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International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 1977 Jun; 1(2):272-92.This paper argues that rapid urbanization in West Africa since 1950 has been accompanied by severe inequalities, and has been wasteful in immediate economic terms. The inequalities are of 3 types: imbalance in life choices between the rural and urban sectors, concentration of extremely limited resources in capital cities to the detriment of other cities, and economic disparity within cities between the masses and the tiny elites. 2 approaches suggest that the allocation of resources represented by current urbanization patterns is inefficient for economic growth: 1) the demonstration that resources are wasted in urban unemployment and underemployment, in metropolitan growth, and in uncontrolled urban settlement, and 2) the evidence that political processes are consistently biased towards the interests and concerns of a small group of decision makers and that various other factors interfere directly with investment decisions casts doubt on the assumption that recent patterns of urbanization are the outcome of an optimizing allocation of resources. The relative wealth of the richer West African countries, Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Ghana, is not manufactured in the urban areas but is derived from the extraction of iron ore and phosphates, the production of rubber plantations and the labor of peasants growing cocoa, coffee, and peanuts. The rapid growth of the urban populations is the consequence of the concentration of economic opportunities in the urban sector. Rural emigation depresses aggregate rural production but does not increase urban production and in fact drives down the wages of the large underemployed marginal sector. The major West African countries continue to attract migrants because the wages paid there and the available urban amenities represent a considerable improvement over the living conditions of much of the rural population. Despite the difficulty of determining optimal city size, it appears that cities of over 500,000, which now include 5 in West Africa, suffer serious disadvantages in terms of environment, services, and amenities. West African capitals have taken on regional political characteristics because of their locations on the fringes of their national territories, and ethnic differences have been added to economic disparities between the capital and other regions. The squalor and poverty suffered by the majority of the urban population is clear. Projections of urbanization trends in West Africa serve as a warning that policy changes are urgently required. The ordinary people of West Africa must have an increased role in local political processes.