How AfricaPolis Is Using Geospatial Technologies To Tackle Urbanization Challenges In Africa


The African population is 1,319,246,120 as of Tuesday, November 5, 2019, based on the latest United Nations estimates, with a total of 43.4 per cent (567,387,619 people in 2019) of the population living in urban areas, and a total land area of 11,447,338 square miles. With the above statistics and estimates of intense growth rate in the coming years, it has become expedient to plan and tackle problems of urbanisation that may arise as a result of population growth in Africa.

Africapolis is one project dedicated to the cause of urbanisation in Africa. The project started in 2008 with support from the French Development Agency (AFD).
Africapolis contributes to the New Urban Agenda in Africa and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 to “make cities and human settlement inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” by providing policymakers and researchers with a unique insight into the African urban landscape and a strong basis for the analyses and strategies needed to support sustainable and coordinated urban development. The project achieves this by combining two methods: the use of data sourced from multiple means, such as a large inventory of housing and population censuses, electoral registers and other official population sources and other official cartographic resources, such as administrative boundaries, which are used to link population data to the observed information on the built-up areas. In some cases, these data sources date back to the beginning of the 20th century. The regularity, the detail and the reliability of these sources vary from country to country, and from period to period. The project data sources also include the use of state-of-the-art geospatial technologies and Geographic Information System (GIS), which include the use of satellite and aerial images, to inform on the physical evidence on the ground, that is the built-up area and the precise location of settlements.

The project uses Visualisation, spatial analysis and spatial modelling, the most frequently used GIS functions in plan making, and also the spatial query and mapping functions of GIS to analyse the existing situation in a city. Through map overlay analysis, GIS can help to identify areas of conflict of land development with the environment by overlaying existing land development on land suitability maps.

Using the multilayered mapping feature of GIS, Africapoplis provide municipal planning committees with data that can visualize a variety of things, for instance, prime agricultural land, surface water, high flood frequency, and highly erodible land. This information leads to informed decisions such as avoiding developing areas with high flood frequency as those areas are not likely to attract dwellers.

Africapolis, through the use of satellite images as well as other data sources spanning over 30 years, can provide a standardised and geospatial database on urbanisation dynamics in Africa. Furthermore, it has closed a data gap by integrating 7, 225 small towns and intermediary cities between 10, 000 and 300, 000 inhabitants (6, 737 urban agglomerations between 10, 000 and 100, 000 inhabitants for a total of 180 million people), and the emergence of new urban areas. For example, it has forecasted the rise of a new urban area in Nigeria:

“Among the five largest urban agglomerations in Africa are four familiar hubs of global business, media and policy-making – Cairo, Lagos, Johannesburg and Kinshasa. The continent’s third-largest urban area with 8.5 million inhabitants – Onitsha, Nigeria – is, however, not (yet) a familiar household name. A large urban area is emerging – driven by growth and the merging of built-up areas forming one large agglomeration”.

Africapolis aerial and satellite images and data, which currently covers several cities in 50 African countries, are used for the mapping of both existing and emerging urban agglomerates by agencies such as ArcGIS, a geographic information system for working with maps and geographic information.

Africapolis database includes the coordinates of real places, which are compatible with any Global Positioning System(GPS), the data processed through the system can be clearly related to an actual position on the ground and easily be superimposed onto images from GoogleEarth, which are freely available, and makes it an effective tool for research. Its use of state-of-the-art technology that combines satellite imagery guarantees reliability and has advanced the understanding of the urban phenomenon.

Africapolis is a research programme of e-Geopolis, a world database source. Africapolis is part of this wider database project, e-Geopolis, which is funded by a variety of institutions, including the French National Research Agency. Identical projects have been carried out in India (Indiapolis), supported by the French Institute in Pondicherry, and another in Europe (Europolis), coordinated by Catherine Chatel.

One of the goals of establishing Africapolis is to ensure that African urban areas have as much geographical database as their European counterparts.

Visit AfricaPolis website.


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