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Understanding the origins and pace of Africa’s urban transition


  • Fox, Sean


In this paper the author argues that urbanisation should be understood as a global historical process driven primarily by population dynamics stimulated by technological and institutional change. In particular, disease control and expanded access to surplus energy supplies are necessary and sufficient conditions for urbanisation to occur given historical evidence of an inherent human propensity to agglomerate. Economic development, which has traditionally been viewed as the primary driving force behind urbanisation, can accelerate the process but is not a necessary condition for it to occur. Informed by this historically-grounded theory of urbanisation, a range of qualitative and quantitative evidence is used to explain the stylised facts of sub-Saharan Africa's urban transition, namely the late onset of urbanisation in Africa vis-a-vis other major world regions, the widely noted but inadequately explained phenomenon of 'urbanisation without growth' observed in Africa in the 1980s and 1990s, and the historically unprecedented rates of urban population growth seen in the region throughout the late twentieth century.

Suggested Citation

  • Fox, Sean, 2011. "Understanding the origins and pace of Africa’s urban transition," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 41856, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:41856

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Barrios, Salvador & Bertinelli, Luisito & Strobl, Eric, 2006. "Climatic change and rural-urban migration: The case of sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(3), pages 357-371, November.
    2. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
    3. Bhattacharya, Prabir C, 1993. " Rural-Urban Migration in Economic Development," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 7(3), pages 243-281, September.
    4. Tim Dyson, 2003. "HIV/AIDS and Urbanization," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 29(3), pages 427-442.
    5. Granger, C W J, 1969. "Investigating Causal Relations by Econometric Models and Cross-Spectral Methods," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 37(3), pages 424-438, July.
    6. Harris, John R & Todaro, Michael P, 1970. "Migration, Unemployment & Development: A Two-Sector Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(1), pages 126-142, March.
    7. Fay, Marianne & Opal, Charlotte, 2000. "Urbanization without growth : a not-so-uncommon phenomenon," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2412, The World Bank.
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    1. repec:gam:jsusta:v:9:y:2017:i:8:p:1407-:d:107620 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • N9 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • R11 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, Environmental Issues, and Changes


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