Name the world’s two largest French-speaking cities. You might be wrong

Demographic and economic change in the developing world is upsetting the old order, writes Ben Walker

Montréal always used to be Number Two. The Quebecois city had a great claim to fame – it was the second largest Francophone city in the world after Paris, the capital of the Mother Country. Not any more. Booming populations in French-speaking Africa have changed the game. Montréal is no longer number two and – here’s the thing – nor is Paris number one.

Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo has now edged out the City of Lights as the world’s biggest French-speaking city. Meanwhile Paris’ Canadian cousin has fallen to Number 4, after another Francophone African city, Abidjan, capital of Ivory Coast, nudged ahead of it.

Of course, I’m being slightly provocative here – the list below is certainly challengeable. And while French is the official language of Kinshasa and Abidjan, much of their populations use it as a lingua franca, and have a tribal language as their native tongue. That said, a similar caveat applies to Montréal, where a sizeable minority of the population is natively Anglophone, but speaks French too.

By the same token you could argue that the world’s biggest Anglophone city is Mumbai – not New York or London – because English is an official language, and is widely spoken, in the Indian metropolis.

Still, that African cities are on the march is interesting. Africa is the new world centre of innovation, and with growing populations a key world region that business leaders, Francophone, Anglophone or otherwise, should keep a close eye on.

1- Kinshasa, DR Congo: 11,587,000
2- Paris, France: 10,858,000
3- Abidjan, Ivory Coast: 4,800,000
4- Montréal, Canada: 3,536,000
5- Dakar, Senegal: 3,520,000
6- Casablanca, Morocco: 3,211,000
7- Yaoundé, Cameroon: 3,060,000
8- Douala, Cameroon: 2,940,000
9- Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: 2,700,000
10- Algiers, Algeria: 2,590,000
11- Bamako, Mali: 2,500,000
12- Port-au-Prince, Haiti: 2,440,000
13- Tananarive, Madagascar: 2,398,000
14- Beirut, Lebanon: 2,200,000
15- Brussels, Belgium: 2,089,000
16- Lubumbashi, DR Congo: 2,000,000
17- Mbuji-Mayi, DR Congo: 2,000,000
18- Tunis, Tunisia: 1,990,000
19- Lomé, Togo: 1,941,000
20- Conakry, Guinea: 1,930,000
21- Brazzaville, Congo: 1,850,000
22- Rabat, Morocco: 1,845,000
23- Lyon, France: 1,583,000
24- Marseille, France: 1,397,000
25- N’Djamena, Chad: 1,260,000

Source: Metropolitan area populations, Demographia.