Sub-Saharan African Urbanization and Global Environmental Change

2014, In Susan Parnell and Edgar Pieterse (eds.), Africa’s Urban Revolution (London: Zed Books).


Scientific evidence for global environmental change in Africa presents a prima facia case for increased human migration and displacement. Closer scrutiny of the evidence on demographic change, however, suggests that migration and displacement are less important variables in explaining the human dimensions of global environmental change on the continent than is commonly projected. Natural population growth in cities is a more important dynamic in the evolving system of human settlement in Africa and this significant shift in where people live, both now and in the future is overlooked by the emphasis on the potential impact of environmentally induced migration. Even without any movement from the countryside, cities represent the fastest growing sector of the sub-Saharan African population. The existing vulnerability of African cities, with their fast growing populations and weak management means any environmental change is likely to have significant consequences for cities. Taking the sub-Saharan African demographic evidence seriously means that the scholarly and policy emphasis currently directed to GEC migration and displacement might be more effectively redirected to questions of the interface between global environmental change and urban areas.

Susan Parnell & Ruwani Walawege