The countries of West Africa are currently undergoing massive urbanward migration. The process of growth and development which these countries have experienced in the colonial and post-colonial periods has been characterized by what geographers term the process of areal differentiation. In a spatial sense, employment opportunities and developmental changes have been extremely concentrated in a few areas, especially the cities; the rural areas, which dominate both in terms of population numbers and areal extent, have either undergone little growth or have felt the backwash effects of development elsewhere (Hirshman, 1958; Myrdal, 1957). This pattern has been variously described by geographers in terms of a “core and dependent periphery” (Friedman, 1966), “islands of development” (Hance et al., 1961), and “modernization surfaces” (Gould, 1970; Riddell, 1970; Soja, 1968). The essential geographic characteristic has been a spatial imbalance in both economic and welfare opportunities within these countries; employment and income opportunities, schools, health facilities, and clean piped water all tend to be concentrated in urban places, especially in the dominant primate cities. In this context, people, by moving to urban centers are making very rational decisions in the face of sharp and mounting urban-rural differentials and strongly limited rural opportunities.
The result of this process may be seen in the major cities of the region; everywhere the primate cities are increasing in size at incredible rates, so incredible that employment growth has been far outstripped by the expansion in urban population numbers. The outcome is what a recent issue of New African (October, 1978: 77) has termed “the inexorable rise of the unemployed.”