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The Top 10 Largest Metropolitan Areas In Africa You Probably Don’t Know

leaving aside the fact that most African countries struggles with corruption, despotism and terrorism, the continent credence as one of the foremost trailblazers of social and cultural innovation reflects as you journey round major cities and administrative capitals of the continent. That Africa is blessed, notwithstanding, is a vague description of the hardship faced by a vast majority living in extreme poverty across sub-Saharan Africa.

 

The number of countries considered to be highly urbanised increases dramatically. From Mogadishu to Johannesburg, Kampala to Addis Ababa, you will discover diverse peoples striving to earn their own crust in the face of economic downturn, yet, just over 40% of Africa’s population live in the large urban cities. Kigali in Rwanda recently passed the 1 million mark, a tiny fraction of the population of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, but almost about the size of Onitsha, which played a creative role in the transformation to urban life in Eastern Nigeria. Aside Asia, Africa has the second highest number of fastest growing areas in the world. Taking a cue from the rampant trend in urbanization, we present to you the top ten largest Metropolitan areas in Africa.

 

1. Lagos (Nigeria)

Population: 17,100,000

Lagos is the largest city in Africa y share value of its population. Image: Adedotun Ajigbade.
Lagos is the largest city in Africa as a result of the sheer value of its population. Image: Adedotun Ajigbade.

The conurbation, arguably the largest city in Africa and one of the fastest growing cities in the world, was the capital of Nigeria right after her amalgamation in 1914.

 

Drastic urbanisation parted Lagos into two major areas – which also is the basis for its divergent landscape – the Island (initial city of Lagos) and its expansion to the west of the Lagoon now referred to as Mainland.

 

The only way to put Lagos bridges out of mind is by putting the megacity out of sight. A number of the spans were installed to link the island to the mainland.

 

As much as the proposed Fourth Mainland Bridge continues to sound like a pipe dream, the ongoing land reclamation initiative to build a 21st century city that will become the financial centre of Africa is developing by leaps and bounds. The Eko Atlantic City (EAC) borders the Atlantic coastline to the east and west, on the same stretch with Victoria Island (VI) district and the Lekki Phase 1 to the north.

Ford Foundation Building in Bananan Island.
Ford Foundation Building in Banana Island. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

The luxurious axis of VI, Lekki and its environs in Eti Osa are favoured residents for the super-rich. The Idumota and Balogun Markets, Marina, zone of high rising towers which serve as headquarters of major banking institutions in the country, and the historical Tinubu square, site of the amalgamation ceremony, are commonplace to the Lagos aficionados but less likely the highbrow Ikoyi area, where the ‘Millionaire residence’ of Banana Island is located.

 

Famous for its nightlife and music, the industrialised mainland boasts of key locations such as the Lagos State Government House, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, the Femi Kuti’s Africa Shrine, Lagbaja’s Motherlan’ and the district of Ajegunle, which has produced notable footballers and musicians.

The Floating School is a project designed by Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi in collaboration with the Makoko Waterfront Neighbourhoood in Lagos.
The Floating School is a project designed by Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi in collaboration with the Makoko Waterfront Neighbourhoood in Lagos. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Makoko (Venice of Africa) is a sprawling slum of houses on stilt somewhere in Lagos Lagoon.

2. Al-Qāhirah (Egypt)

Population (16,800,000)

Cairo city skyline after dark.
Cairo city skyline after dark. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Since when The Great Pyramid of Giza marveled the ancient world and Memphis thrived as centre for commerce, trade and religion across the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Africa, Cairo reigned.

 

The mass of Islamic architecture adorning the city earned her the nickname, ‘the city of a thousand minarets’, with mosques rising as well as its population.

Mosques and minarets silhouetted before sunset in Islamic Cairo, Egypt.
Mosques and minarets silhouetted before sunset in Islamic Cairo, Egypt. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

 

Lining the expanse of the Nile River, The Greater Cairo is the largest metropolitan area in Africa, the Middle East and Arab world – third largest in the Islamic world after Jakarta and Karachi – consisting of Cairo Governorate, Giza city, Shubra al-Khaymah, 6th of October City and Obour City (New Cairo). The latter two satellite cities were built to cater to the growing population of the area.

 

A new but unnamed planned city expected to bear structures similar to the Eiffel Tower and Washington Monuments and serve as the administrative and financial capital of Egypt – east of Cairo – is estimated to add seven million more people to Al-Qāhirah.

Access ramp from Abbasia workshop on Cairo Metro Line 3.
Access ramp from Abbasia workshop on Cairo Metro Line 3. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

As one awaits the birth of this new administrative hub, Greater Cairo has a strong presence of schools and institutions of higher learning.  Aside Algiers, Cairo is the only place where you can find a full-fledged subway transport system called the Metro.

 

Her rich cultural and social heritage speaks for itself. The Cairo Opera House breathes a unique blend of monuments from the Pharaohs, Greek, Romans, Babylonian and Khedivial times.  Modernisation or whatchamacallit, Cairo is home to several casinos and one of three countries in Africa where you may find the Fairmont Heliopolis Hotel.

Egyptian protesters calling for the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi gather in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on July 3, 2013. A top aide to Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi slammed what he called a "military coup" as an army ultimatum passed and the security forces slapped a travel ban on the Islamist leader. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA
Egyptian protesters calling for the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi gather in Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square on July 3, 2013. A top aide to Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi slammed what he called a “military coup” as an army ultimatum passed and the security forces slapped a travel ban on the Islamist leader. AFP Photo/Gianluigi Guercia.

At the heart of Cairo is the famous Tahrir Square – site of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution – surrounded by several notable buildings, including the Egyptian Museum and the Mogama. The As-Salaam International Hospital, Cairo Tower are but few other notable places.

3. Greater Johannesburg (South Africa)

Population: 13, 400, 000

The City of Johannesburg viewed from the top of the highest city in Africa.
The City of Johannesburg viewed from the top of the highest tower in Africa. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

That ‘Jozi‘ is not one of the three capital cities of South Africa is an astounding reality. Its setting on the ‘Rand’ a long urban sprawl from Springs to the east, to Randfontein – trove of mineral-rich Witwatersrand range of hills – and Carletonville in the west, as well as Soweto to the south; the naming of the South African currency is more or less a special homage to the large-scale gold and diamond trade that have taken place in the Greater Johannesburg area.

 

Johannesburg is considered as Africa’s economic power house. A handful of the highest rising towers of the continent can be found here. Facing east and peering over the busy M1 Freeway is the Central Business District (CBD) – a haven for international organisations. Mount on the observation deck (on the 50th floor) of the Carlton Cole Centre in south eastern CBD and you’ll be treated to a rare feeling of the layout of the city. Hillbrow and Braamfontein are amongst her other notable districts.

Sandton Square i Johannesburg, one of the 10 Largest Urban Metropolitan Areas in Africa.
Sandton Square in Johannesburg, one of the top 10 Largest Metropolitan Areas in Africa. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Tourism in Johannesburg is satisfactory. Her lush City Parks and Gardens offer solitude to visitors connecting flights to Cape Town, Durban, and the Kruger National Park. If you chose to remain in the city, head straight to nearby museums or the Gold Reef City amusement park for depictions of mining in early 19th century. Familiarise with memories of an icon at the former home of Nelson Mandela (Mandela Museum) in suburb Soweto and if you’ve embraced shopping as a pastime, the Sandton City and Mandella square malls are but a few options.

 

Re-discover centuries-long fossils in the Sterkfontein and nearby Rising Stars Caves at the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The FNB Stadium is the largest sports Stadium in Africa.
The FNB Stadium,  venue for the 2010 Fifa World Cup Final Between Spain and Holland, is the largest sports Stadium in Africa. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Occupying the site where Nelson Mandela delivered his first speech upon his release from prison in 1990 is the FNB Stadium, the largest sports stadium in Africa.

4. Kinshasa (DRC)

Population: 10, 600, 000

Boulevard du 30 Juin in Kinshasa, one of the ten largest metropolitan cities in Africa.
Boulevard du 30 Juin in Kinshasa, one of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in Africa. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Only Paris is larger than Kinshasa among Francophone areas in the world. The capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo sits directly opposite Brazzaville, which is also the capital of the Republic of Congo, across the wide Congo River – the second longest river in Africa after Nile. Kinshasa is both a city and one of the 11 provinces of the DR Congo, a status it shares with Paris alike.

 

If you delight in swiveling your hips as Fally Ipupa whips and mixes rhumba, reggae, soul and ndombolo songs, remember to have a taste of nightlife at the quartier Matonge. The Hotel Memling skyscrapers, the imposing building of the Ministry of Transport, are among notable structures in Kinshasa. New buildings are coming up in Boulevard of the 30 June, linking the main areas of Kinshasa central districts.

 Kinshasa, DR Congo: night view of the Congolese capital, captured from the top of a building in the city center.
Kinshasa, DR Congo: night view of the Congolese capital, captured from the top of a building in the city center. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

The Cité de l’OUA is home of the Muzito Cabinet. Gombe is both a commercial and residential area bounded on the north by the Congo River, home to manufacturing companies like SARL, All Pack and Angel Cosmetics.

 

The city has three major universities, industries and sprawling slums, abode for gangs and street children.

5. Luanda (Angola)

Population: 6, 800, 000

The Bay of Luanda, one of the ten largest metropolitan cities in Africa.
The Bay of Luanda, one of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in Africa. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

The capital and largest urban agglomeration in Angola, Luanda is also an administrative, industrial and cultural centre. After Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both in Brazil, Luanda is the next most populous Portuguese-speaking city in the world.

 

The city has gone through massive reconstruction, branching into previously independent areas of Viana (Rangel) to take the numbers of her districts to 7 while the Municipality of Luanda remains the capital of the coastal province.

The stack disparity between the rich and poor of the Luanda society is too high.
The stack disparity between the rich and poor of the Luanda society is too glaring.

The satellite city of Luanda Sul is an extension of the main province and is home to the Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport (Angola’s main international airport at present). The Angolan civil war, in large part, contributed to migration to the city, but its exploding population has become a major concern considering the level of degrading infrastructures.

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Before getting carried away by the luxurious and high rising constructions visible across the Bay of Luanda in Kilamba Kiasi, Camama and Zango, have it in mind that half of Luanda’s populace live in poverty.

 

Imposition of import tariffs in 2014 made Luanda even more expensive for resident foreigners, as the country aim to diversify her overdependence on oil to nurture farming and industry, sectors.

6. Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)

Population: 5, 300, 000

Street Corner in Downtown Dar es Salaam Neighbourhood.
Street Corner in Downtown Dar es Salaam Neighbourhood. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Dar es Salaam is the largest and most populous Swahili speaking city in the world. It’s also a major arriving and departure point for tourists entering and exiting tourism areas in Tanzania such as the Serengeti National Park and the island of Zanzibar. The regional capital is bounded by the most populated district of Kinondoni to the north, the industrial district of Temeke to the south and Ilala – the administrative district – in the central.

 

It was the capital of Tanzania up until 1974, when the seat of the government was moved to Dodoma, but that has not affected its status as the nation’s most important city for both business and government.

 

A chunk of Tanzania’s trade, services and manufacturing businesses are concentrated in Dar es Salaam. The Kisutu, Kivukoni, Upanga and Kariakoo areas make up Dar es Salaam’s CBD and the largest in the whole nation.

The Kariakoo Market in Dar es Salaam.
The Kariakoo Market in Dar es Salaam. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Downtown areas of informal settlements shelters the poorer citizens of mostly traders, while the well-to-do people live in beach side mansions in the city’s northern district.

The Double Tree By Hilton Hotel in Dar es Salaam, one of the ten largest urban metropolitan cities in Africa.
The Double Tree By Hilton Hotel in Dar es Salaam, one of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in Africa. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Dar es Salaam is a city projected to surpass the 10 million mark in the next decade and has witnessed a large influx of village immigrants looking for better opportunities, and other foreigners.

7. Nairobi (Kenya)

Population: 5, 200, 000

Nairobi city skyline after dark.
Nairobi city skyline after dark. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

The Greater Nairobi Metropolitan region is the seventh largest urban centre in Africa by virtue of its population, including that of its suburbs. The East African city is a significant meeting point for culture, politics and business, popular for being the home of the world’s only game reserve found within a major city, the Nairobi National Park.

The Nairobi National Park is the world's only game reserve found within a major city.
The Nairobi National Park is the world’s only game reserve found within a major city.

Westlands – one of the main administrative centres in Nairobi – like other locations in the capital city, took up an English name owing to her colonial past. Other sub-counties include: Central Nairobi, Dagoretti, Embakasi, Kasarani, Kibera, Makadara and Pumwani.

 

Most lower-middle and upper middle income neighbourhoods are located in the north-central and areas to the southwest and southeast of the metropolitan area.

 

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport can be found in Embakasi, with the Wilson Airport located about 1 hour 8 minutes bus drive west of the country’s main airport in the affluent demesne of Langata. Embakasi bellies South B – a hotcake middle class housing estate in proximity with Nairobi’s CBD – and South C (or southside) – another middle-class residential that has played a significant role in breeding some of Kenya’s notable music stars.

 

Expatriates looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre move to neighbourhoods like Lavington, a high income residential estate, midway between the busier areas of Hurlingham and Westlands. Karen, Runda, Muthaiga, and Gigiri – host community of United Nations, other international organisation offices – are considered as Kenya’s most posh suburbs.

Karen Blixen's House in the Karen, Kenya, an affluent suburb named after the Danish author of the colonial memoir "Out of Africa".
Karen Blixen’s House in the Karen, Kenya, an affluent suburb named after the Danish author of the colonial memoir “Out of Africa”. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

The low and lower income estates are located mainly in far eastern Nairobi. Kangemi, Kawangware, and Dagoretti are lower income areas close to the affluent up market suburbs in the west and north-central of Nairobi. Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, where residents lack access to basic services, including electricity and running water.

Kibera is the largest slum in the whole of East Africa.
Kibera is the largest slum in the whole of East Africa. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Nairobi’s notable parks and open spaces include the Uhuru Park, Jeevanjee Gardens, City Park, 7 August Memorial Park, and Nairobi Arboretum. It is also the regional headquarter of international companies and organisations like Google, Coca Cola, IBM and Airtel, offices of whose spread across CBD, Upper Hill and Westlands.

8. Alexandria (Egypt)

Population: 5, 150, 000

Alexandria, Egypt, sitting along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea is one of the 10 largest metropolitan cities in Africa.
Alexandria, Egypt, sitting along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea is one of the top 10 largest metropolitan areas in Africa. Image Credit: Christopher Rose.

It wasn’t by chance they named her ‘The Pearl of the Mediterranean.’ Ambience, cultural and historical significance makes Alexandria one of a kind in the whole of Egypt, though it ranks below Cairo in terms of population.

 

You, sure, would thrill to Al-Iskandariyah but just can’t have enough of the sights in the city which lays along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of Egypt – founded by Alexander the Great in April 331 BC.

 

It is the centre of Egypt’s commercial and maritime expansion; a cosmopolitan society with a strong presence of the cultures of the gypsy.

 

The Ras al-Tin (Cape of Figs) quarter represents remains of the island of Pharos which, in old Alexandria, was joined to the mainland by the Heptastadion (seven stadia), but now without the legendary Lighthouse – one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient World which is being weathered away by the sea. The Ras al-Tin, as well as districts of Gumrok and Anfushi form a T-shape, dividing the old (East) Harbour from the Western Harbour.

 

The Andalusian-style Mosque of Abu Abbas al-Mursi is the largest mosque in Alexandria, Egypt.
The Andalusian-style Mosque of Abu Abbas al-Mursi is the largest mosque in Alexandria, Egypt. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

The Citadel of Qaitbay now occupies where the Pharos Lighthouse once stood, whence further south we come to the Anfoushi neighborhood, site of the magnificent El-Mursi Abul-Abbas Mosque – dedicated to the 13th century Alexandrine Sufi saint of the same name.

 

Heading furthest south along the tramway towards the mainland is Pompey’s Pillar and nearby the Catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa.

 

East of El-Horeya road is the Greek quarter of Alexandria, further on to the lush Shallalat Gardens, once the fortification of Bab Rosetta.

 

Running along the eastern harbour is a waterfront esplanade dotted with Casinos built on stilts and rows of beach huts, The Corniche. Fortified with towers, Al Kornish runs for over ten miles and ends by the Montaza Palace – an ornate palace and extensive garden on a low plateau east of central Alexandria overlooking a beach on the Mediterranean Sea. Many of the modern Alexandrian hotels are located in the Corniche.

The Montaza Palace in Alexandria, one of the ten largest metropolitan cities in Africa.
The Montaza Palace in Alexandria, one of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in Africa. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

The working class and industrial districts of Alexandria are located along the along the Mahmudiya Canal.

9. Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire)

Population: 5, 050, 000

Le Plateau is the CBD of Abidjan, one of the ten largest metropolitan cities in Africa.
Le Plateau is the CBD of Abidjan, one of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in Africa. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

 

Abidjan is the only French-speaking city in West Africa with a population of over 5 million in January 2016 (only Lagos outmatches Abidjan in population). Abidjan lies on the Ébrié Lagoon overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean and it’s the economic capital of Ivory Coast.

 

St Paul's Catholic Cathedral in Abidjan.
St Paul’s Catholic Cathedral in Abidjan. Incensed Under Creative Commons Via photopin.com.

Its CBD of Le Plateau is concentrated with shiny skyscrapers and has the St. Paul’s Cathedral amongst a handful of places of interest in its vicinity. Vieux Cocody is an affluent residential neighbourhoods in the city centre, which hosts the districts of Deux Plateaux and Riviera.

 

Adjame community, also in the city centre, is a key trade zone and hub of most important bus station serving Ivory Coast and neighbouring countries.

 

South of the lagoon are Treichville, Koumassi, Marcory and Port Bouet, home of the Felix Houphouet Boigny International Airport and Ivory Coast’s refinery.

 

Northwest of Abidjan is Attecoube, part of Banco National Park. Yopougon or Yop City –a densely populated community – lies west of the CBD. Ile Boulay on the contrary is not so jam packed yet an underdeveloped island further south.

 

The Vridi beach, like many along the Gulf of Guinea is not your typical beach with bars and stands by the shore, as a precaution against the heavy current of the ocean. Nonetheless, it is a beehive of activity for fun seekers every weekend.

10. Accra (Ghana)

Population: 4, 575, 000

Last resting place of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first Prime Minister.
Last resting place of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first Prime Minister. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Many parts of the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) probably won’t pass for your average modern-day urban conglomeration, but is worth the nightlife, shopping, lodging and cuisines experience.

 

The city’s expanse stretches along the Atlantic coast, north into central Ghana, with settings ranging from colonial styled architecture buildings to modern skyscrapers and apartment blocks.

 

Street scene near Makola Market, Accra.
Street scene near Makola Market, Accra. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Being a capital city in its own right, Accra’s CBD is fortified with banks and department stores and parastatal housings in an area known as the Ministries.

 

Fishing and manufacturing are prime economic activities in Accra. Tourism is fast gaining root with varieties of exquisite hotels, monuments, museums and nightclubs. Tourists flock at the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and memorial park in downtown Accra for a rare experience of immortality bequeathed upon the name ‘Nkrumah’ – Ghana’s first president post-independence.

 

The Ussher Fort and James Fort, and Osu Castle (Christiansborg), are features in James Town Areas.

The Labadi Beach in Accra, one of the ten largest metropolitan cities in Africa.
The Labadi Beach in Accra, one of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in Africa. Image provided under the Creative Commons License.

Labadi beach and Kokrobite are commonplace for fun lovers.

 

References: United Nations World Urbanization Prospects:

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