African Urbanization as Flight?
Some Policy Implications of Geography
The mystery of the lack of a positive relationship between growth and urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa has been raised in a number of studies. A recent paper by Barrios et al. (Journal of Urban Economics 60:357–371, 2006) provides a compelling explanation for why this occurs. Exploiting a new data source, they show how climate change, specifically the reduction in rainfall, has driven people from the increasingly impoverished countryside to the city. They also show that while this is an important factor explaining urbanization in sub-Saharan African countries it does not affect urbanization elsewhere. Their explanation for this important difference is differences in the patterns of rainfall, as well as the composition of soil in most sub-Saharan countries. In a word, geographical factors have dominated the unusual pattern observed in the world’s most rapidly urbanizing continent. In this paper, we extend the work done by Barrios et al. to include more observations and more detailed geographic variables. We first replicate their results and extend the number of observations to more recent periods. Then we consider the effects of a range of specific country geographical characteristics, relying on data developed by other researchers. After discussing our results, we focus on the implications of our findings for policy formulation, particularly for sub-Saharan African countries. The results indicate that geographical circumstances place significantly more important constraints on maximization processes. In other words, urbanization in these countries takes place in a profoundly “second-best” world. We consider what this kind of context implies for the sequencing and implementation of economic reforms which would allow for an urbanization process that would be more conducive to economic growth.