Africa currently has three megacities: Cairo in Egypt, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Lagos in Nigeria. By 2050, the continent is set to have four more: Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Nairobi in Kenya, Khartoum in Sudan and Luanda in Angola. A megacity is an urban center with at least 10 million people living in it.
According to a report by the thinktank Institute for Economics & Peace, Dar es Salaam is expected to see the greatest population growth rate of the listed capitals, skyrocketing some 118 percent from 7.5 million people to 16.4 million by 2050. Nairobi too will see growth of 100 percent, as its population increases from today’s 5.2 million to 10.4 million. In terms of absolute numbers though, Cairo will have the biggest population, with a predicted 32.6 million people, followed by Kinshasa with 29 million and Lagos with 28.2 million.
Megacities are economic powerhouses that can provide new opportunities, jobs and services to millions. From a businesses perspective, they offer a huge labor market and potential consumer base, as well as low transport costs, and are centers of geostrategic importance, making them highly attractive to foreign and local investors. At the same time, when poorly managed, rapid urbanization can place strain on a city’s infrastructure and public facilities as resources once intended for far fewer people are suddenly spread too thin. This includes everything from roads and electricity to schools, medical centers and transport, to housing and waste management, as well as government services such as security and policing.
For cities to grow in a sustainable way, both good city planning and sufficient finances are needed. Without these, cities run the risk of not enough regulations being put in place and corners being cut, for instance when trying to quickly build much-needed housing cheaply. The authors of the report cite how this was the case in Lagos between January and July of 2022, when 24 buildings collapsed.
IEP researchers warn that cities in countries facing water stress, vulnerability to food security, conflict and climate related natural disasters are at particular risk of becoming unsustainable, flagging Kinshasa, Nairobi, and Lagos as among the most extreme examples.
It’s important to note here that different sources cite different statistics, and that especially with forecasts, situations can change. For instance, where the United Nations initially predicted that India would overtake China as the biggest country in 2027, it is now expected to take place in April of this year. In terms of megacity status, according to UN data from 2018, several additional cities, including Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Wuhan in China, will make the roundup even by 2035. Read more on the nature of conflicting reports here.