Push Factors For Rural-Urban Migration on the African Continent

Crosslinked at Future Challenges Organization‘s blog.

[Macrotrends: Migration + Demographic Change + Natural Resources & BioDiversity]

As of 2010, Africa‘s 412 million city dwellers far exceed North America‘s 286 million. It is estimated that by 2025, more than half of Africa‘s population (60 percent) will live and work in urban centers, compared with 14.5 percent in 1950, 28 percent in 1980 and 34 percent in 1990. In 1960, Joannesburg was the only city in sub-Saharan Africa with a population of over a million; however, by 1970, there where four: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kinshasa (in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Lagos (Nigeria). By 2010, there were 33 African cities with populations of over 1 million, including: Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Nairobi (Kenya), Khartoum (Sudan), Luanda (Angola), Harare (Zimbabwe) and Dakar (Senegal).

The United Nations Population Fund‘s 2007 „State of World Population“ report estimated that 72 percent of sub-Saharan Africa‘s urban population lives in slum conditions. This is partly due to the fact that on the continent of Africa, urbanization typically outpaces infrastructure building and expansion in local governance. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also projects that between 2000 and 2030, sub-Saharan Africa‘s population will double.

The continent of Africa has the highest rates of urbanization globally and millions of Africans are migrating within their countries, as an estimated 20 percent do not live in their birthplaces. However, the primary push factors for rural-urban migration differ from those that drove urbanization in North America, Europe or Asia, where industrialization usually preceded rural-urban migration. The pull factors of opportunity and the promise of higher wages are bolstered by the push factors of poor management of natural resources and underdeveloped or detrimental infrastructure. Below, I outline five push factors for rural-urban migration- all of which are related to land and water resources.

Poor Management of Natural Resources (Governance)



In parts of Ghana, male heads of households are migrating to cities like Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast in search of work.  The push factors include the construction of the Akosombo Dam, which blocked the Volta River, inhibiting the river‘s flow.  This had detrimental affects on farmers and fishermen, who relied on the Volta River for their livelihoods.  At the moment, much of the fertile farmland near the Volta River is empty.

Only an estimated 33% of the men who migrate to cities send money back to their families. This poses a problem for the women running the households and for the children attending school.  Without the means to complete primacy school, children‘s opportunities are severely stunted, and without their husbands‘ financial support, many women have to use their land for subsistence farming, rather than for the cultivation of stable crops.  Ghana‘s Domestic Violence Act of 2007 offers protections to women, entitling them to the right to redress for all forms of domestic violence, including financial negligence.

Poor Irrigation Practices

In a previous article, I wrote about the shrinkage of Lake Chad and factors that exacerbated the water crisis in Niger, Northern Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad. Lake Chad as shrunk in volume by 95 percent in forty years. The area, in the southeast corner of the Sahara, already prone to desertification, is further affected by a lack of infrastructure to improve irrigation practices on a broader scale. Additionally, heavy cattle cultivation in the area is a factor in the lake‘s shrinkage.

Diversion of Vital Water Sources By Outside Bodies

Libya‘s major agricultural project would divert much of the water from Mali‘s inland Niger delta northward, away from the millions of farmers, fishermen, nomadic herders and the ecosystem in which they operate. The southeast corner of Mali is the verdant edge of the Sahara- an area rich with fragile ecosystems. Moamar Gaddafi‘s plan to interfere directly in Malian agriculture and irrigation  (enabled by a secret deal with Malian president Amadou Toumaini Toure) is to foster Libya‘s self-sufficiency, but it would undermine and endanger at least a million livelihoods. (This occured at the same time that the Malian government became dependent on Libyan aid.) The diversion of the Niger River delta would increase the southeast Mali‘s risk of desertification and threaten the area‘s food security- particularly that of nomadic Fulani groups. Increased water scarcity would certainly strain or unravel the tacit, informal agreements on the seasonal sharing of natural resources among nomadic and permanent residents.

B) Land

Land Tenure

Ethiopia‘s land tenure system has undergone many political upheavals, most famously, the 1974 revolution that unseated Emperor Haile Selassie. The 17-year military dictatorship that followed encouraged civil workers and veterans to claim ownership of Ethiopia‘s land, while mandating that rural farmland be distributed and redistributed evenly among farmers. However, as the rural population grew, the plots of land shrank. The land-holding average of each family is 1 hectare (or 2.471 acres) of land. This system disincentivized long-term, sustainable agricultural practices like planting trees, or building terraces to prevent soil erosion.

An Ethiopian Economic Association (EEA) study showed that 46 percent of farmers preferred the current land-tenure system, whereby most land is state-owned. Conversely, 32 percent preferred to privatize the land.

This is related to the simultaneous decrease in rural poverty and increase in urban poverty in Ethiopia. The combination of displacement via landgrabs and lack of opportunity in the Ethiopia‘s rural areas is driving rural-urban migration. Subsequently, movement into towns and cities has led to a population increase that outstrips infrastructure development, resulting in slums. Currently, there is work to improve the solid waste disposal and water disposal systems in 6 major cities in Ethiopia.

Land Grabs

These land grabs displace subsistence farmers and farming communities, making it necessary for inhabitants to seek opportunities elsewhere.  The amount of African land sold annually to multi-national corporations has increased from 10 million acres to about 110 million acres between 2008 and early 2010- the size of California and West Virginia combined. Over 70% of these land deals are concentrated in Mali, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mozambique. The rise in land deals in Africa is partly due to the global food crisis.

Here is a map of the buyers and sellers of arable land.

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