Top 10 fastest growing African cities and what’s fuelling their growth

For decades, Africa has been growing in the shadows, nearly invisible to the Western business press. But behind the biased news coverage of Africa is a continent that is poised to take the lead and burst onto the world stage.

Central Business District of Lagos, which house the Head Office of major financial institutions in Nigeria

How can I be so confident?

Simple. Africa is home not only to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies but also the majority of the world fastest growing cities. Keep in mind that the average annual population growth rate for the average city is 1.84%, whereas most African cities are growing at rates between four and eight percent. In Nigeria along, Port Harcourt and Abuja are themselves growing at 5.1% and 6.2% respectively.

And according to the consulting firm, McKinsey, 24 million Africans will move to cities each year between 2015 to 2045, compared to 11 million in India and nine million in China. All this matters because productivity doubles in urbanised settings compared to the countryside, thereby significantly growing a nation’s GDP at the macro level.

Factors driving urban development

So given all this growth, what are the reasons fuelling this rapid concentration into urban areas? Among the dozens of factors being debated among experts, three stand out as being the most impactful:

Migration caused by connectivity. Before 2000, a tiny fraction of Africans owned cell phones. Today, hundreds of millions of Africans own not just cell phones, but smartphones. The level of connectivity this has enabled is impossible to measure and will only grow throughout the 2020s. But aside from improving Africans’ ability to communicate, these devices have also allowed Africans to better collaborate. For example, those who live in cities share the promise of jobs and opportunities with their rural family members and friends, encouraging them to migrate into urban areas by the tens of millions annually.

Push factors. Opposite to the migration driven by the attraction toward better opportunities, sadly, migration is also being driven by more negative push factors, like famines and droughts, rural conflict, environmental degradation, and more.

Organic population growth. Africa’s population is among the fastest growing in the world, so an obvious factor driving urban growth is the increasing natural birth rate—a rate that is far surpassing the natural death rate.

On the whole, one of Africa’s biggest challenges will be to figure out how to manage the growth of its cities sustainably. Whether its building sufficient housing projects, sanitation and water drainage networks, roads and transit systems, all of these fundamentals of urban life will need to be built to accommodate both today and tomorrow’s population. With this in mind, let’s review some of Africa’s fastest growing cities:

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

If you think a population of 12 million is a lot today, Kinshasa, in the DRC, is forecasted to grow into the second largest city in Africa with 75 million people by the 2050s. Located along the Congo River, Kinshasa is a chaotic urban center attracting people looking to escape war and poverty, as well as searching for opportunity.

Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania

By population, Dar es Salaam is both the largest city in Tanzania and eastern Africa overall. The city is also a regionally important economic center and trading hub. Between 2010 and 2025, this city’s growth will outpace all other African cities, especially as its population is set to double to over six million people by 2025.

Nairobi, Kenya

As the capital and largest city of Kenya, Nairobi is seeing its population grow by 500,000 annually—and like Dar es Salaam, this pace will see Nairobi’s population double to over six million people by 2025. Fortunately, the city is already investing in new housing to accommodate this growth.

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

The cultural hub and largest city in French-speaking West Africa, Abidjan is Côte d'Ivoire's economic capital. The city's massive industrialization and urbanization growth rates will see its population rise to 6.3 million by 2025.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

One in every four urban Ethiopians lives in the country’s capital and largest city, Addis Ababa. But with a population of 3.6 million (2018) and an annual growth rate of 3.8%, the city is expected to see its numbers swell to 4.7 million by 2025, making it the world’s largest city in a landlocked country.

Luanda, Angolo

An industrial seaport gateway for the export of iron ore, petroleum, fish products, and diamonds, Luanda, Angola's capital, is not only the country's largest city at seven million, but is also among the most expensive African cities to live in. The city is thriving and is well positioned to fund its growth sustainably.

Casablanca, Morocco

Both economically and demographically, Casablanca is not only the heart of Morocco, but it’s also the largest city in the Maghreb. Given its position as Morocco’s center of commerce, Casablanca is well positioned to manage its growth well into the future.

Cairo, Egypt

Across the Middle East and the Arab world, Cairo is without question the region’s largest metropolitan area, along with also being Egypt’s capital and largest city. Due to economic and political hardships in recent years, it has proven difficult for the city to keep up with the demands of its growing population. To address this concern, Egypt is investing in the development of an entirely new city just 40km to the east of Cairo that is expected to house seven million people in its first phase alone.

Johannesburg, South Africa

The center of a large-scale gold and diamond trade, Johannesburg is South Africa’s largest and wealthiest city. It even ranks in the top 50 largest urban areas in the world.

Lagos, Nigeria

Last, but not least, though not the capital of Nigeria, Lagos is the country's commercial hub. This growing coastal city not only has the highest GDP, but also one of Africa's busiest and largest ports. Lagos is also the future neighbour to Eko Atlantic, the future smart city my team is developing!

About the author:

Ronald Chagoury is the Vice Chairman of Eko Atlantic city, a new state-of-the-art-city set to become the new financial center in Lagos, Nigeria. Ronald covers topics relating to the current and future of Africa as he is a big believer in the untapped potential of the continent. You can read more articles from Ronald at


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