Tag Archives: Urbanisation

Strategies for Sustainable Energy Transitions for Urban Sub-Saharan Africa – SETUSA 2017

The SAMSET project team is pleased to announce the hosting of the Strategies for Sustainable Energy Transitions for Urban Sub-Saharan Africa (SETUSA) Conference, which will be held at the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) Conference Facility, University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, Ghana from the 19th – 20th June 2017.

SETUSA Banner 2

By 2050, it is envisaged that three out of five people from the estimated 2 billion population across Africa will be living in cities. Sub-Saharan African economies have grown 5.3 percent per annum in the past decade, triggering a dramatic increase in energy needs. Against this backdrop, it is estimated that by 2040 about 75% of the total energy consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa will be in urban areas with its associated implications on sustainable development.

Given these challenges on sustainable development, solutions for sustainable energy transitions in the Sub-Saharan African region are extremely important, and likely to have wide-ranging consequences on the sustainability of the region’s economies. This reality also imposes an urgent obligation on the continent to consider sourcing more of its abundant renewable energy resources to ensure long-term security of energy supply. Particularly, renewable energy resources — solar, wind, organic wastes – and their corresponding technologies offer more promises for sustainable energy futures than the conventional energy sources.

Therefore, there is the need first of all to raise awareness on renewable energy options and energy efficiency opportunities in urban areas, and to promote strategies which will maximise their benefits in providing secure, sustainable and affordable energy to meet the rising energy demand in the region’s fast-growing cities. Secondly, there is also the need for national as well as local government planners and policy makers to understand local urban contexts so that they can grasp the significant opportunities of engaging at a local level, as well as acquire the critical set of capacities and skills necessary to drive and influence the uptake of clean energy and efficient technologies.

The conference aims to bring together social scientists, policy-makers and entrepreneurs in the urban clean energy sphere, to discuss strategies for moving Sub-Saharan African economies to a more sustainable energy transition pathway. We are inviting papers on energy efficient buildings, energy efficiency and demand-side management in urban areas, renewable energy and energy supply in urban areas, electrification and access to modern energy in urban areas, waste to energy in urban areas, spatial planning and energy infrastructure in urban areas, energy and transportation in urban areas.

SETUSA Final Call for Papers (PDF)

Details of the call for papers and other information, can be found on the conference website: www.setusa.isser.edu.gh

More information on the SAMSET project can also be found on our homepage: www.samsetproject.net

Why Waste That Energy?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes on the SAMSET team’s visit to Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality’s Simmer and Jack waste-to-energy facility.

As a part of the Africities Summit 2015 (Mark Borchers’ previous blog), we visited the Simmer and Jack Landfill site to see an example of a waste to energy facility. Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality is not part of the SAMSET programme of work, however they were kind enough to host a site visit to the 1MW landfill gas to electricity plant at the Simmer and Jack landfill site in Germiston, Johannesburg. This project, which was commissioned in September 2014, has reduced electricity purchases from Eskom by 7 GWh/year. The gas capture has also greatly improved local air quality and the environmental conditions of the communities living alongside or nearby the site.

The work in Germiston had already been used as a case study for the Urban Energy Support programme, funded by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in partnership with SAGEN. SAGEN is the South African German Energy Programme implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA) was commissioned by GIZ to develop the case studies, in close partnership with SALGA and GIZ.

We compiled a video made up of information from the case study and video footage taken during the site visit, which we hope will enhance the original case study.

At a recent professional development meeting for DFID (UK Aid) staff (Feb 2016), the video was shown and used as a discussion point on waste by Prof D Wilson, Visiting Professor in Waste Management at Imperial College London. Many of the SAMSET municipalities are concerned with waste management and as cities grow it is an increasing problem. Perhaps more of this utilization of the gas would turn a problem into an opportunity.

A plan of action, talk of action, chain reaction, yet?

Alex Ndibwami from Uganda Martyrs University write on the recent African Union of Architects Congress in Kampala, Uganda, and its relevance to the work and goals of SAMSET.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the African Union of Architects Congress in Kampala.  This was the first time Uganda was hosting the event whose theme was Our Architect, Our Communities, Our Heritage. 

While there were a number of presentations and discussions, I will focus on three of particular interest specifically because they are at the heart of the issues SAMSET has set out to deal with.

Ms Jennifer Musisi, the Executive Director of Kampala Capital City Authority, delivered a keynote presentation on urbanisation in general and what direction is being taken to improve the conditions in her city; while Mr Medie Muhammad Lutwama, Executive Director, ACTogether Uganda, presented the approach to their work in informal settlements, challenging the built environment professional rethink their attitude towards urbanisation and the challenges it comes with; and from a gripping and  inspiring philosophical point of view Ms Lillian Namuganyi of Makerere University, College of Engineering Design, Art and Technology discussed socio-spatial landscapes in a historical and ideological sense, and what form it could take to renew a contextually rich socio-cultural dynamic in a contemporary sense.  Ms Lillian Namuganyi is also a practising architect and a researcher.  What these three presentations had in common was that they are concerned about the future of the city dweller.

What I will dwell on though are the subtle hints for a collaboration that these three players in the built environment are signalling.  While Ms Jennifer Musisi may have concluded inviting professionals to get on board and Mr Medie Muhammad Lutwama reechoed the need for professionals to be less elitist, Ms Lillian Namuganyi simply set the arena for a renewed attitude toward the socio-spatial landscape.

But what does it all mean in practical terms?  We all know that governments focus on infrastructure the best way it fits their political agenda while Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) actually tend to be more hands-on attempting to solve the real problems at the grassroots, yet unless efforts are combined any discourse will remain academic and the existence of the built environment professional float for elitist.

Is there room for a real collaboration that deals with the issues collectively and could deliver lasting solutions?  Who is well placed to lead this and sustain the momentum – a city manager, an NGO activist, an academic/researcher or a built environment professional?  It is difficult to tell in a society where accountability born of collective effort is not part of the work ethic.

Might Ms Lillian Namuganyi suggest a starting point for us in her assertion that “Whether operating within or at its margins, the re-working of the strategic city is a logic and order of fragments, scraps that are pieced together moment by moment.  It is a city of micro-logics of the people’s social and especially economic survival – many small thoughts and actions of many people, woven into the detailed space of the city, unpredictable, never static, ever mutating.” So I dare ask again without deliberate collaboration that acknowledges the complexity of the city and the contribution from different players is the plan of action simply talk of it?  Or is there potential for real change – a chain reaction of possibilities borne of new partnerships that combine astute managerial skills, compassionate activists, avant-garde professionals and more outgoing academics.

The SAMSET project is an action oriented research project setting out to close the capacity gap at municipality level while in a participatory manner developing strategies that will support energy transitions.  Indeed, capacity and engagement are a precursor to action, but without the acknowledgement of and investment in structures that promote inter disciplinary work ethos, is it sustainable?

Local Government’s Role in Energy Transitions is Poorly Understood

Mark Borchers, Megan Euston-Brown and Melusile Ndlovu from Sustainable Energy Africa recently contributed this post to the Urbanafrica.net Urban Voices series, analysing the role of local government in sustainable energy transitions. The original is reproduced in full below.

African local governments have an important role to play in sustainable energy transitions, yet the ability within local governments to step into this role is severely inadequate. This is problematic because municipalities, in close contact with their citizenry, are often better placed to plan and respond to energy needs in locally appropriate ways than national governments or other ‘external’ agents.

Urbanization rates in Africa are amongst the highest in the world and the municipal capacity to undertake minimum levels of urban planning and basic service delivery is severely inadequate, as acknowledged by the African Development Bank, UNHabitat and Cities Alliance.

A major challenge is that local government is poorly understood by those trying to be agents of change, and research often remains at a superficial level. Even work which specifically aims at going beyond the usual ‘vague policy suggestions,’ to use a phrase from the ACC’s Edgar Pieterse, struggles to get to grips with many key local government dynamics, and the number of outputs produced by consultants or researchers with local government as an intended target audience, which have little or no purchase, is worrying.

Non-profit Sustainable Energy Africa’s experience of working in partnership with local government in South Africa for 17 years to support with sustainable energy transitions affirms this. The organization has provided capacity to local government in areas where government did not have experience, staff or systems, and in an environment where officials are often preoccupied with short-term service delivery and other urgent goals displace longer-term considerations such as those linked to climate change mitigation.

Sustainable Energy Africa has spent years supporting several municipalities in the development of energy and climate change strategies. However, after official approval of the first few strategies, it started becoming apparent that the momentum that had led to strategy finalization rarely continued into implementation. For example, the first set of strategies developed in the municipalities of Cape Town, Sol Plaatjie, Ekurhuleni, Buffalo City and Tshwane struggled to gain significant traction.

What followed was many years of supportive partnership with municipalities: participating in meetings, undertaking research in areas where there were concerns, developing specific motivations for political or other vested interests as they arose, engaging with city treasury to raise their awareness and explore workable revenue futures, exchanging lessons and sharing success stories amongst municipalities, and raising the profile of local issues in national fora and strategies.

Sustainable Energy Africa’s experience has demonstrated that the work involved in getting to the point of having an officially approved energy and climate change strategy is but a small fraction of what is required for any real change to gain traction. Unfortunately, the dynamics that impede efforts to bring the strategy to fruition are often poorly understood by development support institutions (including donors) and researchers. Guidelines and resource documents on urban transport policy development, climate proofing of informal settlements, and energy efficiency financing, to give a few examples, are often of little use to local government. Research focusing on dynamics affecting service delivery and assessments of renewable energy options for urban areas, for example, seldom talk to the constraints and pressures that senior officials encounter on a day-to-day basis, and thus tend to have little impact.

It is not surprising that adequately detailed understanding of local government is lacking, precisely because it is difficult to gain useful insight into this world from normal development support programmes, which may last a few years and often involve imported expertise, or from research projects, even if they are methodologically well considered. To illustrate, about 10 years ago work undertaken by development support organisations and researchers pointed to solar water heaters being economically, socially and environmentally beneficial for application across South Africa’s urban areas. Cost and technical feasibility studies were undertaken, presentations made, guidelines produced, case studies circulated, and workshops held. Introducing solar water heaters was considered by many to be a ‘no brainer’, and was a standard feature of all municipal energy strategies developed at the time. Yet over the years little changed. Within municipalities there were staff capacity barriers, institutional location uncertainties, debates around mandates, political ambivalence, and a good dose of plain old resistance to change.

When one of the most progressive South African municipalities finally developed a detailed solar water heater rollout programme, further obstacles had to be negotiated: it ran foul of the city treasury (it threatened electricity sales and thus revenue), electricity department (impact on the load profile, technical issues and revenue), procurement department (selection of different equipment service providers), housing department (roof strength issues of some government housing), and legal department (ownership of equipment and tendering processes), which further delayed progress by several years.

Heaters
Solar water heaters on low-income housing in South Africa. Image: SEA

Other sustainability interventions such as energy efficiency in buildings, renewable electricity generation and densification (an important enabler of sustainable transport options) all face their own mix of complexities, most of which are difficult to know from the outside.

Change in government institutions seldom happens fast. When those hoping to be agents of change better understand the complexities of municipal functioning, transformation can be more effectively facilitated. Supporting local government often means entering an uncomfortable, messy, non-linear space but it can be more effectively done than often happens. In many ways, what is required is an inversion of the usual approach: support agents or researchers need to respond to the specific, not the general; listen, not advise; seek to be of service rather than pursue a preconceived agenda. The focus of the lens needs to shift well beyond general observations on ‘local institutional capacity’, ‘reform of regulatory systems’ or ‘policy impasses’. What is needed is a much more detailed, nuanced, and longer-term understanding and set of relationships for more impactful engagement.

Through applying these approaches, Sustainable Energy Africa’s work in South Africa has helped local government move from being considered irrelevant to the energy field 10 years ago to being regarded as critical agents to a sustainable energy future today.

A recent independent review of Sustainable Energy Africa’s local government support programme points to its success. It is described as, amongst others, having a clear role in the development of nation-wide city energy data, in facilitating energy efficiency programmes in different sectors in several municipalities, in promoting renewable energy (often rooftop solar PV) in several major cities, and in institutionalizing sustainable energy and climate change issues within municipalities.

Drawing on the above experience, the SAMSET project is working with African municipalities at a detailed level in partnership with universities and development organisations in Africa and the UK, and six municipalities in Uganda, Ghana and South Africa. This collaboration walks the full process of systemic change with the municipalities, and focuses the lens of research and implementation support on this inadequately understood, yet critical, arena – the detailed dynamics in the belly of the local government beast.

Prosperity in a Rapidly Urbanising World; Where Do We Go From Here?

Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from UCL recently attended a talk entitled “Prosperity in a rapidly urbanising world; Where do we go from here?” given at UCL by Dr Julio Davlia from the Institute of Global Prosperity at UCL’s Development Planning Unit. The talk was focused around the challenge of improving prosperity and economic development in the developing world whilst facing the constraints, challenges and opportunities of a rapidly urbanising world.

The presentation began with an investigation of the causes of modern urbanisation in a sociological sense (in terms of modernisation theory), and also from the point of view of development economics, including the Harris-Todaro model of rural-urban migration, and examining the pull and push factors that affect developing countries (for example, greater employment opportunities and higher wages in cities compared to rural areas).

Dr Davila went on to highlight a number of correlations in the field of urbanisation and prosperity. Strong positive correlations exist between the proportion of population urbanised in an economy and GDP per capita in the country, as well as with life expectancy, rising with the urbanisation rate. Strong negative correlations also exist with child mortality and urbanisation. However, an interesting implication particularly for municipal governments is that tax revenue as a percentage of GDP offers no correlation with an increasing urbanised population. Instead, recovery rates are mostly flat as urbanisation increases. This has significant impacts for municipal governments: with rising urban populations and a flat tax revenue growth rate, the provision of urban services will become more difficult.

A common case study in urbanisation and development is that of Medellin, Colombia. The municipal government of Medellin pursued an innovative approach to the growing urbanisation and pressure on urban services in the city, pursuing formalisation activities contra to new builds and relocation. Space upgrades and the maintaining of the social fabric that had arisen in the cities contributed to a sustainable urbanisation for the city. Mass transit and public rapid transit have been focuses of the municipal government, for example in the construction of escalators between the hillside formerly-informal settlements and the central business district. The formalisation activities have also greatly helped with public buy-in, and public support for the government’s schemes is high.

Medellin, Colombia Escalators

Medellin, Colombia: Escalators from Communa 13 to the CBD – image: wnyc.com

Finally, Dr Davlia returned to the issue of municipal revenue streams and the problem of low taxation returns. Control over local levels of taxation for municipal governments is a key factor for sustainable urban development, and the issue of slipping taxation revenues leading to a downward spiral of non-payment and service degradation has been touched on before in this blog. With the ability to properly target taxation to achieve the municipal government’s social and developmental goals, this spiral can be avoided, and service delivery can improve.

Collaboration with Other Research Networks

David Mann from Uganda Martyrs University describes the recent Resilient Cities Roundtable in Kampala.

Recently, I had the opportunity to represent the SAMSET project at the Resilient Cities Roundtable organised at Makerere University by the Embassy of France in Kampala. The aim of the forum was to give a platform for the discussion of research around innovations to develop green infrastructure, to meet the growing demand for energy, and to reduce pollution in cities. Guests of honor included the Executive Director of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the French Ambassador to Uganda.

This was also an opportunity to introduce the RUBAFRIQUE network which features scholars from around Africa engaged in collaborative research, open debate, and other activities to advance the understanding of urban environments and their socio-ecological dynamics to promote better-informed decision making. An explicit goal is to bridge the gap between Anglophone and Francophone researchers – hence the membership of universities in Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, France, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

In the SAMSET presentation I included an overview of the project objectives, partners, and outputs as well as preliminary results from the energy model for Jinja. Other interesting panelist presentations included Master Planning to cope with floods in Dar Es Salaam, Conservation of urban forests in Nairobi, Non-motorised urban transport planning in Uganda, and Local industrial-scale production of charcoal briquettes as an alternative to traditional wood charcoal. KCCA has partnered with the French technical research agency ADETEF to carry out an energy audit of street lighting and administrative buildings in the capital, the results of which could be very interesting for the SAMSET team.

We learned also that the University of Nairobi is launching a new Master’s Programme on Urbanisation which will include a module on Energy in Cities for which they are currently seeking qualified lecturers. It seems that there is a renewed interest in urban energy transitions and that academia is just catching up to the demand.

Energy and Sustainable Urban Development CPD Course – Day 5

This blog is part of a series on the Energy and Sustainable Urban Development in Africa workshop, 17 – 21 November, 2014, University of Cape Town. For more details on the purpose of the workshop, see this blog.

Day 5 of the continuing professional development course further developed the theme of policy and governance, and the role of local government, in energy planning, as well as addressing financing for local government energy interventions.

The morning sessions once again highlighted the intersectionality of energy with every discipline of local government, and the need for whole-system approaches to energy transitions, with appropriate solutions at all levels of government and governance. Sarah Ward from the City of Cape Town Energy & Climate Change Unit t presented on the development of South African national and municipal energy policy in the last 20 years, and the fact that cities in the future must help to drive energy policy, rather than ‘receiving’ policy from a national level. Knowledge of local contexts can help local authorities to drive their agenda for the green economy, rather than resorting to a ‘tick-the-boxes’ approach.

CPD blog day 5 imageOne-stop sanitation services building in Kasese, Uganda. Image: John Behangaana

SAMSET project municipal partner John Behangaana, Town Clerk of Kasese Municipality in Uganda, presented on the vision of Kasese for energy transitions, and projects to date in the municipality. This highlighted the importance of partnerships for implementation of energy projects, as Kasese has partner successfully with other municipalities, companies and organisations to improve sanitation and electricity supply in the municipality. These include Aalborg and Frederikshavn municipalities in Denmark for ‘one-stop sanitation shop’ development across the urban area of Kasese, as well as the WWF and System Teknik A/S for the Kayanja Solar Hub project, providing solar lighting and micro-grid services for off-grid households.

Roland Hunter, in his capacity as ex-Chief Financial Officer of the City of Johannesburg, presented on municipality financing in Sub-Saharan African and its implications for energy transitions. City finance can broadly be split into operating revenues and capital finance sources. Despite huge GDP growth in a number of Sub-Saharan African cities, with the exception of South Africa city spending on municipal operations as a proportion of GDP remains very low. This is often a result of a weakness in revenue administration: without sufficient revenue collection, spending cannot increase. This leads to a degradation of services, and then further unwillingness to pay among revenue sources (taxes, licensing etc.). This so-called ‘vicious spiral of performance decline’ is indicative of many Sub-Saharan African cities. Through building tax payer support, increasing revenue collection strength and enforcement, and improving service quality through investment and resourcing, this can be turned around. Two broad challenges concluded the presentation – the local revenue relationship in municipalities, and the assigned revenue powers to municipalities from national government. Implications in the energy sector are widespread, including a lack of infrastructure financing capacity as a result of this, leading to a reduction in decision making powers in the sector, as well as the strength of national agencies for energy in many Sub-Saharan African countries.

Graph day 5 cpd roland hunter

City billing as a percentage of city spending as of 2012 for selected African cities. Source: Hunter van Ryneveld (Pty) Ltd

The end of day five saw a closing address from Professor Daniel Irurah of the University of Witswatersrand, bringing together the ideas from across the week that urban energy transitions are a necessity in the coming period, if rapid urbanisation and energy consumption increases are to be addressed in a sustainable manner. Local approaches for local solutions, considering whole-system approaches in energy transitions, the importance of stakeholder engagement and participatory planning, and strengthening governance and the role of municipal government in energy transitions, were all highlighted as key factors in moving forward.

cpd blog day 5 cartoon image

One of a series of cartoons produced for the Energy and Sustainable Urban Development course, highlighting the role cities can play in driving energy transitions in developing countries.

Energy and Sustainable Urban Development CPD Course – Day 2

This blog is part of a series on the Energy and Sustainable Urban Development in Africa workshop, 17 – 21 November, 2014, University of Cape Town. For more details on the purpose of the workshop, see the Day 1 Blog.

Day 2 of the CPD course began with an introduction from SAMSET project partners as to the state of energy in African cities currently, focusing on the SAMSET partner municipalities. The overwhelming majority of energy in African cities across Sub-Saharan Africa is consumed in the buildings sector, with limited exceptions for large industrial towns/cities (such as Steve Tshwete in South Africa), and large transport hubs (such as Jinja in Uganda). Jinja’s status as a transport hub linking Kenya and western Uganda/Central Africa more broadly leads to significantly increased petrol and diesel consumption compared to equivalently-sized settlements, and large increases in carbon emissions for the transport sector as a result. This highlights the necessity once again of the local context in specific municipalities needing to be considered in effective energy transitions.

Modal split of transport use in Accra + South AfricaModal split of transport use in Accra, Ghana and South Africa as a whole. Source: SEA/ISSER

Municipalities’ own energy usage was also covered in the morning sessions, with particular emphasis on the “low-hanging fruit” still present in many Sub-Saharan African municipalities. SAMSET project team member Melusile Ndlovu presented on a variety of methods for increasing efficiency and reducing energy inputs for municipalities, following experience from a previous Sustainable Energy Africa energy efficiency potential modelling project done for the South African Cities Network (SACN). Municipal energy consumption assessment for this project was grouped under broad headings of bulk water supply and treatment, street and traffic lighting, municipal buildings, and vehicle fleets. The municipal vehicle fleet dominates the total energy savings potential (39%), with savings realisable from improved vehicle practices (the use of fuel efficient tyres, improved maintenance, tyre management, reduced mileage and awareness raising). Energy efficiency interventions in bulk water supply and wastewater treatment were said to hold the greatest electricity and carbon emissions savings potential, among the electricity consuming sectors in the modeled cities, (49% and 41% respectively), mainly due to the potential for more efficient pumping motors coupled with variable speed drives (VSDs). This session also emphasised the importance of municipalities leading by example, providing a foundation for private sector stakeholders to enter the energy efficiency sector.

Parallel sessions in the afternoon covered municipal waste and MSW-energy projects in the SA and Ghanaian context, as well as the household energy transition and household energy poverty. Three presentations or residential and commercial building design, energy consumption and efficiency were given, covering everything from green architecture in the African context for high-end commercial developments, to formalisation activities in the Joe Slovo settlement in Cape Town, and the effect that densification and green design has had on social housing energy consumption.

cpd blog day 2 buildings image 1Energy efficient commercial developments in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront area. Images: Arup Ltd

Finally, SAMSET project partner Dr Simon Bawakyillenuo from the University of Ghana presented on the Ghanaian energy efficiency standards and labeling program in Ghana, covering topics from the ban of used air conditioner sales, to the government’s 6 million CFL unit dissemination program resulting in a 124 MW peak demand reduction for the country, to the promotion of mass transit and BRT, as well as fuel use reduction in the private vehicle fleet, through public education and promotion.

CPD Course Group SessionsGroup sessions at the Energy and Sustainable Urban Development CPD Course

The Rise of Afro-Smart Cities Should be Viewed with Caution

Johnathan Silver from Durham University writes on the potential challenges to African “Smart Cities”, and why the public discourse on the matter may not live up to the hype.

The recent announcement by IBM establishing its twelfth global laboratory in Nairobi has followed a rise in news about Smart cities across urban Africa. These include IBM’s inclusion of Durban and Abuja in its Smarter Cities Challenge, a plethora of summits and conferences, together with planning for a series of new smart urban extensions on the periphery of major conurbations such as Accra and Kinshasa. Together these developments are generating an ever growing clamour concerning the potential of smart urbanism to transform urban Africa through the integration of digital technologies across networked infrastructures, offering resource efficiencies, global competitiveness, safer cities and ultimately much greater control over the built environment and everyday life.

Here is a depiction of the Smart City (Source: http://www2.schneider-electric.com/sites/corporate/en/solutions/sustainable_solutions/smart-cities.page)

Such coverage is often predicated on these techno-futures enabling ways to leapfrog other global regions through next generation infrastructure and technology. The images and narratives of smart futures in cities like Rio, portrayed in endless representations through its control room, and major Northern cities such as London and New York are ubiquitous and firmly entrenched in the imaginary of policymakers and the wider public. Yet the notion of smart in urban Africa has been less visible (at least on a global level) up till now. But as things change, the rise of Afro-Smart cities is going to require much more attention from those interested in rapid urbanisation and associated challenges of poverty and development faced by these diverse cities. For behind the widely circulated images of slum dwellers using mobile technologies to improve daily lives, the dominance of large ICT companies, a splintered urban landscape, land dispossession and the securitisation of urban space reveal a more complicated potential smart urban future.

Hip high tech start-ups, globally-connected young entrepreneurs and newly configured broadband infrastructures form a key ingredient of the Afro-Smart city or “digital revolution” narrative. In cities such as Kigali new techno-cultures are emerging and seeking to bring the Smart city to a much larger proportion of the population through cheap and accessible smart-phones, successful place-based apps and growing public interest in smart technologies being developed by African-based developers and users themselves. This new generation of Smart city innovators is increasingly connected through tech hubs and incubators for new businesses with spaces such as BantaLabs, Saint-Louis, Senegal through to Hive CoLab, Kampala offering spaces for collaboration and addressing both the specific ICT challenges and opportunities being faced across urban Africa.

Adding to this smart wave, rising interest from ICT companies,consultancies such as Deloitte and private equity is generating increased investment and policy focus around Smart cities. Yet the presence of global ICT companies across African cities, including IBM’s relationship with Nairobi poses similar questions to those being asked across urban areas in other parts of the world about who actually benefits from the implementation of smart technologies, growing flows of big data and the affordability of being smart. As Adam Greenfield, in his excellent book ‘ Against the SMART city’ cautions, such futures may well be nothing more than a (techno) utopian fantasy that, once unravelled, reveals little more than the opening of markets and opportunities for profit for large corporations. Nowhere are these powerful narratives of Smart city futures better articulated than in the range of urban development projects being pursued across the continent.

New infrastructure and city extensions are being planned and constructed across the length and breadth of the continent with promises of Smart city living that target that emerging but most unsteady of terms, the African middle class. These include projects in existing cities such as Johannesburg, which has entered into partnership with BWired to establish new broadband networks across the city. Yet, as commentators such as Nancy Oderdaal have long noticed, the splintered nature of ICT infrastructures across urban Africa shows a clear spatial division between the poor and rich that may be further cemented by shifts towards smart networks.

As well as reconfiguring existing urban space for the smart city, a plethora of new city extensions promising potential residents a technologised, data drive future, away from the seemingly chaotic (and unconnected) streets of other parts of the city are emerging and mirroring those well-known global hubsof Smart city hubris. Such Smart city developments are thus often designed beyond existing cities and their slum areas. Konza Techno City, 60km away from Nairobi in the newly named “Silicon Savannah” andHope City, Ghana both promise high tech jobs, global corporate interest, advanced building design and high speed connectivity.

Konza Techno City, Kenya (Source: www.bbc.co.uk)

Yet problems in delivering these urban development projects are myriad and likely to entrench inequalities across already divided and contested cities. For example, La Cite du Fleuve, in DR Congo, brilliantly deconstructed by Filip De Boek, is creating a series of overlapping sources of tension in Kinshasa including struggles around land ownership and issues of dispossession that begin to lay bare the rhetoric of these urban developments. Such urban extensions may well offer smart living for urban dwellers but echoing the gated communities of the past few decades also have to be understood as new frontiers for capital accumulation and a clear demonstration of business sectors and parts of society withdrawing from the wider city and society into enclaves or archipelagos of high technology. Scholars are documenting such processes across the global South, most prominently Ayona Datta in India. This emerging knowledge suggests that the stark urban inequalities present in cities is unlikely to be addressed in these Smart city developments. Instead, dynamics of land dispossession, that are beginning to mirror the wider and ongoing land grabbing across the continent threaten, as Vanessa Watson has eloquently written, to turn these urban dreams into nightmares.

The final area of caution around smart urbanism across Africa needs to be centred around the securitisation of urban space through new technologies, infrastructures and data flows. The control of internet usage and social media is common across many cities including Addis Adaba and of course Cairo, where bloggers critical of the government or organisers of social mobilisations are being imprisoned on despairingly long terms. Being aware of how new smart technologies and infrastructures may also be deployed to curtail human rights and civic participation across urban Africa is critical to how we understand the rise of Afro-Smart cities. We only have to look back at the recent past in South Africa to see how IBM-designed, proto-smart technologies were used by the apartheid regime to control urban populations, restrict access to the cities and securitise a racialised, segregated urban space.

Further current examples are not too hard to find. For instance the development of the Skunk: Riot Drone by the South African company Desert Wolf , to deploy against miners in the country’s restive Platinum Belt and armed with surveillance systems and weapons (including pepper spray), provides a frankly terrifying vision of where Smart technologies may take us. After the Marikana massacre in 2012 by the South African police force and a highly-charged five-month strike by thousands of miners those urging caution in thinking that such technologies could not be used may need to think again. And with the first orders for 25 of these drones, it does not take much of an imaginative leap to see them being deployed across the simmering townships of the country as tensions and inequality continue to mount. Such developments provide a menacing retort to boosterish, utopian narratives of smart being used by large tech companies, consultants and increasingly government actors and policymakers.

Afro-Smart cities are becoming increasingly central in narratives about urban futures on the continent. Policies, reports and public discourse tend to paint a remorselessly upbeat vision of smart technologies that big data and advanced ICT infrastructure, connectivity and new urban (tech) space can help to transform landscapes of poverty and contribute to the oft-discussed “rise of Africa”. Some caution and perspective is certainly needed around Afro-Smart cities that interrogates these narratives and better understands the socio-spatial implications of these new forms of data-driven urbanism.

Johnathan would like to acknowledge the support of Alan Wiig in reading an earlier draft of this text.
This blog is also available on the London School of Economics website.

 

“Africa’s Urban Revolution” and African Urban Challenges

Mark Borchers on the launch of a new book, “Africa’s Urban Revolution”, the insights gained from the launch, and their relevance to the SAMSET project.

I was at the launch of the book Africa’s Urban Revolution recently. It has contributions from various authors associated with the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the University of Cape Town, and covers a range of topics. Even though it does not have an energy focus, I found both the content of the book (tho I have just read a bit of it so far) and the discussions at the launch very interesting for the work on sustainable urban energy transitions which we are engaged in.

The presenters, Edgar Pieterse (director of the ACC) and Caroline Wanjiku Khato (School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Witwatersrand) emphasised that urbanisation in Africa is an issue of global concern given the pace at which it is occurring and the severe lack of capacity of authorities to meet the associated service demands. This we know, but I found it interesting that mainstream academia knows it too! In addition, African urbanisation is distinct from any other such process elsewhere in the world, often rendering existing approaches to urbanisation issues not useful. In no particular order, the following challenges struck me as potentially relevant:

– In many urban areas a significant proportion of the population regard their homes as elsewhere, and they subsist in the town or city and send remittances back to their homes, where their heart remains. So while they are present in the city, they are not investing in it. It is unclear what this does to the local economy and the tax base and service delivery demands on municipalities.
– In the absence of municipal capacity, informal social and economic systems can be quite strong, for example including land registers and social support systems, often via the church. Given that official capacity is unlikely to change drastically in the medium-term, such ingenuity and creativity may be one of the foundations for sustainable urbanisation in Africa rather than relying on more formal structures and systems.
– The urban agenda is often not high on national government’s priority list, sometimes because opposition parties are often able to first gain support in bigger urban areas, thus not endearing such to the ruling party. In one case, national government apparently effectively set up a department to run the capital city, thus ‘hollowing out’ the politically distinct local government’s power.
– Informality is sometimes regarded as an aberration to be rid of by national government. One presenter described how he was invited to the African Development Bank forum for minister’s in 2006, where urban issues were on the agenda for the first time (!). One Housing Minister, who had recently displaced half a million informal dwellers in their capital city through demolishing their settlements, received a standing ovation when he justified this act on the basis of ‘restoring the dignity’ of the city. So the plight of the poor in informal settlements may not always receive enthusiastic national support.

The above snippets obviously only present a partial picture, but some of them are useful in flagging that different players can have very different perspectives on issues, and we need to be sensitive to these. I know in the South African context all of the above are relevant to a greater or lesser degree in different places.

There’s lots more useful information in the book if you are interested.

Book information: Africa’s Urban Revolution. Edited by Susan Parnell and Edgar Pieterse of the University of Cape Town African Centre for Cities. Published by UCT Press in 2014. ISBN: 978 177582 076 5