Urbanisation – the Changing Face of Africa

Africa is a kaleidoscope of nations and identities, which is exceptionally colourful and culturally rich. There are one billion people in fifty five officially recognised, legitimate, sovereign states on the continent.  South Sudan is the youngest state in Africa.  They gained their independence from Sudan in 2011.

Sadly the twentieth century has seen mass human migration across the continent, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.  Millions have moved from traditional rural communities to the urban centres that offer a very different cultural lifestyle. The ‘promise’ of a new and exciting life with economic benefits has been the biggest draw card.

It is not just the cities that are alluring and seem irresistible. Small towns across Africa are vital to the livelihood of many of the regions – they are the focus of economic activity with thriving markets of livestock and produce – bought, sold and exchanged. Some travel for days, across many tribal borders, to get to the markets. These urban centres thus bring together many different languages. Communication and basic advertising can be difficult, but the trend is to create colourful hand-painted signs and murals to convey messages about goods and services on offer. Each town therefore has a wonderful unique atmosphere.

Only a few small traditional communities in some of the more remote parts of the continent have been able to preserve their unique way of life. Few manage to survive as hunter-gatherers without feeling the magnetism of city life.  Tribes like the Batwa pygmies (‘forest people’) of East African have been squeezed off their tribal land and have been forced to make a life for themselves on the outskirts of small towns. The Khoisan (Bushmen) of the southern African Kalahari are finding it challenging to survive in urban centres, which is so far removed from the life they know in the natural environment where they have been for millennia. Many tribes that hunt to survive have had to turn to town or city living and adapt to a modern lifestyle as the animals they hunt have been pushed off the land, have been overhunted or have become extinct.

Surprisingly, most Africans still live a rural existence, despite the rapid increase of urbanization.  But, it is believed that in the next ten years most Africans will be city dwellers.

Today Africans live in an rapidly-changing world where circumstances constantly propel them into an urban future, and yet there is still often an overriding urge to remain rooted and connected to their heritage, history, tradition and culture in an environment that is completely foreign to them.

With the continent on the move, this is a most fascinating and challenging time for Africa.