Urbanization in Nigeria

The population of Nigeria has grown significantly and this among other factors has lead to fairly rapid urbanization. The cities in Nigeria, especially Lagos, have had a hard time keeping up with the influx of people leading to a housing crisis, issues with waste disposal, water access, air pollution, and diseases often related to the increase in drug use. From now to 2020 three countries; Nigeria, India, and China, are projected to account for 37% of the world’s population growth. 7 of the biggest cities in Nigeria have had a 1000% population increase in the last 50 years. 10.1% of Nigeria’s population was urban in 1950, about 60% of Nigeria’s is projected to be urban by 2020.

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In the late 1970’s about 200,000 housing units were planned to accommodate the influx of people but under 15% of the planned units ended up getting built. A similar plan was made for another 200,000 units in the mid 1980’s but only about 19% of those units ended up getting built. From 1960 to 1980 the total housing requirements in Nigeria rose by a little over 3 million units. Nowadays in four of Nigeria’s largest cities there are an average of 3 people per room. It is estimated that it would take about 100 million US dollars to fix the housing crisis.

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This many people living so close together has lead to issues with access to clean water and in turn, waste disposal. In Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city only 9% of people have access to clean piped water. Almost 40% of people in Lagos’s source of water is street vendors. This lack of piped water means that most people do not have toilets in their houses. In fact there are no cities in Nigeria with a central sewage system. Human waste is often dumped in uncontrolled landfills on the sides of the road. These can sometimes get onto the roads themselves and block traffic. The wastes are often burned in order to prevent this which can lead to fire accidents, the spread of disease, and contributes to air pollution.

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38% of the manufacturing industries in the country are located in Lagos. Values far >0.02 part per million limits of automobile exhaust recommended by the World Health Organization have been reported in most Nigerian cities. 612,000 tons of dust are kicked up in the air by motor vehicles per year for unpaved roads, which are most of the roads in Nigeria. Nigeria has about four vehicles per 1000 inhabitants, the lowest level of motorization in West Africa. Only about 30% of all categories of roads in Nigeria are in good condition and 70% are in various stages of disrepair. 584,000 tons of smoke particles were emitted into atmosphere for burning about 80 million m3 of fuelwood.

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Cities have furthered the spread of disease as well. Much of this is due to drug use. Of the commercial motorcyclists in Zaria city, North West Nigeria, 25.8% use marijuana and 24.5% use solution. The transmission of HIV/AIDS went up in the 1980s and 1990s along with urbanization. Cities can lead to a change in the social norms including sexual activities and the use of illicit drugs. Hospitals report >15% of admissions are due to malaria, especially in urban areas. Many soil transmitted diseases have made a comeback due to urbanization including helminthiasis, schistosomiasis, and lymphatic filariaisis.

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Due to rapid population growth many cities in Nigeria, especially Lagos, have had a hard time keeping up leading to a housing crisis, issues with waste disposal, water access, air pollution, and diseases often related to the increase in drug use.

It’s Always Rush Hour in Rwanda

As the population of Rwanda grows, so does the total amount of people considered urban, with the official figure hovering around 17%. But a true sign of the times, even the concept of what constitutes urbanization is becoming increasingly outdated. Using a looser interpretation, the urbanized portion of the population has almost doubled at 31% today, compared to roughly 16% in 2002. Recently, Rwanda’s rapid period of growth has leveled off, signaling the end of true large scale urbanization. Looking towards the future, however, the overall population is expected to be on the rise again due to a combination of outside investors and scaled up agriculture production.

The large shift of citizens out of rural areas is fueled by the lack of advancement opportunities while stuck on a fixed income. A new urban environment is substantially more conducive to economic growth than dying communities with limited option in terms of land and jobs. Rwanda as a whole is still largely reliant on the profits generated from farming, but a sizeable subset of farmers are subsistence farmers, with entire families relying on agriculture to supply their basic needs.

However, the ability to find steady work is not guaranteed as an increasing amount of people flock to cities, mainly the capital Kigali. The Rwandan minister himself has been forced to acknowledge the correlation between rural urban migration and growing unemployment rates in an already competitive market. The job gap is widening, as those in rural areas seeking to escape their situation add to the pool of those searching for available work with varying levels of success. Those lucky enough to find positions often accept jobs they are overqualified for, or alternatively take on unfamiliar roles. Beyond the obvious, unemployment has broader effects, such as negative social impacts. This influx of people is arguably too much of a good thing, as the amount of people existing below the poverty line is increasing.

Many of the problems stemming from urbanization surround the ill-planned use of land during the building of many new structures. This includes physically illogical layouts that don’t maximize the space available as well as environmental concerns such as erosion. Post-genocide Kigali is one of the most visible examples of this change.

Both rural to urban and urban to rural migration is occurring, with each case presenting unique challenges. The process is cyclical, as people in search of work move to the city, while those alienated by the increasingly high concentration of people move to rural areas. The very nature of real estate transactions in rural areas have changed, with outside buyers fueling the market and driving up prices.  Those with the means to buy plots of land in these quiet areas (whether it be the government or an independent buyer) have the ability to take over villages in order to maximize profit through expansion or avoid bringing down their own property value with the sight of modest homes.

To stave off of the negative effects of urbanization, the Rwandan government is looking towards the future and focusing on developing so-called secondary cities in all four provinces, namely Muhanga, Huye, Rubavu, Rusizi, Nyagatare and Musanze. These secondary cities are being formed as an alternative to the densely populated and landlocked capital, and some commerce has shifted accordingly. This is a huge step, as the government prepares to invest in the future by developing areas with the potential for resource expansion and continued economic growth. Rwandan officials are looking not only to contain current issues, but facilitate sustained success. The lofty aims of the government include eventual classification as a middle class country and a target of 35% urban population growth. Moderate measures such as an effective bus route could contribute to these goals and the overall infrastructure, with increased transportation allowing for the spread of business centers with less dependency on one area. Concrete and manageable propositions like this are what will define the path of Rwanda as the country works towards bridging the gap between rural and urban areas.

Rwanda Urbanization

Rwanda has experienced the highest urban growth of any African country since 1990. Rwanda is not the most urban country in Africa, but its recent rapid growth is significant. Part of this growth can be attributed to the mass population shift caused by the Rwandan Genocide from 1990 to 1993. The Tutsi minority, who were the victims of the genocide, fled their local villages and settled in cities after the genocide ended. In addition, Tutsis exiled decades ago by the previous government began populating the cities. Hutu refugees returned later, settling in overpopulated cities. At this time, urbanization grew at 18% annually, which is unmatched by any country in the last 60 years. The new Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government quickly developed Kigali, the largest city and capital. The RPF was formed from military officials and their methods were authoritarian, which allowed for rapid development.


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Rwanda faces several challenges to becoming a developed urbanized country. The GDP is still largely made up of agriculture, which is not sustainable because of Rwanda’s small land area. Industry has only grown 3% in the last 10 years, which may slow the potential for urban growth. Rwanda’s recent stabilization also caused a surge in births. A young population is helpful for the economy in the short term, but in the future, it will be difficult to support a older population.

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Rwanda’s growing population and the lack of flat land makes rapid urbanization a necessity. The urban population is expected to grow at a steady rate over the next 30 years. Cities are also expected to grow in population density as the infrastructure is developed further. Rwanda’s cities are spaced evenly throughout the country with Kigali at the center. These secondary cities are developing at a fast rate, but not to the extent of Kigali.

The RPF government focuses on sustainability and security within Rwanda’s cities, which is uncharacteristic of an African country. Kigali is one of Africa’s cleanest cities because the government is still moderately authoritarian and has the ability to enforce laws to keep the city clean. In addition, Rwandan culture is based on individual citizens’ accountability, causing citizens to volunteer to help the cities. This “top down” system also mitigates the need for a large police force. Rwanda’s environmental policies are more progressive than those in many western countries, which will help Rwanda remain a tourist destination in the future.

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In the future, Rwanda plans to continue to modernize its economy and cities. Rwanda is different from other African governments because it actively facilitates urbanization rather than preventing it. The government also makes quick decisions, which may make rapid growth in the future possible. One of these decisions is to modernize the city as part of their Kigali 2040 plan, which includes building high-rises to accommodate the growing population. Kigali is already a distribution hub for tourists and the government is trying to make the city a main attraction to fund the Kigali 2040 plan.


As with any African country, building infrastructure is expensive and takes time. Instability in the region is also turning away investors. These factors may slow urbanization, but urbanization is still expected to revolutionize Rwanda and all African countries.