Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
These cities are the hubs of Africa’s economic boom
South Africa is no longer the only place on the continent that has urban wealth clusters
- The wealth of Africans is projected to grow by a third over the next decade
- The continent's wealth is agglomerating in a number of urban clusters, in the south, east and west
- Wealth is collected in a few other places - isolated capitals and mini-clusters stretching from Morocco down to Angola
Over the past decade, 19,000 Africans have become dollar millionaires. Africa's combined wealth has grown by 13% - 3% just in the last year alone. The combined individual wealth of all Africans is $2.3 trillion today – by the end of 2027, it will have increased by a third to $3.1 trillion. Clearly, it's boom time in Africa.
This map offers a revealing perspective on the wealth of the continent. The African subsoil may be resource-rich in many places, but as elsewhere in the world, it's in the great urban centres that money accumulates. And people too: by 2100, 13 of the world's 20 biggest megacities will be in Africa.
South Africa still boasts the main concentration of wealth in Africa, but no longer the only one.Image: Visual Capitalist
And this overview of Africa's richest cities, based on the The AfrAsia Bank Africa Wealth Report 2018, indicates where clusters of wealthy cities are developing across the continent, as well as showing a few more isolated locations of money aggregation.
- Long the most developed nation on the continent, South Africa – with four of Africa's ten richest cities – continues to be the economic engine of Africa's southern half. With a total GDP of $722 billion, South Africa as a whole continues to be the continent's wealthiest country, but on a per-capita basis it comes second after the tiny island nation of Mauritius ($32,700).
- The East African economy is dominated by a string of wealthy cities, from Uganda's capital Kampala via Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's biggest city.
- In West Africa, a similar transnational conglomeration runs from Abidjan in Ivory Coast over Ghana's Accra to Lagos and Abidjan in Nigeria.
- In Morocco, Casablanca's wealth is flanked by that of Tangier and Marrakesh. In Egypt, Cairo dwarfs but not completely outshines Alexandria.
- The 'isolates', in descending order, are four capitals: Luanda (Angola), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Windhoek (Namibia) and Lusaka (Zambia).
Here are Africa's 10 wealthiest cities:
1. Johannesburg (South Africa): $276 billion
Jo'burg city centre.
Image: Brand South Africa
Fittingly, Africa's richest city was built on gold – on the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886, to be exact. It's the commercial capital of South Africa and the wider region.
2. Cape Town (South Africa): $155 billion
View of Cape Town's City Bowl from Lion's Head, with Signal Hill and Cape Flats in the distance
Image: Martin Power, CC BY-SA 3.0
The city with Africa's highest prime residential rates, at around $6,100 per square metre (similar to DC or Berlin) also is an important hub for financial services, retail and tourism.
3. Cairo (Egypt): $140 billion
Rooftops of Cairo
Image: Luc Legay, CC BY-SA 2.0
Real estate, financial services and construction are some of the key sectors in this city of 9 million, the biggest metropolis in the Middle East.
4. Lagos (Nigeria): $108 billion
The Golden Plaza in Ikoyi, Lagos. On the left the Falomo Bridge to Victoria Island
Image: Ulf Ryttgens, CC BY-SA 1.0
It may no longer be the country's capital, Lagos still is the gateway for 80% of Nigeria's exports – and the centre of the burgeoning film industry, a.k.a. Nollywood. At 21 million inhabitants (2016 est.), it's Africa's largest metropolis, as well as one of the world's fastest-growing cities.
5. Durban (South Africa): $55 billion
Indian Ocean beach at Durban
Image: Brand South Africa
Subtropical Durban is South Africa's third-biggest city (after Johannesburg and Cape Town), second-biggest manufacturing hub and biggest port, as well as a major tourist destination. Durban's Gateway Theatre of Shopping is Africa's biggest mall. It has 12,000 parking slots, 390 stores, 90 restaurants, more than a dozen movie theatres (including an IMAX theatre), a skate park designed by Tony Hawk, and the highest fountain in Africa.
6. Nairobi (Kenya): $54 billion
Image: © Sam Stearman
Kenya's capital and largest city (metro area: 7 million) Nairobi is also known as the Green City in the Sun. Founded in 1899 by the British as a rail depot, the city today is home to thousands of Kenyan businesses, as well as the Nairobi Securities Exchange, Africa's 4th-largest stock exchange; and regional hub for hundreds of multinationals.
7. Luanda (Angola): $49 billion
View of Luanda's harbour, with the Restinga peninsula in the background
Image: OneVillage Initiative, CC BY-SA 2.0
Luanda is the biggest city, major port and capital of Angola – and its metro area is home to one in three Angolans. While the majority of Luandans live in poverty, the booming oil and gas industry has created huge wealth for a minority (as well as a boom in banking and building). Luanda is one of the world's most expensive cities for ex-pats, in part because of high import tariffs imposed to help pay for diversifying the economy.
8. Pretoria (South Africa): $48 billion
Pretoria's central business district, seen from Muckleneuk Hill
Image: Petrus Potgieter/public domain
The administrative capital of South Africa and the hub of the wider Tshwane metro area, Pretoria is also a centre for academia and R&D, as well as commerce and industry, including metalworks to car factories.
9. Casablanca (Morocco): $42 billion
Dawn over Casablanca
Image: Achalhikarim, CC BY-SA 4.0
Officially ad-Dar al-Bayda in Arabic but informally known as Kaza, Casablanca is the largest city in the entire Maghreb region (metro area: 7 million), and its economic hub. It is important both as port city and financial centre. Major Moroccan and multinational companies are headquartered here rather than in the political capital Rabat.
10. Accra (Ghana): $38 billion
Independence Arch in Accra
A merger of coastal settlements around British, Dutch and Danish coastal forts, Accra in 1957 became the capital of sub-Saharan Africa's first independent nation. Today, it is a centre for manufacturing, marketing, finance, insurance, and transportation.
Over the next decade, the AfrAsia Bank's report expects growth to remain strong in South Africa, Angola, Morocco, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Nigeria – not coincidentally countries hosting many of the hubs shown on this map.
But the strongest growth projections apply to some of the smaller countries in Africa: Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana and Mauritius.
Strange Maps #941
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
Scientists discovered footprints made by some of the largest creatures ever to walk the Earth.
- Paleontologists published a paper on the discovery of dinosaur footprints on the roof of a French cave.
- The prints are deep underground and were made during the Middle Jurassic period.
- The footprints belonged to titanosaurs, the largest land animals ever.
French scientists found gigantic dinosaur footprints on the roof of the Castelbouc cave the Lozère region of southern France. A new paper outlines the discovery approximately 1640 feet under ground by the paleontologist Jean-David Moreau from the University of Burgundy–Franche-Comté and his colleagues.
The footprints likely belonged to an unknown species of titanosaur and were made 166 to 168 million years ago, in the Middle Jurassic Period. Titanosaurs, a group of long-necked, lizard-like sauropods, could be found all over the world in present day Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Australia. Among titanosaurs were the largest land animals to have ever existed, like the Patagotitan, which stretched 121 feet long and weighed 138,000 pounds.
The titanosaur Alamosaurus.
Credit: Bogdanov, 2006. Creative Commons.
Some of the 38 tracks found in France were as large as 4 feet long. They were likely made by three dinosaurs at the time when the area was on the surface, making up a muddy shoreline along which the giant creatures traveled. Over time, the site was buried by geological processes, with the tracks becoming moldings in the roof of a cave that's half a kilometer underground.
They were spotted as part of a caving expedition in December 2015 by the paper's authors. To find them, the scientists had to go down a narrow labyrinth of crawl spaces that often get flooded. The tracks were in a space about 260 feet long, 66 feet wide and 33 feet high.
Dinosaur tracks in the ceiling of Castelbouc Cave in France.
Credit: Jean-David Moreau et al./J. Vertebr. Paleontol.
Speaking to the French science magazine Sciences et Avenir, Jean-David Moreau explained that a caver "who was ahead of me turned to me and with the lamp of his helmet projected a grazing lighting on the ceiling which allowed to bring out the marks."
You can read the paper "Middle Jurassic tracks of sauropod dinosaurs in a deep karst cave in France," published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Humans may have evolved to be tribalistic. Is that a bad thing?
- From politics to every day life, humans have a tendency to form social groups that are defined in part by how they differ from other groups.
- Neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky, author Dan Shapiro, and others explore the ways that tribalism functions in society, and discuss how—as social creatures—humans have evolved for bias.
- But bias is not inherently bad. The key to seeing things differently, according to Beau Lotto, is to "embody the fact" that everything is grounded in assumptions, to identify those assumptions, and then to question them.
Ancient corridors below the French capital have served as its ossuary, playground, brewery, and perhaps soon, air conditioning.
- People have been digging up limestone and gypsum from below Paris since Roman times.
- They left behind a vast network of corridors and galleries, since reused for many purposes — most famously, the Catacombs.
- Soon, the ancient labyrinth may find a new lease of life, providing a sustainable form of air conditioning.
Ancient mining areas below Paris for limestone (red) and gypsum (green).Credit: Émile Gérards (1859–1920) / Public domain
"If you're brave enough to try, you might be able to catch a train from UnLondon to Parisn't, or No York, or Helsunki, or Lost Angeles, or Sans Francisco, or Hong Gone, or Romeless."
China Miéville's fantasy novel Un Lun Dun is set in an eerie mirror version of London. In it, he hints that other cities have similar doubles. On the list that he offhandedly rattles off, Paris stands out. Because the City of Light really does have a twisted sister. Below Paris Overground is Paris Underground, the City of Darkness.
Most people will have heard of the Catacombs of Paris: subterranean charnel houses for the bones of around six million dead Parisians. They are one of the French capital's most famous tourist attractions – and undoubtedly its grisliest.
But they constitute only a small fragment of what the locals themselves call les carrières de Paris ("the mines of Paris"), a collection of tunnels and galleries up to 300 km (185 miles) long, most of which are off-limits to the public, yet eagerly explored by so-called cataphiles.
The Grand Réseau Sud ("Great Southern Network") takes up around 200 km beneath the 5th, 6th, 14th, and 15th arrondissements (administrative districts), all south of the river Seine. Smaller networks run beneath the 12th, 13th, and 16th arrondissements. How did they get there?
Paris stone and plaster of Paris
It all starts with geology. Sediments left behind by ancient seas created large deposits of limestone in the south of the city, mostly south of the Seine; and gypsum in the north, particularly in the hills of Montmartre and Ménilmontant. Highly sought after as building materials, both have been mined since Roman times.
The limestone is also known as Lutetian limestone (Lutetia is the Latin name for ancient Paris) or simply "Paris stone." It has been used for many famous Paris landmarks, including the Louvre and the grand buildings erected during Georges-Eugène Haussmann's large-scale remodelling of the city in the mid-19th century. The stone's warm, yellowish color provides visual unity and a bright elegance to the city.
The fine-powdered gypsum of northern Paris, used for making quick-setting plaster, was so famed for its quality that "plaster of Paris" is still used as a term of distinction. However, as gypsum is very soluble in water, the underground cavities left by its extraction were extremely vulnerable to collapse.
Like living on top of a rotting tooth: subsidence starts far below the surface, but it can destroy your house.Credit : Delavanne Avocats
In previous centuries, a road would occasionally open up to swallow a chariot, or even a whole house would disappear down a sinkhole. In 1778, a catastrophic subsidence in Ménilmontant killed seven. That's why the Montmartre gypsum quarries were dynamited rather than just left as they were. The remaining gypsum caves were to be filled up with concrete.
The official body governing Paris down below is the Inspection Générale des Carrières (IGC), founded in the late 1770s by King Louis XVI. The IGC was tasked with mapping and, where needed, propping up the current and ancient (and sometimes forgotten) mining corridors and galleries hiding beneath Paris.
A delightful hiding place
Also around that time, the dead of Paris were getting in the way of the living. At the end of the 18th century, their final destination consisted of about 200 small cemeteries, scattered throughout the city — all bursting at the seams, so to speak. There was no room to bury the newly dead, and the previously departed were fouling up both the water and air around their respective churchyards.
Something radical had to happen. And it did. From 1785 until 1814, the smaller cemeteries were emptied of their bones, which were transported with full funerary pomp to their final resting place in the ancient limestone quarries at Tombe-Issoire. Three large and modern cemeteries were opened to receive the remains of subsequent generations of Parisians: Montparnasse, Père-Lachaise, and Passy.
The six million dead Parisians in the Catacombs, from all corners of the capital and across many centuries, together form the world's largest necropolis — their now anonymized skulls and bones methodically stacked, occasionally into whimsical patterns. The Catacombs are fashioned into a memorial to the brevity of life. The message above the entrance reads: Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort. ("Halt! This is the empire of Death.")
That has not stopped the Catacombs, accessible via a side door to a classicist building on the Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, making just about every Top 20 list of things to see in Paris.
An underground economy
However, while the Catacombs certainly are the most famous part of the centuries-old network beneath Paris, and in non-pandemic times draw thousands of tourists each day, they constitute just 1.7 km (1 mile) of the 300-km (185-mile) tunneling total.
Subterranean Paris wasn't just used for mining and storing dead people. In the 17th century, Carthusian monks converted the ancient quarries under their monastery into distilleries for the green or yellow liqueur that still carries their name, chartreuse.
Because the mines generally keep a constant cool temperature of around 15° C (60° F), they were also ideal for brewing beer, as happened on a large scale from the end of the 17th century until well into the 20th century. Several caves were dug especially for establishing breweries, and not just because of the ambient temperature: going underground allowed brewers to remain close to their customers without having to pay a premium for real estate up top.
Overview of the Paris Catacombs.Credit: Inspection Générale des Carrières, 1857 / Public domain.
At the end of the 19th century, the underground breweries of the 14th arrondissement alone produced more than a million hectoliters (22 million gallons) per year. One of the most famous of Paris' underground breweries, Dumesnil, stayed in operation until the late 1960s.
In that decade, the network of corridors and galleries south of the Seine, long since abandoned by miners, became the unofficial playground for the young people of Paris. They explored the fantastical world beneath their feet, in some cases via entry points located in their very schools. Fascinated, these cataphiles ("catacomb lovers") read up on old books, explored the subterranean labyrinth, and drew up schematics that were passed around among fellow initiates as reverently as treasure maps.
As Robert Macfarlane writes in Underland, Paris-beneath-their-feet became "a place where people might slip into different identities, assume new ways of being and relating, become fluid and wild in ways that are constrained on the surface."
Some larger caves turned into notorious party zones: a 7-meter-tall gallery below the Val-de-Grâce hospital is widely known as "Salle Z." Over the last few decades, various other locations in subterranean Paris have hosted jazz and rock concerts and rave parties — like no other city, Paris really has an "underground music scene."
Hokusai's Great Wave as the backdrop to the "beach" under Paris.Credit: Reddit
Cataphiles vs. cataphobes
With popularity came increased reports of nuisance and crime — the tunnels provided easy access to telephone cables, which were stolen for the resale value of their copper.
The general public's "discovery" of the underground network led the city of Paris to officially interdict all access by non-authorized persons. That decree dates back to 1955, but the "underground police" have an understanding with seasoned cataphiles. Their main targets are so-called tourists, who by their lack of knowledge expose themselves to risk of injuries or worse, and degrade their surroundings, often leaving loads of litter in their wake.
The understanding does not extend to the IGC. Unlike in the 19th century, when weak cavities were shored up by purpose-built pillars, the policy now is to inject concrete to fill up endangered spaces — thus progressively blocking off parts of the network. That procedure has also been used to separate the Catacombs to prevent "infiltration" of the site by cataphiles.
Many subterranean streets have their own names, signs and all. This is the Rue des Bourguignons (Street of the Burgundians) below the Champs des Capucins (Capuchin Field), neither of which exists on the surface.Credit: Jean-François Gornet via Wikimedia and licensed under
The cataphiles, however, are fighting back. In a game of cat and mouse with the authorities, they are reopening blocked passages and creating chatières ("cat flaps") through which they can squeeze into chambers no longer accessible via other underground corridors.
Catacomb climate control
Alone against the unstoppable tide of concrete, the amateurs of Underground Paris would be helpless. But the fight against climate change may turn the subterranean labyrinths from a liability into an asset — and the City of Paris into an ally.
The UN's 2015 Climate Plan — concluded in Paris, by the way — requires the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2050. And Paris itself wants to be Europe's greenest city by 2030. More sustainable climate control of our living spaces would be a great help toward both targets. A lot of energy is spent heating houses in winter and cooling them in summer.
This is where the constant temperature of the Parisian tunnels comes in. It's not just good for brewing beer; it's a source of geothermal energy, says Fieldwork, an architectural firm based in Paris. It can be used to temper temperatures, helping to cool houses in summer and warming them in winter.
One catch for the cataphiles: it also works when the underground cavities are filled up with concrete. So perhaps one day, Paris Underground, fully filled up with concrete, will completely fall off the map, reducing the city's formerly real doppelgänger into an air conditioning unit.
Cool in summer, warm in winter: Paris Underground could become Paris A/C.Credit: Fieldwork
Strange Maps #1083
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.