Cities & urbanisation

SWAC’s objective is to place urban transformations and their economic, social and territorial impacts at the heart of public policies and the development agenda.

Africa is undergoing a profound transformation, with a significant increase in the proportion of people living in urban agglomerations. It is projected to have the fastest urban growth rate in the world - by 2050, Africa’s cities will be home to an additional 950 million people. 97% of urban agglomerations in Africa have fewer than 300 000 inhabitants, highlighting the importance of smaller and medium-sized agglomerations as drivers of sustainable economic growth. These agglomerations are also increasingly reducing the distances between urban and rural populations, blurring the lines between the two.

To harness the potential of these emerging agglomerations and leverage their role in connecting people and territories, urban planners and policy-makers need to acknowledge these new urban realities. Better data, knowledge exchange and constructive policy dialogue will be needed to catalyse investments and design new policies that facilitate sustainable urban growth and create the necessary employment and public services needed for a growing urban population.

There is a continuous need to understand urbanisation – what it looks like, what it means and what it might mean in the future. SWAC continues to support the generation, analysis and mapping of new data, to help policy-makers better anticipate the impacts of future urbanisation trends. The interactive Africapolis database and website is a central aspect of this work.

Furthermore, SWAC specifically supports the production and exchange of knowledge on African urbanisation dynamics through multidisciplinary analysis, collaborating with stakeholders at all levels to design new policies and strategies that address the specific constraints of urban areas and populations. SWAC will take a central role in encouraging new thinking at the international level through existing policy platforms and advocating for territorial and spatial understanding of urban agglomerations. It also seeks to encourage policy dialogue by connecting decision-makers, urban planners, local governments, civil society and the research community.



Although there is a growing interest in African cities, there is little data and research available beyond the continent’s megacities. Africapolis is a major step towards closing this data gap.

Produced by the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) in collaboration with E-geopolis, is the only comprehensive and standardised geospatial database on cities and urbanisation dynamics in Africa. Combining demographic sources, satellite and aerial imagery and other cartographic sources, it is designed to enable comparative and long-term analyses of urban dynamics - covering 7 500 agglomerations in 50 countries. It provides 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 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 provides the evidence base for a wide range of development policies at the local, national and regional levels. The new data and analyses generated by Africapolis aim to improve policy makers’ and researchers’ capacity to better target resources and develop policies that support a managed urban transition. In particular, by integrating thousands of agglomerations with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, it provides an evidence base for secondary cities and small towns which play an important role in moving towards more balanced and sustainable urban development in line with the New Urban Agenda in Africa and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 to “make cities and human settlements more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

It allows users to explore, visualise and map over 200 000 data points and provides a powerful tool for understanding urbanisation dynamics in Africa. Users can download the full dataset to explore it in more detail or apply it to their own needs and they can contribute data and stories to make the platform grow.


Africa's Urbanisation Dynamics 2020

Africa's Urbanisation Dynamics 2020, based on the Africapolis geo-spatial database ( covering 7 600 urban agglomerations in 50 African countries, provides detailed analyses of major African urbanisation dynamics placed within historical, environmental and political contexts. Covering the entire distribution of the urban network — from small towns and secondary cities to large metropolitan regions — it develops more inclusive and targeted policy options that integrate local, national and regional scales of urban development in line with African realities. The full report was launched at the joint NEPAD/SWAC event, Africa's Urban Realities: Better cities for an integrated, prosperous and peaceful continent in Addis Ababa on 7 February 2020. 

For more information contact: [email protected]