Africa’s Cities

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Africa is the second largest continent of the earth’s seven continents and the second most populous continent. Africa has within it many countries with diversity, uniqueness, and culture. It is a continent with lot of resources, different sectors and various kinds of environments. With about 30 million square kilometers, Africa covers about 6% of the surface area of the Earth, while it accounts for over 16% of the world’s population with over 1.2 billion people. To appreciate its size, consider that Africa is large enough to fit into it, Europe, China, India and the United States.

For ease of understanding, Africa may be divided into 5 regions or territories, comprising: East Africa, North Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa and West Africa. Each of these regions comprises of countries as well as cities.

In as much as Africa has a very large population, there are a lot of misconceptions about the African continent, the African people, and their way of life. Some of these misconceptions are highlighted below.

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Major Cities In Africa


People who have not met Africans, who have not examined historical evidence or who only rely on entertainment content for knowledge and understanding, tend to carry misconceptions that are untrue and misleading. This has in many ways affected the world’s view of Africa mostly in the media. Though there are more, we look at seven common misconceptions.

Africa is regarded as a country

This is one of the most common misconceptions held by most people, including people in world power. They see Africa as one very large country, but that is not true. Africa is one of the 7 continents of the earth with a total number of 54 countries in Africa. No other continent has more countries or more diversity. Each of these countries differs from one another in terms of social structure, political structure, history, and economic structure. Some countries in Africa include Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Uganda, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Kenya, Malawi, Angola, Botswana, etc.

All African countries lack the technology

All parts of Africa have access to cell phones including areas that are classified as informal settlements, villages and small towns. They also have access to internet connectivity, accessories like cameras, tablets and laptops. Some areas of Africa are leading the way in technological innovations such as Mobile money transfers, e-banking, e-healthcare, online education, online shopping, and many more.

Africa is corrupt and full of wars

Another notion carried about Africa is the idea that all of Africa is corrupt and at war. For a fact, most parts of Africa are peaceful and are not at war. Despite the fact that Africa has some countries rated high on corruption, some countries in Africa have stood out. According to the Transparency International’s 2015 corruption index, Botswana has rated the least corrupt African country, rating higher than European countries like Spain and Italy. Some other notable countries known for their lack of corruption includes Cape Verde, Rwanda, and Namibia.

Africans speak only one language

The misconception that Africans speak only one language is in fact not true. Africa is blessed with great diversity even in their languages. It is recorded that Africa has over 2,000 languages with Nigeria, a country in West Africa, having over 200 languages. Though there are common languages spoken by most African countries like the Portuguese, German, English, and French, due to the Scramble for Africa, there exist numerous languages and ethnicity within Africa.

Africa is filled with diseases

Though Africa is faced with a challenge of disease and disease management, many hospitals, especially private hospitals, are on par with private hospitals in other parts of the world. They are able to cater for the health needs of some persons in various parts of Africa. Though the continent has a lot to do in terms of disease control and public health improvement, Africa is not filled with diseases.

Skin colour is a scientific indicator of race

All humans are 99.5% similar. Factors like hair colour and skin colour are related to adaption not evolution. Africans are not a different species to other human beings. The genetic diversity of Africans is what made Homo Sapiens successful in populating the earth and dominating archaic humans. The gene pool of Africans contains all the details, including the SLC24A5 gene of lighter skin tones, to re-populate the earth from scratch with all its existing varieties of skin colours, facial structures and hair colour diversity, including Denisovian and Neanderthal admixtures. Lighter skin colours in North Africa and South Africa maximise Vitamin D absorption in areas further away from the equator while darker skin tones maximise protection against the dangers from ultraviolet rays falling on human beings living close to the equator.

Most people live in villages

The notion that most Africans live in villages is a total misconception owing to the fact that Africa is home to some of the largest cities in the world. Some of these cities are filled with great housing structures, from 5-star hotels to world-class residential buildings.

Some other non-exhaustive misconceptions held by people all over the world include:

  • Africans live in trees
  • Africa is one huge grassland with only wildlife
  • All populated areas are refugee camps
  • All African have one skin colour (dark-skinned)
  • Dangerous/ wild animals live and roam the streets of Africa
  • Africa is always hot
  • All of Africa share a homogenous culture


(total population: 2.1 million)

Mogadishu city, also known as Xamar or Hamar, is located in Somalia and is also the capital and the most populous city in the Country. The role of Mogadishu on the world stage dates back to the time of the Phoenicians when it was one of the Somali city-states acting as a transhipment point between Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Indian polities and Chinese polities. The city was founded in the 9th Century AD and belonged to the Banaadir region in Somalia. The Somalis used a maritime vessel called a beden to carry cargo between global supply and demand markets.

Taking population census in Mogadishu has proven very difficult because of the crisis in the region, but as of 2017, records put the population between 1.5 million to 3 million. Demographia puts Mogadishu’s population at about 2.1 million with its urban area as 35 square miles (91 square kilometers). This brings its population density to about 69,000/sq mi (about 26,800 inhabitants per square kilometer.

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City of Mogadishu

14. Durban City, South Africa
(total population: 3.4 million)

Durban city, the third most populous city in South Africa and the largest city in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, is known to be the busiest port in all of the country. With the city’s warm tropical climate and extensive beaches, it is mostly a centre for tourist attractions.

Established in 1880, it presently has a population of 3.44 million which is about 6.59% of the total South African population. Durban has an area coverage of 87.22 square miles (225.91 square kilometers) and has a population density of 6,800 per square mile (2,600 per square kilometer).

With Durban being a port city, it contributes 20% of the city’s GDP and about 2% of the nation’s GDP. It has also been ascertained that the population growth may increase by 1.13% on the average every year. The city has a total GDP of about $63.9 billion.

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Durban City

13. Nairobi, Kenya
(total population: 3.5 million)

Nairobi, the largest city in Kenya, the financial capital of the country, and the country’s political capital, is popularly called the “Green City in the Sun.” Nairobi city was founded in 1899 as a rail depot for the Uganda railway. With a total population of 3.5 million people, Nairobi is the second largest city in terms of population in the region of African Great Lakes, being second to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Nairobi has an area coverage of 269 square miles (696 square kilometers) and has a total population density of 12,600 per square mile (4,850 per square kilometer). Nairobi has about 22% of its population living in slum poverty. Nairobi is also the only city in the world that is near a game reserve: the Nairobi National Park. This brings Nairobi’s contribution to national GDP to about 60%.


(total population: 3.9 million)

Kano city is the capital of Kano state in the North Western part of Nigeria. The origin of Kano (and the concomitant Hausa states) dates back to between the 5th and 7th century of our era, the earliest recollection of female queen and matriarch called Queen Magajiya Kofana, Queen of the Kufufu. Modern Kano city is regarded as the commercial center of the Northern part of the country and also the second largest city in Nigeria after Lagos. Geographically, it is located in the Sahelian region, south of the Sahara.

hausa Kano City Walls and Gates Old map

The ancient Kano walls were built between 1095 and 1134 during the reign of Sarki Gijimasu (King Kijimasu) and completed in the 14th century; and measure 40 ft. thick at base, 30 to 50 ft. in height (15m) with 15 gates.

Also known as the Metropolitan Kano, it covers an area of 193 square miles (499 square kilometers) and has an estimated population of 3.9 million as of 2016 (2006 census: 2,828,861). This amounts for about 2% of the total population in Nigeria with a total population density of 15,000 per square mile (5,700 per square kilometer). The city has a population growth rate of 3.5% and an annual GDP of about $29.38 billion and also serves a market of over 300 million people. Apart from the threats faced from terrorist attacks like the Boko Haram, the city is also faced with poor governance, unregulated migration, and poverty which have posed issues for the city.

City of Kano from Dalla Hill

11. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
(total population: 4 million)

Addis Ababa, also known as a chartered city, is the capital of Ethiopia. It has a dual status, both as a capital city for Ethiopia and a capital state (or headquarters) for the African Union. Addis Ababa also hosts the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) with other international and continental organizations. Addis Ababa is at times referred to as the “political capital” of Africa.

Addis Ababa has a total population of 4 million (up from 3,384,569 following the population census records as of 2008). Addis Ababa has an area coverage of 203 square miles (527 square kilometers) and a total population density of 13,378 per square mile (5,165.1 per square kilometer).

Addis Ababa

10. Accra, Ghana
(total population: 4.1 million)

Accra, the largest city in Ghana, is also Ghana’s capital. A city settled in the 15th Century, the city now covers an area of 87.13 square miles (225.67 square kilometers) and has a total population of 4.1 million people. Ghana’s Statistical Services reports a 3.1% growth rate for the city of Accra. The city of Accra serves as the country’s main center for commercial, technological, manufacturing, transport, innovation, and communication activities. The city contributes about $3 billion to the country’s GDP (about 10% of GDP).

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Accra, Ghana

09. Casablanca, Morocco
(total population: 4.3 million)

Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco, though not the country’s capital, stands as one of the largest and most important cities in Africa with respect to economy and demography. With Casablanca having one of the largest ports in Morocco, it is also one of the largest financial centers in the whole of the African continent. It was first settled in the 7th Century BC and the reconstructed in 1756. Casablanca has an area coverage of 80 square miles (220 square kilometers) and has a population of 4.3 million people. Casablanca constitutes about 11% of the total population of Morocco.

08. Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
(total population: 4.36 million)

Dar es Salaam which is the most populous city in Tanzania and the former country’s capital is a prominent city of arts, fashion, media, music, and television. Dar es Salaam is a very important economic center for the region and is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Dar es Salaam has a population of 4.36 million (4,364,541), which accounts for about 10% of the total population in Tanzania, has an area coverage of 538 square miles (1,393 square kilometers) and records a population density of 8,100 per square mile (3,100 per square kilometer).

However, a report given by the World Bank states that 70% of the residents of the city live in informal and unplanned settlements with most of them living on about $1 a day.

Dar es Salaam

07. Johannesburg, South Africa
(total population: 4.4 million)

Johannesburg, one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world, is the largest city in South Africa. Though Johannesburg is not one of the three capitals of South Africa, it is the provincial capital of the Gauteng province, which is actually the wealthiest province in all of South Africa. Johannesburg city was established in 1886 following the discovery of gold in the area. It has a population of 4.4 million (4,434,827), an area coverage of 635 square miles (1,645 square kilometers) and a population density of 6,120 per square mile (2,364 per square kilometer).

With Johannesburg as the 27th largest city economy in the world, it generates a GDP of about $127.2 billion for South Africa. Despite this level of economic activity in the city, Johannesburg also experiences poverty with over a million people living in slums. This has made the rate of crimes and murders increase in the city making it one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Johannesburg, South Africa

06. Alexandria, Egypt
(total population: 4.7 million)

Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt, is known for its historical Mediterranean port and beach city. Alexandria city was founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great. Alexandria city holds a population of 4.7 million people and an area coverage of 1,034 square miles (2,679 square kilometers) with a population density of 5,000 per square mile (1,900 per square kilometer). The population has an annual growth of about 1.7% and contributes about $46 billion to Egypt’s GDP. Most of Egypt’s industrial activities are done in and around the city of Alexandria (about 50% of industrial activities).

Alexandria city, Egypt

The re-imagined Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Image: Jean-Claude Golvin

Timeline and map of the Lighthouse of Alexandria and the other Wonders of the Ancient World

05. Abidjan, Ivory Coast
(total population: 4.707 million)

Abidjan is one of the most populous French-speaking cities in Africa and also the economic capital of Ivory Coast. Abidjan accounts for about 20% of the total population of Ivory Coast with its population standing at 4.707 million, with its total coverage area as 818 square miles (2,119 square kilometers) and a population density of 8578 per square kilometer. Abidjan has a population growth of 2.38% annually and accounts for 50% of the country’s GDP. The city has a refinery that processes crude oil. Alongside this, the city produces cocoa, oil, and natural gas.

The city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast

04. Luanda, Angola
(total population: 6.5 million)

Luanda is the capital of Angola, and it is also the largest city in the country. It stands as the country’s most important city and most populous with major ports, industries, cultural centers, and urban centers. Luanda is also the most populous Portuguese-speaking capital city in the whole world, being six times more populous than Lisbon (the capital of Portugal) and it is also the capital of the Luanda province of Angola.

The city was founded in 1576. Now, its population stands at 6.5 million and the city covers an area of 44 square miles (113 square kilometers) and a population density of 57,000 per square mile (22,000 per square kilometer). Luanda is home to the country’s busiest seaport off the Atlantic Ocean. This opens doors for a lot of exportation in the region.

Luanda suffers from a shortage of accommodation facilities. This has made the cost of rent, property ownership and the cost of hotels very expensive, one of the top 5 in the world. Relatively, millions of the population to live in slums. This has also made the crime levels high in the region (rated as critical by OSAC). More than 55% of the people live below $1 a day.

Luanda, Angola

03. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
(total population: 13.3 million)

Situated alongside the Congo River, the Kinshasa city is the largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) and also the country’s capital. Kinshasa has a total population of 13.3 million people with an area coverage of 3,848 square miles (9,965 square kilometers) and an urban population density of 51,000 per square mile (20,000 per square kilometer). The population growth rate of the city is at 9.2%, and about 64% of the population lives below the poverty level. Kinshasa is mainly sustained economically by the agricultural sector, minerals, gas, oil, and the timber sectors. The OSAC rates the crime levels to be very high in the city of Kinshasa. The region of DRC has been unstable since its colonisation by Belgium.

Kinshasa city

02. Cairo, Egypt
(total population: 20.4 million)

Cairo, the capital city of Egypt, is one of the largest city areas in Africa and the largest in the Middle East. The city is the 15th largest city in the world and is located near the Nile Delta. The modern city was founded in 969 CE by Fatimid dynasty. The city has a population of 9.5 million within the city, 20.4 million people within the metropolitan area, an area coverage of 234 square miles (606 square kilometers) and has a population density of 83,000 per square mile (32,000 per square kilometer). Cairo also has a population growth rate of 2.6% and it is a major contributor to the country’s GDP.

Cairo, Egypt

01. Lagos, Nigeria
(total population: 21 million)

Lagos is a city located in the Lagos state of Nigeria and is the most populous state in the country and also the most populous state in the whole continent of Africa. Lagos is also one of the fastest growing cities in the World, and a major financial center in all of Africa. The Lagos city was settled in the 15th century and founded by the Awori subgroup of the Yoruba. The city has a total population of 21 million people and has an area coverage of 452.23 square miles (1,171.28 square kilometers) and a population density of 17,800 per square mile (6,871 per square kilometer). The population growth rate of Lagos is between 2 to 3% annually. Lagos also generates about $90 billion annually to the GDP of the country, the economy, unlike most areas in the country, is not dependent on oil production but depends on manufacturing, transportation, construction, and other sectors of the economy.

Lagos, Nigeria


Eko Atlantic

Africa is determined to make its way to the forefront of the world’s economic and financial setting. This set goal is gradually being accomplished through innovations in infrastructure. A recent development is the Eko Atlantic. This is a complex city within the city of Lagos. The unique city is being developed by building into the Atlantic Ocean. An estimated area of 6.5 million square meters of land was reclaimed by moving land from the interior of Africa into the Atlantic coastline. This innovative establishment is very forward-thinking and is open to investors from all around the world.

It is expected that within the next few years, Eko Atlantic will become one of Africa’s leading prime real estate establishments in West Africa. The Eko Atlantic is designed for residential purposes, office spaces, retail purposes, and many other opportunities.

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With the transformation being brought by urbanization throughout the world, Africa is not left out. Sub Saharan Africa is the fastest urbanizing region in the world. The Urban areas currently hold a population of 472 million and this will double over the next 25 years. The global share may grow from 11.3% (2010) to about 20.2% in 2050. With the great role played by urban cities in Africa, they are tasked with fighting poverty and also sustaining the economic growth. Thus, they are considered the future of prosperity in Africa.

Some major world projections include:

  • In the next 30 to 40 years, the urban population would surpass the rural resident.
  • 3.4 billion people live in rural areas but this will reduce to about 3.1 billion in the year 2050.


With Africa rapidly urbanizing, there are projections that the present rate of urbanization will change from about 40% to about 60% by 2050. This definitely links to prosperity and also creates economic opportunities for development in these regions.

According to the World Bank in an article in 2015, it states that “the continent’s urbanization rate, the highest in the world, can lead to economic growth, transformation, and poverty reduction.”

Let’s highlight some of the opportunities and benefits of urbanization on the African continent.

  • An opportunity to accelerate industrialization: with urbanization, there surely would be economic growth and development through the veins of industrialization. This, of course, is possible because most cities pass through the industrialization stage in their cities.
  • Reduction of poverty levels: with industrialization and economic growth there tend to be a reduction in the poverty levels in the urban areas over time. Though it takes time, there is a gradual reduction as the GDP increases due to more economic activities in these cities.
  • New market opportunities: the urban region or cities are more opened to the creation of new businesses and the improvement of existing ones. This, in turn, creates better opportunities for a larger and more productive market for the populace.


African cities can be classified based on their layout or land use. The Land use is broadly divided into two sections; the Built-up areas and the Non-built-up areas.


Basically, these are areas that have undergone or are undergoing one form of construction or the other. The built-up areas can be sub-divided into residential, institutional, industrial, transportation areas, roads and streets, vacant plots, and buildings under construction.


Non-built-up areas, in this case, would include agricultural areas, green areas, forest regions, water bodies, and barren lands.


With the speed at which urbanization is going in Africa, the challenges faced by most of the African cities are also in the high. Some of the notable challenges faced are:


With the rapid urbanization of emerging cities in Africa, strains have been placed on basic infrastructure, and this is followed by the challenge of global climate change that has brought on most of these areas. Inadequate regulatory and environmental controls over built up areas may lead to inappropriate responses to flooding, heat waves, tropical cyclones, and infectious diseases.


The influx of people to cities has increased the need for the provision of more resources for this increasing population. Challenges have been faced in providing sufficient resources such as food, water, and energy.


Though many African cities are exposed to technological advancements, the cost of accessing some of these technologies is quite expensive. For some other cities, upgrading to some of the latest technologies has been a great challenge. The transition has not been smooth for some emerging cities.


With an increase in urbanization of African cities, the need for good and improved governance cannot be overstated. As the cities increase in size and population becomes more diverse, the governance of these cities becomes more complex and need arises for competent leaders to lead such emerging cities.

With emerging cities, there are more challenges faced within their cities. Others include:

  • Risk of some of these cities having lots of slums
  • Failure to secure food supply as most of the farmlands are now converted to residential areas
  • Inadequate transportation system to cater for the growing population of the emerging cities.

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Africa’s Cities

by Editorial Team time to read: 15 min