Survey project: The Urban Dream and the Realities of Rural to Urban Migration in Sub-Saharan Africa

About the survey project

Africa’s population is set to double in the next thirty years to over two billion people, of whom perhaps only one in five will live in rural areas or outside of major urban centres. Africa has the highest urbanization rate globally, and many experts predict that Africa’s urban population is set to double every twelve years. There are lots of reasons for this dramatic demographic shift, including inner-city population growth and a rising rate of movement from rural areas. Urbanization in Africa is linked to hopes, the hopes of many. It’s an opportunity for citizens to improve their living conditions, to access public goods and public services, be it health care, education or housing. It’s also perceived as an opportunity to find a job, to support a family and to make sure that the future of the next generation will be a better one. How is this trend going to affect the livelihoods of rural and urban populations in Africa, as well as public participation and public goods and service provision in and out of cities on the continent? With the support of the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) based in Nairobi, Kenya, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung conducted surveys in five countries in an effort to better understand urbanization processes in Africa.

Surveys in five countries with more than 10.000 respondents

The purpose of the survey was to map and analyze differences between urban and rural areas with regards to expectations and experiences of public service delivery and democratic development. The surveys were conducted in the three Eastern African neighboring countries Kenya (2019), Uganda (2020) and Tanzania (2021) as well as in Senegal (2021) in Western and Namibia (2021) in Southern Africa. While the design and the questionnaire of the surveys were created together with the experts from IDS, national Afrobarometer survey institutes in the five countries conducted the surveys on the ground. The survey worked with a randomized, stratified, clustered sample of adult citizens across low- and medium-income areas in the surveyed cities and rural districts. In each sample area a thousand people were interviewed, meaning that in each country two thousand respondents took part in our surveys. Respondents were an equal mix of male and female by gender, aged 18 years and above. The choice of sample areas makes generalizations difficult. The internal structures of a city differ a lot – each area has its own characteristics. Nevertheless, the sample gives us an understanding of general trends.

In addition to the reports of the respective national survey results (retrievable at the bottom of this page), a comparative analysis of the results in the three East African countries, titled “The Urban Dream and the Realities of Rural to Urban Migration in East Africa”, was published. Its main findings are presented in the summary below. FES is inviting scholars and researchers to use the rich set of data to contribute to a better understanding of urbanization in Africa and hopes it can make a contribution to improving provision and access to public goods and services, and inclusive urban planning in African cities.

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Key findings from East Africa

People primarily move for economic reasons

People give three main reasons for migrating to urban areas: to access economic opportunities, to be closer to family members who already migrated, and to live closer to better social services. The main motivation for migrating to the cities is economic in nature: cities are first and foremost regarded to be job markets and an opportunity to escape poverty. The general pattern seems to be that the mostly male head of a household moves first, followed by his spouse and other members of his family. Despite small country-level differences, across East Africa the economic, social and political considerations for deciding to migrate do not vary between the youth (aged 18 – 30 years) and the non-youth (aged 31 years and older).

Expectations regarding public services in cities are high

Most respondents in rural areas of East Africa (63%) expect better public services provision in urban areas than in rural areas. Services in urban areas are much more numerous, concentrated in a smaller area, mainly due to high population density, making access and use – at least in theory – much easier. On the other hand, most migrants, after having moved to urban areas, expect even better public services provision. While expectations are high, fewer respondents actually find the provision of government services in the urban better than in rural areas.

Urban residents’ political engagement recedes

Our data show that higher levels of expectations among urban migrants go along with a receding social and political engagement once they have arrived in the cities. People become measurably less engaged in the governance process upon their arrival in the 3 major urban cities of Kampala, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. They contact their leaders less than their rural counterparts and score lower on associational membership, and yet they still show similar levels of frustration with service delivery as their rural counterparts. Almost half of the people we surveyed, as shown below, responded that they would never take any citizen action.

Satisfaction with quality of services is low

The expectation of receiving better quality public services in the city is not fulfilled. Kenyans expressed the most dissatisfaction, with only 6% answering that they receive a “fair amount” of public services, compared to 12% in Uganda and 20% in Tanzania. The survey findings point to an “urban paradox”, where citizens’ rising expectations go along with an almost collective reluctance to paying higher taxes for more services. Demand for services is growing, but the people fueling the demand are either not capable or not prepared to pay more taxes and user fees.

Contact person

Andreas Quasten

+49 30 26935-7443



Related publications

Great expectations: Why Ugandans leave their villages and how they settle in Greater Kampala

FES Uganda Office, 2021

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Towards the just city in Kenya

FES Kenya Office, 2020

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The Transformation of Cities in Tanzania: An Overview

FES Tanzania Office / REPOA, 2022

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Just city Namibia: Survey results

FES Namibia Office, 2022

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Challenges of Urbanisation in Dakar

FES Senegal Office, 2022

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Towards the just city in Kenya (popular version)

FES Kenya Office, 2022

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