Urbanisation Dynamics in West Africa 1950–2010

Africapolis I, 2015 Update

Since 1950, the number of urban agglomerations in West Africa increased from 152 to almost 2 000, and today towns and cities are home to 41% of the region’s total population. Cities and their inhabitants are increasingly shaping West Africa’s economic, political and social landscape. Yet there is little up-to-date data available for analysis and the formulation of development policy at the local, national and regional levels. Africapolis, a comprehensive and homogenous dataset on urbanisation, is a significant step towards closing this data gap. The 2015 update covers 17 West African countries spanning the period 1950 to 2010. Its original methodology combines demographic sources, satellite and aerial imagery to provide population estimates and geolocation at the level of individual agglomerations. The morphological approach adopted by Africapolis helps identify territorial transformation processes which are at the core of West Africa’s complex urbanisation dynamics and can be observed at several levels: metropolises, secondary cities, the merging of villages and the formation of conurbations. The identification of cities with fewer than 100 000 inhabitants is a major contribution of Africapolis – 90% of West Africa’s cities, or a combined population of 45 million people, fall into this category – a figure which underscores the important role of small cities within the urban system. This edition also includes new measurements of urbanisation in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, constituting the most complete dataset on urbanisation dynamics in this country to date.

Published on March 18, 2016Also available in: French

In series:West African Studiesview more titles


The Sahel and West Africa Club
The global e-Geopolis programme
Executive summary
Overview. Updating knowledge on urbanisation in West Africa
Challenges in tracking change in West African settlement dynamics
Demographic growth and the spread of agglomerations in West Africa
Urban morphologies and new urban forms in West Africa
Estimating the population of Nigerian cities
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The 2015 Update identifies 1 947 urban agglomerations as of 2010 and the data allows to characterise and track the evolution and territorial transformation of old and new urban centres (population, location, distances between agglomerations, and morphology).

The data highlight the importance of small- and medium-sized agglomerations in national urban networks and the emergence of new urban agglomerations through in situ urbanisation. 

The SWAC Secretariat worked with the e-Geopolis Project on the 2015 update of Africapolis which covers 17 West African countries spanning the period 1950 to 2010.

The Update provides:

  • Systematic geolocation of urban agglomerations (with at least 10,000 inhabitants and less than 200 metres between buildings) broadening the analytical scope for mapping and spatial analysis;
  • The identification of small cities (fewer than 100 000 inhabitants) that are not listed in any international database and which count for 90% of West Africa’s cities, or a combined population of 45 million people;
  • Extensive and updated inventory of agglomerations in Nigeria, accounting for more than half of West Africa’s population.