Africapolis: A comparable geo-spatial database on cities and urbanisation dynamics in Africa

Cities and urbanisation are a defining feature of 21st century Africa. Cities have grown in size and number.  In 2010, West Africa counted almost 2,000 urban agglomerations with more than 10,000 inhabitants, compared to 150 in 1950. These agglomerations are home to 133 million people, 41% of the region’s total population. Cities and their inhabitants are increasingly shaping the region’s economic, social and political geography. A large majority of these agglomerations are secondary cities and small towns that act as hubs and catalysts for local and regional production as well as for the transfer of goods, people and information, linking the local and regional economies to the global economy.

What is Africapolis?

Although there is a growing interest in African cities, there is little data and research available beyond the continent’s megacities. Africapolis — part of the global e-Geopolis programme — is a major step towards closing this data gap.

Africapolis is geo-spatial database on cities and urbanisation dynamics in Africa. Its original methodology combines national population data, satellite and aerial imagery and other cartographic sources to provide population estimates at the level of individual agglomerations, systematic geolocation and information on the size and evolution of an agglomeration's built-up area since 1950. The 2015 Update for West Africa identified 1,947 urban agglomerations as of 2010, highlighting the importance of small and medium-sized agglomerations in national urban networks and the emergence of new urban agglomerations through in situ urbanisation. The data highlight the role of small towns and secondary cities in urban networks, the emergence of new urban agglomerations and the increasing fluidity between urban and rural environments (hyper rural – meta urban). 

Africapolis data provides the evidence base for a wide range of development policies at the local, national and regional levels. By integrating thousands of agglomerations with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, it delivers a better understanding of the spatial transformations brought about by urbanisation, and strengthens analyses of the connections and flows being made across the urban network.

The 2018 Update

In collaboration with e-Geopolis and USAID, the Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat is preparing a continent-wide Africapolis update covering 51 African countries which will be available in the second half of 2018. Integrating new census data and satellite imagery, it will provide population estimates for around 5,000 urban agglomerations, covering all agglomerations with more than 10,000 inhabitants, their precise geolocation and the size of their built-up areas. For the first time, a comparable and verifiable dataset will cover the African continent, providing unique data for analyses on cities and urbanisation dynamics, but also for the large variety of topics directly linked to the ongoing settlement transition in Africa. 


‌Africapolis contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 11 to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” by providing policy makers and researchers with a unique insight into the African urban landscape and a strong basis for the analyses and strategies needed to support sustainable and co-ordinated urban development.