Don't Miss >

Somik Lall, World Bank – Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World

By on October 5, 2016
Lecturer - profile

Somik Lall

Global Lead, Territorial and Spatial Development

Main affiliation
World Bank


United States

North America



Somik V. Lall is the World Bank’s Global Lead on Territorial and Spatial Development and its Lead Economist for Urban Development in Africa. He heads a World Bank global research program on urbanization and spatial development and founded the Bank’s urbanization reviews program. He is an expert on development policy related to urban and territorial competitiveness, agglomeration and clusters, infrastructure, and impact evaluation, with more than 18 years’ experience in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. He was a core member of the team that wrote the World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography; a senior economic counselor to the Indian prime minister’s National Transport Development Policy Committee; and the lead author of the World Bank’s flagship report on urbanization Planning, Connecting, and Financing Cities Now. His work focuses on “place-shaping policies” around cities, clusters, and corridors and the functioning of factor and product markets. He has published dozens of articles in peer-reviewed journals.

English Proficiency

Previous experience of recording video lectures

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Frequency of lectures
Now and then

Recording opportunities
Habitat III attendance and availability
October 15-19


Main themes
Urban Management
Urban Infrastructure
Planning and Design

Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World

“Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World” demonstrates how urban policy plays a central role in making Africa’s cities economically competitive

Issues which the lecture addresses
Cities in Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing rapid population growth. Yet their economic growth has not kept pace. Why? One factor might be low capital investment, due in part to Africa’s relative poverty: Other regions have reached similar stages of urbanization at higher per capita GDP. This lecture, however, identifies a deeper reason: African cities are closed to the world. Compared with other developing cities, cities in Africa produce few goods and services for trade on regional and international markets. To grow economically as they are growing in size, Africa’s cities must open their doors to the world. They need to specialize in manufacturing, along with other regionally and globally tradable goods and services. And to attract global investment in tradables production, cities must develop scale economies, which are associated with successful urban economic development in other regions.

Short analysis of the above issues
The assessment is based on data from 64 cities across Africa using a combination of satellite imagery alongside economic and demographic survey data

Propositions for addressing the issue
1. The low development trap—Africa’s urban economies are limited to nontradable goods and services by their by urban form
2. Africa’s cities are Crowded with People, Not Dense with Capital
3. Cities in Africa are characterized by Disconnected Land, People, Jobs, and Firms
4. Africa’s cities are costly for Households and Costly for Firms
5. To spring Africa from its Low Urban Development Trap, there is urgent need to (a) Clarify Property Rights and Strengthening Urban Planning and (b) Scale up and Coordinate Investments in Physical Structures and Infrastructure

Additional Reading Materials
A host of background papers can be viewed at: