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Sub-Saharan Africa : Strong economic growth through 2050

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Sub-Saharan Africa : Strong economic growth through 2050

East African cities dominate the top five, including Kampala, Nairobi, Mwanza and Dar Es Salaam. Although currently the second largest region in terms of total urban GDP, the report predicts that the South will be overtaken by East African cities by 2050.

Encouraging growth projections to 2050

East African cities are poised for strong economic growth between 2024 and 2050, outpacing other regions of the continent, according to a World Bank analysis. The report shows that these cities will experience an average GDP growth rate of 3.5 % per year. This growth will be fueled mainly by significant foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows and strategic initiatives by the East African Community (EAC) to strengthen sectors such as business services and manufacturing.

In contrast, Southern Africa’s cities are expected to have the bleakest outlook, with GDP growth projected at 1.7 % per year. This trend is attributed to political instability and structural unemployment problems in major urban centers such as Cape Town.

However, despite currently being the second largest region in terms of total urban GDP, the report predicts that East African cities will overtake those in the South by 2050. The leading city in terms of GDP growth over the forecast period is Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire. The industrial sector, driven by recent developments in oil and gas production, is expected to be the main driver of growth in Abidjan.

East Africa : Cities outperform the region

Kampala, in particular, is expected to triple its economy by 2050, with growth coming mainly from industry and the booming consumer and business services sectors.

While sub-Saharan cities are expected to experience marginal productivity gains relative to their global counterparts, total incomes are expected to more than double by 2050 due to population growth.

However, the lack of growth in GDP per capita may result in low purchasing power by global standards. For example, North African cities are expected to experience significantly higher annual per capita income growth than sub-Saharan cities. Despite the substantial increase in total consumer spending in major sub-Saharan cities by 2050, the composition of other spending is likely to remain skewed towards essential categories such as food and utilities, reflecting the limited growth in per capita income.

Demographic outlook

East African cities are becoming key drivers of economic growth in the region. As such, stakeholders are capitalizing on these opportunities to promote sustainable development and address existing challenges to ensure inclusive prosperity for all citizens. Among other things, the incursion of the cryptocurrency market into Africa.

The scale of demographic change in sub-Saharan and East African cities is striking by global standards. Between 2023 and 2050, the 86 largest cities in sub-Saharan Africa will account for 35 % of this increase, equivalent to an additional 200 million people.

As sub-Saharan Africa’s urban landscape rapidly evolves, the scale of population growth in Kinshasa and Lagos will be dwarfed elsewhere. Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo are by far the most densely populated cities in sub-Saharan Africa, with 15.2 million inhabitants in the former and 14.8 million in the latter.

Lagos and Kinshasa : Economic growth potential

Comparable population sizes mean that the two megacities are neck-and-neck in the world city rankings (25th and 26th respectively) for 2023. Although Lagos is currently the larger city, a reversal of positions is not unexpected. Kinshasa will overtake Lagos in 2025, and this lead will only increase over the forecast period. By 2050, the total population will reach 37.6 million, 1.5 times the size of Lagos (24.9 million).

  • The GDP of Lagos’ formal economy, estimated at 136.6 billion USD, will contribute 30 % to Nigeria’s GDP in 2022. Lagos State’s internally generated revenues over this period amounted to around 2.4 billion USD.
  • Rapid population growth in the DRC is accompanied by rapid urbanization. By 2021, around 47 % of the population will be living in urban areas. On current development trajectories, the DRC’s urbanization rate is set to rise to 56.5 % by 2043.
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