Ethiopia has to intensively work to facilitate the development of several secondary cities to match its industrialization and development objectives

By Abiy Hailu |

Having one of the fastest growing economies in the world for a decade, Ethiopia aspires to become middle income country by 2025. Up till now, the country’s economic growth achievements overwhelmingly relies on the agricultural sector. The sector is cornerstone of the successive double digit growth and essential ingredient for the national goal of getting rid of poverty. Through successive five year transformation plans, the country aspires to transform the structural base of the economy from agriculture to industry. Most development theories see development as a process of structural transformation from agriculture into manufacturing and service sectors. And this process involves a shift of labor out of rural areas and into urban centers. Yet, in terms of the level urbanization, Ethiopia is still among the least urbanized countries in the world — less than 20 per cent of the country’s 90 million population live in cities.

Bearing the countries objectives of becoming a middle-income country via Agriculture Development Led Industrialization economic policy, what should worry policy-makers the most is that Ethiopia only has one major urban center with a population of a million or more (Addis Ababa is the sole political, economic and cultural center of the country). This reality leads to a conclusion that the country has to intensively work to facilitate the development of several secondary cities to match its industrialization and development objectives.

Certainly, urbanization and industrialization are different but interrelated concepts. They could be seen as two sides of the same coin. Industrialization is the development of a factory or manufacturing based economy, while urbanization is a shift of the population from living in rural areas or small towns to living mostly in cities.

These two concepts are inseparable as industrialization leads to urbanization by creating economic growth and job opportunities that draw people to cities. The urbanization process typically begins when manufacturing industries are established within a specified geographic area which in turn creates the influx of people from rural to urban areas in search of better job opportunities. Other businesses such as building manufacturers, retailers and service providers then follow the industries and speed up the urbanization process. This creates even more jobs and demands for housing, thus establishing an urban area. Hence industrialization is the basic driving force of urbanization. Once an area is industrialized, the process of urbanization continues through several phases resulting in various new economic and social transformations.

According to Lexicon Universal Encyclopaedia (1997), industrialization and urbanization are just like brothers that grow and develop together and developed each other. Industrialization is the initiator of urbanization and urbanization is the inevitable result of industrialization. That is the reason why many theories of development view urbanization and industrialization as essentially synonymous.

Then again, emerging urban centers can also be seen as fertile grounds for industrialization. This is because industrialization is not the sole factor that results in urbanization. In fact, urbanization also occurs naturally from collective efforts to cut time and cost in commuting and transportation while improving opportunities for jobs, education, housing, and transportation. Urban life allows a society to take advantage of the opportunities of proximity, diversity, and marketplace competition.

Estimated to be only 17.3 per cent in 2012, Ethiopia’s urban population share is one of the lowest in the world, well below the Sub-Saharan Africa average of 37 per cent. But this is set to change in the near future as the country is witnessing rapid flow of people from rural to urban areas. According to Central Statistics Agency, the urban population is projected to nearly triple from 15.2 million in 2012 to 42.3 million in 2037, growing at 3.8 per cent a year. Analysis for this report indicates that the rate of urbanization will be even faster, at about 5.4 per cent a year. That would mean a tripling of the urban population even earlier by 2034, with 30 per cent of the country’s people in urban areas by 2028.

Being one of the fastest urban centers in the world, Addis Ababa is expected to entertain the lions share of the country’s rapid industrialization and urbanization. This in turn would cause uneven distribution of urban settlements in the country. This is because, the huge concentration of the urban population in and around Addis would only lead to the creation of new urban centers — with potential to become major ones — at the periphery of or near the capital. This would restrict the emergence of other urban centers in different parts of the country. Hence, it is important to search for means to encourage the development of secondary cities in different parts of the country.

According to ‘The Systems of Secondary Cities: The neglected drivers of urbanizing economies’, an article originally posted in the CIVIS series by the Cities Alliance (No.7 – 2014), secondary city is a term most commonly used to describe the second tier, or level, in the hierarchy of cities below the primary level. Some countries have several orders, or levels, of cities. On the other hand, a primary city is defined as “the leading city in its country or region, disproportionately larger than any others in the urban hierarchy” (Goodall, 1987). According to this definition, Ethiopia has only one primary city — the capital Addis Ababa.

On the other hand, it is difficult to tell as to how many secondary or potential secondary cities Ethiopia has, as the definition is flexible. According to the above mentioned article, the definition of secondary cities is contextual: it can relate to population size, administrative area, political, economic, and historical significance of a system of cities below the primary order of cities within a country or geographic region.

For instance, UN-Habitat defines a secondary city as an urban area generally with a population of 100,000 to 500,000. However, a secondary city today can have a population of several million people. In China, some secondary cities have populations of over five million. These cities are not comparable to secondary cities in Ethiopia, which have urban populations of less than 200,000.

Despite the rapid global scale urbanization which makes cities around the world to becoming the main drivers of trade, investment and development, the development of secondary cities have not gained enough attention until recently. Being this the case though, secondary cities have become the subject of renewed interest by development scholars recently. There is a growing recognition, especially among development scholars that secondary cities are the emerging engine of the rapid-pace industrialization and urbanization. They are believed to play an important role as catalysts and secondary hubs in facilitating the localized production, transportation, transformation, or transfer of goods, people, trade, information, and services between sub-national, metropolitan, national, regional, and global systems of cities.

The rapid development of secondary cities would facilitate the presence of industry agglomeration and clusters; a system of well-developed, localized supply chains and networks; a diversified economic and employment base; and a broad housing mix. In this sense, according to the above mentioned article, there must be a greater focus on supporting endogenous growth in secondary cities since many do not have the capacity or advantages to engage in exogenous, export-orientated growth. New combinations of exogenous and endogenous growth strategies are necessary to develop secondary cities in poor regions.

Particularly, for a developing country like Ethiopia, secondary cities are the ones with the greatest potential to shape future urban development. They represent one of the biggest opportunities for urbanizing economies globally. According to Brian H. Roberts, who published a study, Managing Systems of Secondary Cities commissioned by Cities Alliance a balanced system of cities with strong secondary cities offers tremendous potential for regional and national economic development. Many poor cities and rural regions could double or even triple their GDP.

In Ethiopian case, there are a number of cities with a potential to become major secondary cities. Cities such as Makalle, Bahir Dar, Hawassa, Adama, Dire Dawa and the likes have huge potential for growth in this regard. However, these cities face similar development challenges of secondary cities in other developing countries. These cities face challenges mainly in job creation, diversification and revitalizing of their economies as well as in attracting investment for needed infrastructure development.

With the view of fostering urban development and industrialization across the country, the Ethiopian government had announced its plan to establish 10 industrial parks within five years. The industrial parks would be built with the view to providing the necessary services and facilities for industries as a means to encouraging more FDI and domestic investment. Then again, these parks, which are believed to be getaway to achieving sustainable economic development through industrialization are also believed to facilitate the growth of secondary cities across the nation.

Among others, Hawassa, Bahir Dar, Jimma, Adama, Kombolcha and Mekele are the towns where the parks are going to be established. The parks are expected to attract huge sums of investment to this cities and create some 10 million jobs. This on the other hand would enable the country to have several emerging secondary cities with the potential to becoming primary ones.

With more than 90 million population, Ethiopia needs at least few urban centers with more than a million people, if it has to improve the living standard of citizens using the advantages urban life offers. Hence, the industrial development in the country should contribute, facilitate and initiate emergence of couple of secondary cities that could share the significant pressure on Addis Ababa resulting from the rapid rural-urban migration and contribute to the overall national development objectives.

Source: The Ethiopian Herald

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