Recent trends in rural-urban and urban-rural migration in Sub-Saharan Africa: the empirical evidence and implications for understanding urban livelihood insecurity

Type Journal Article - Environment, Politics and Development Working Paper Series
Title Recent trends in rural-urban and urban-rural migration in Sub-Saharan Africa: the empirical evidence and implications for understanding urban livelihood insecurity
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2008
Since the ending of colonialism, most of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa have
experienced three broad economic phases which have shifted the balance of forces
influencing urbanization and patterns of migration, as outlined in the discussion of
push-pull modelling. In the 1960s and into the 1970s global economic conditions
were generally positive and African governments, under the influence of prevailing
modernizing ideology and advice, embarked on development paths in which they
played a key role, directing and making investments into what were then seen as
strategic productive sectors such as import-substituting industrialization, and
investing heavily in government services like health and education. These policies
generally encouraged rural-urban migration and facilitated family migration and
longer stays in town, if not full permanence. The oil crises of the 1970s rapidly
dismantled, then reversed, the upward trend in urban livelihoods. Real urban incomes
and welfare dwindled as most non-oil-exporting nations became heavily indebted,
forcing them to turn to the international financial institutions which were by then
dominated by neo-liberal, as opposed to modernization, ideology. The marketdominated
economic policies subsequently enforced deliberately unpicked the
government’s central role in economic development, sharply reduced government
spending and public sector employment and, by liberalizing trade and thereby
concentrating production in areas of comparative economic advantage, led to the
closure, reduction or stagnation of swathes of previously protected urban-based
production and formal employment. Urban incomes, already on a downward
trajectory before SAPs, plunged. These general global factors and African policy
shifts and their intensely negative impacts on African urban livelihoods, incomes and
welfare have been detailed and critically analysed in a wide array of literature on subSaharan
Africa in general (eg Adepoju 1993; Baker 1997; Becker et al 1994;
Bryceson 2006a, 2006b; Hansen and Vaa 1994; Jamal and Weeks 1993; Meagher
1995; Nelson and Jones 1999; Potts 1995, 1997, 2006; Rakodi 1997; Rogerson 1997;
Simon 1992, 1997, 1999; Simone 2004; Simone and Abouhani 2005; Stren 1992;
Zeleza 1999) and a host of individual country or settlement case studies.1
these works are in general agreement about the severe increases in urban poverty
which have occurred since the imposition of structural adjustment, not all of them
consider the consequences for migration and those which do are not always in
agreement about how migration has been affected. To some extent this is a func
of sources: analyses which rest largely on institutional data compilations (i.e Wor
Bank or United Nations) on African urban populations and growth frequently
concluded that, despite the negative transformations in urban economies and
livelihoods, migration rates have been little affected and, consequently, urban growth
rates have not reduced (eg. Jamal and Weeks 1993; Simon 1997; Jamal 1995) or,
even if it is noted that there has been some reduction in growth in the largest cities,
that the overall trend in the increase of national urbanization levels has not slowed
(Bryceson 1996c). Others argue that net in-migration has reduced in response to the
urban economic declines (eg Becker et al (1994); Zeleza 1999; Baker 1997b; van
Dijk et al 2001; Findley 1997; Tabutin and Schoumaker 2004. My own census-based
research on trends in a range of mainly East and southern sub-Saharan African

These are too numerous to cite.
countries since the 1960s supports this view (Potts 1995, 1997, 2006), as does w
based on large-scale migration surveys and some national censuses in franco
West Africa (Beauchemin and Bocquier 2004; Beauchemin 2002a, 2002b, 2
2006; Beauchemin, Sabine and Schoumaker 2
This paper reviews a range of evidence on downward shifts in the growth of African
urban settlements in different countries and what is known about the causes. It is
helpful to place this in a broader international comparative context of debates and
evidence about the nature of contemporary urbanization trends in developing
countries, since these have undergone some important revisions, many of which lend
weight to the view that migration rates have been sensitive to economic change and
that shifts in circular migration, whereby many migrants do not stay permanently in
towns, has played a role in reducing urban growth.

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