This paper describes urbanization processes in three intermediate urban centres, two in Mozambique and one in Angola. Both countries have suffered major social strife, and the rural livelihood base that existed before and after Independence has been severely affected. The lack of national and local infrastructure, combined with limited market opportunities and competition from cheap agricultural imports, undermine attempts to revitalize the rural economy through commercial agriculture. The growth in population size of the three urban centres is largely the result of the need for rural residents to combine non-agricultural activities, mainly in the urban informal sector, with subsistence farming for their survival, rather then the product of demand for labour in urban-based industry and services. Whilst local solutions to the centres' environmental problems are absolutely necessary, they need to be linked to realistic interventions at the global level concerning development opportunities and to a better integration of rural and urban development programmes.