More infrastructures for secondary and tertiary institutions are in urban areas. This explains why young people move to the cities. Education should be a service without borders, i.e. citizens in the rural areas should have equal access to good educational institutions as those in the urban areas. To achieve sustainable development, social policies should aim at eliminating old and new forms of illiteracy in rural communities through provision of primary education and access to secondary and tertiary educational opportunities, as well as vocational and entrepreneurship training, including proactive capacity building among the youth, young girls and women.

Make farming attractive. Most Africans feed themselves from the crops they grow in their farms. Urban dwellers depend on crops grown in the villages and transported to the cities. Therefore, it should be a national policy to keep the rural dwellers in farming sector as far as possible. Farmers, both those cultivating crops to feed their families and small commercial farmers would need access to finance and/or micro credits to improve the farming industry. More importantly, the governments should stop taking farmlands from local farmers and selling them to foreign investors, for the cultivation of food crops and non-food crops for export to the investors countries. This policy exacerbates hunger and poverty in both the rural and urban areas.[1]

A reliable and constant energy supply is vital to unlocking faster economic and social development in sub‑Saharan Africa. More than 620 million people in Africa (two-thirds of the population) live without electricity, and nearly 730 million people rely on dangerous, inefficient forms of cooking, e.g. firewood and charcoal.[1] Irregular supply of electricity is a brake on development, particularly in the rural areas. This can be easily overcome with enormous benefits. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost 30% of global oil and gas discoveries made over the last five years; it is also the home to several major energy producers, including Nigeria, South Africa and Angola. With its tropical climate, Sub-Saharan Africa is also endowed with huge renewable energy resources, including excellent and widespread solar and hydro potential, as well as wind and geothermal. Electricity would encourage entrepreneurs to establish agricultural processing factories in the rural areas, thus creating jobs for the youths, and would provide the much-needed energy for schools and hospitals.

Insecurity is a major factor driving people out of rural areas. Insecurity is caused by different factors, including political instability, ethnic conflicts, police brutality, witchery/sorcery, armed robbery and intra-familial fight over land and other resources. Urban centers are equally unsafe, but urbanites have access to police force and the court system to litigate wrong doing. The youth are more likely to leave the rural areas to the city where “people mind their business,” and where they feel free to practice their trade.

People in the rural areas do not have access to courts and other instruments for dispute adjudication. The courts are in the cities, leaving rural dwellers at the mercy of traditional chiefs and local elites who administer jungle justice—most often the accusers are the judges. Another essential ingredient of “bottom-up” development process is providing access to a judiciary system that serves and reflects the aspiration of everyone in the population—urban and rural—particularly women, small businesses, rural and the urban poor. “Justice-on-wheels,” practiced in Tanzania is worthy of mention here. In collaboration with the World Bank Group, Tanzania has developed and implemented the “Citizen-Centric Judicial Modernization and Justice Service Delivery Project” under which Tanzania is one of the first countries piloting this innovative “Justice-on-Wheels” Programme.[viii] This programme features mobile courts to take court services directly to vulnerable groups in the rural areas, using buses, minivans and other vehicles outfitted as mobile courts. It facilitates safe and effective access to justice services and helps ensure that target beneficiaries can make use of them. This is a good way to strengthen the rule of law, narrow inequality and guaranty human right and freedom. Access to justice allows all people to use the legal system to advocate for their interests and ensure enforcement of the law. This is not only about prosecuting crimes; it is also about empowering underprivileged groups and addressing the time-honoured inequalities present in all societies.  


The current massive outflow of youth from the rural areas to urban centers needs to be contained with “bottom-up” development policy aimed at improving the quality of life and economic well-being of rural dweller to discourage them from migrating to the cities. That means equipping rural areas with socio-economic infrastructures to make it attractive for the youths to live and raise families in their traditional environment. It is postulated that this will also, in turn, solve or reduce city problems, such as, shortage of housing, increased crime, food insecurity, etc., and at the same time strengthen the capacity of rural areas to remain the major growers and suppliers of food to the urban population.


[i] Sri Mulyani Indrawati (2014). World Bank Report. “Urbanization and Urban-Rural Integrated Development” Speeches and Transcripts. Retrieved from:


[ii] World Bank (2015). “Urbanization in Africa: Trends, Promises, and Challenges.” Retrieved from:

[iii] Kenneth M. Chomitz, Piet Buys & Timothy S. Thomas (June 2005). “Quantifying the rural-urban gradient in Latin America and the Caribbean.”  World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3634. Retrieved from: World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3634

[iv] UN/FAO Report. “A first atlas on rural migration in sub-Saharan Africa: Rural Africa in Motion.” Retrieved from: 

[v] Ibid

[vi] Global Growing. “This study is significant in that the majority of Sub-Saharan Africans (63 percent = 854 million people) live in rural areas.” Retrieved from:

[vii] Report of the WHO Regional Director for Africa (2017). Retrieved from:

[viii] Sandie Okoro and Ibrahim Juma (2018).  The Citizen. “Gender and justice: a foundation for economic empowerment.” Retrieved from: