Urban development: Propellers of rapid growth in Tanzania

Thursday April 29 2021

By J.M. Lusugga Kironde

The National Five-Year Development Plan-II (FYDP-II) estimates that Tanzania’s urbanisation is accelerating at an annual rate of 5.2 percent. This is more than twice the world average of 2.1 percent - and is higher than the average for Africa: 3.5 percent! Dar es Salaam is growing at 5.6 percent: one the fastest growing cities in Africa. This is both an opportunity and a challenge.

Most of this growth is fuelled by rural-to-urban migration. In the past, this migration was considered to be targeted to the largest urban areas such as Dar es Salaam.

Recent research and observations point to a lower growth rate of primate cities; and a higher rate for small and medium-sized urban areas. In other words, rural to urban migrants do not go far from their point of origin, but rather go to the nearest urban centres.

Traditionally, rural-to-urban migration is seen in terms of ‘push and pull’ factors: people getting pushed off the land by agricultural mechanizations, for example, and being pulled by the ‘bright lights’ of urban centres.

We can say that during the current era, what pushes the young men and women from rural areas is the high level of poverty experienced in the countryside. Incomes are low and unpredictable.


Money circulation is low, and much of it is dependent on remittances from urban areas.

Agriculture is tedious and the rewards in terms of agricultural produce could be frustrating. While poverty is increasing in urban areas, it is still higher in total areas.

Moving to urban areas is not necessarily in response to the glamour that there is supposed to be. It is because of the belief that making a livelihood is easier.

Many of those who move into urban areas end up living in crowded unplanned areas, without water or electricity and without formal jobs.

A figure that has often been touted for Tanzania is the addition of 800,000 youths to the labour market annually, where around 30,000 of whom find their way into formal employment.

On the livelihood earning side, we see the massive growth of informal sector activities, whose control, by public authorities has all, but failed. Informal sector operators can now set up shop literally on every corner of urban areas. These activities which go largely unregulated, include street trading, hawking, open air restaurants, car washing, transport, workshops, garages, cleaning, street sweeping, touting, the list can go on and on. A popular term used in Kenya is Jua Kali

It is not necessarily an easy life, and the income may not be spectacular, but there is usually hope of netting something at the end of the day. Given the concentration of social and economic activities in urban areas, chances of making a livelihood and accessing essential services like hospitals are higher.

Among the many challenges that need to be addressed by public authorities, is the provision of a conducive environment, so that economic activities can be carried out with ease.

As is pointed out in the FYDP II, “Urbanization is already putting intense pressure on basic services and urban infrastructure at a time when emerging cities still lack the resources and institutions to provide citizens with access to productive jobs, decent housing, and basic services”.

Among other things, the FYDP II commits to developing a single coherent National Urban Development Strategy that is integrated with master plans for all the largest cities. This will be an important step towards a more coherent and enabling policy framework to shape urban development in the country. The next five years should see inroads made in this important area of national policy.


Lusugga Kironde is Professor of Land and Urban Economics