Shifting systems: Infrastructure innovation for sustainable African cities

Shifting systems: Infrastructure innovation for sustainable African cities


Exploring the potential of infrastructure innovation to shape more sustainable African cities.

Africa’s cities are amongst the fastest growing in the world and present an unprecedented opportunity to leapfrog unsustainable urban development patterns observed elsewhere. This requires an ability to imagine the innovative possibilities for African cities, and ongoing learning by decision makers to break inertia. This is the first in a series of sessions at Rise Africa aimed at helping city decision makers to reimagine the future infrastructures of Africa’s cities, to bring more innovative and sustainable cities to life. Hosted by the African Centre for Cities and the Urban Futures Studio, this session generates insights and spark discussion that will inform a new two year project aimed at fostering learning around infrastructure innovation for sustainable African cities.


Des systèmes en mutation : L’innovation dans les infrastructures pour des villes africaines durables

Les villes africaines sont parmi celles qui connaissent la croissance la plus rapide au monde et offrent une occasion sans précédent de dépasser les modèles de développement urbain non durables. Pour cela, les décideurs doivent être capables de briser l’inertie et d’imaginer des possibilités innovantes pour des futurs urbains durables. Cette session suscitera la discussion et explorera les outils et les techniques permettant aux villes africaines de montrer la voie en matière de réflexion innovante. Elle s’inscrit dans le cadre d’un nouveau projet de deux ans visant à créer un réseau d’universitaires et de décideurs afin de favoriser l’apprentissage en matière d’innovation et de durabilité urbaine en Afrique.


Host: Urban Futures Studio, Utrecht University & African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town

Prof. Edgar Pieterse

Director, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town

Prof. Maarten Hajer

Director, Urban Futures Studio, Utrecht University

Regina Opondo

Senior Community Principle, Kounkuey Design Initiative

William Senyo

Co-Founder & CEO of Impact Hub Accra

Michael Uwemedimo

Co-founder & Director, CMAP (Collaborative Media Advocacy Platform)

Sandile Mbatha

Senior Manager, eThekwini Municipality / RAPA

Session Summary

This session focused on sustainable infrastructure development and was co-hosted by the African Centre for Cities and the Urban Futures Studio. Edgar Pieterse, of the African Centre for Cities, kicked off the session with a discussion of the ‘cascading urban challenges’ that many African cities face and the potential of improved infrastructure to fulfil socio-economic rights and accelerate structural transformation. The conversation then shifted to the speakers’ different understandings of infrastructure.

Data as infrastructure – Sandile Mbatha, of eThekwini Municipality, puts forward the argument that we can make no progress without first knowing the state of the world we live in and this knowledge is gained through data. Only then can we make informed decisions around what infrastructure is needed.

Stories as infrastructure – Michael Uwemedimo, of CMAP (Collaborative Media Advocacy Platform) challenges the story that we often hear of future African cities as informal, underdeveloped and poor and instead argues that if you can empower overlooked communities through participatory initiatives, then you can change the plot of this story.

Civic space as infrastructure – Regina Opondo, of Kounkuey Design Initiative, discusses three key principles that are vital to build productive public spaces and infrastructure – participation, integration and network exchange. She explains how participation allows you to build on local knowledge, increase social cohesion and the capacity of social workers to effect change. Integration is vital to create a truly multi-sectoral intervention by connecting different strategies. Lastly, network exchange is essential because working in silos will to a less impactful solution detached from larger city projects.

William Senyo, of Impact Hub Accra, closed off the session with his experience building infrastructure in Accra. He stresses that you cannot out-innovate the local community and instead need to make the city work for them. It is important to allow the community to take ownership of projects as we redefine urban spaces and urban economies.