Cities in Africa are growing faster than in any other region. Most of the increase is the result of migration, reflecting people's hopes of escaping rural privation more than actual opportunity in the cities. In fact, under the burden of structural adjustment programmes, formal employment in Africa's cities is not growing, while informal-sector job growth is not likely to keep pace with the 5-10 per cent anticipated growth rates in the working-age population.
The quality of life in many African cities is increasingly threatened. Urban infrastructures are already under great stress. Shrinking budgets for social services have left schools overcrowded and ill-equipped, medical services understocked and overburdened, transport less reliable and basic electrical and water supplies increasingly intermittent. Economic pressures and rising school fees have reversed the trend towards higher enrolments for basic education; male primary school enrolment and completion rates have declined in the early 1990s.
The most important African cities were developed as colonial administrative and trading centres rather than industrial and commercial centres equipped to support large populations. A generation after independence, well-serviced but expensive city cores are surrounded by rings of development supporting most of the population, where the quality of housing and services varies greatly. Urban authorities providing administration and services have been unable to keep up with the explosive growth of squatter communities and shanty towns.
Slow economic growth and poor transport have limited the relocation of industry and industrial suppliers, impeding job growth in secondary cities. This has fuelled continued migration into larger cities by people in search of work.
Economic liberalization has encouraged external assistance in some countries. Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda have received assistance for transport infrastructure, for example. Such improvements can stimulate developing markets and help generate employment, offsetting some of the economic effects of structural adjustment. But increases in traffic often worsen travel conditions even as road quality improves, reducing the value of the investment.
Decentralization of authority has accelerated change in the management of basic services, but public and private initiatives alike are hampered by haphazard tax collection and poorly functioning credit markets. A number of countries allow the private sector to supplement or replace overburdened public services such as buses.
As employment stagnates and services deteriorate in many urban areas, social and economic conditions continue to worsen. As a result, crime and homelessness increase and family systems break down, especially under the added strains of internal political turmoil and the ravages of AIDS.
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