Africa Infrastructure Futures Conference: Building Common Purpose for Africa’s Urban Success

The African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the University of Cape Town and its partners are convening an African Infrastructure Futures Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, from 21 to 23 November 2022.

The conference aims to open a frank and pointed dialogue between social partners – governments, investors, businesses, academia, civil society organisations and cultural practitioners – about what the stakes are and what needs to be done to ensure African solutions for Africa’s unique development challenges.

The programme on day 1 is structured around four thematic tracks featuring 12 panel discussions. Days 2 and 3 will follow a curated programme drawing on the experiences of practice leaders in numerous domains from across Africa.

The organisers say the COP27 climate change conference, which is taking place in the midst of a global economic crisis marked by rising inflation and profound food insecurity, is an opportune time to reflect on Africa’s development prospects. COVID-19 interrupted and pushed back development gains that African countries have been making since the 2000s, when greater political stability began to translate into sustained GDP growth rates, which in turn made it possible to aggressively pursue the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015). Still, Africa’s urban population almost doubled between 1990 and 2020, and it is poised to do the same between 2020 and 2050, when 1.2 billion people will be living in urban African areas. This is four times the size of Europe’s urban population.

The world looks set to be a much more precarious, divided and uncertain place between now and 2050 due to inaction on climate change, a failure to address multi-dimensional inequality, and the rise of right-wing and religious populism, which is fuelling social divides and armed conflict. Amidst the financial crises of 2008 and 2019, governments have turned to infrastructure-led growth policies to not only avert economic collapse, but also reposition settlements and value chains to become decarbonised catalysts for more inclusive and just forms of living.

Africa’s north star vision – the African Union’s Agenda 2063, The Africa We Want – reflects a similar approach and places vibrant, sustainable, smart, and inclusive cities at the heart of this investment programme.

The first objective of the African Infrastructure Futures Conference is to achieve some agreement on what is meant by ‘sustainable infrastructure’ in the African context, given the predominance of informal labour markets and large-scale slum living and inadequate access to basic services. A second objective is to foster a shared understanding that an ambitious agenda to transform our cities and neighbourhoods can catalyse green industrialisation and a hands-on form of substantive citizenships. Third, the conference will confront the enormous financial and institutional challenges that must be addressed if the potential of sustainable urbanisation and green industrialisation is to be realised and not just be empty slogans.

Given the number of intersecting challenges, diverse institutional settings, and geographical conditions, there is a need to create and accelerate the capacity to experiment and innovate.

“It is not that easy to shift infrastructure business models from its current carbon-intensive formats to more sustainable and inclusive ones,” says Professor Edgar Pieterse, Director of the African Centre for Cities and NRF South African Research Chair in Urban Policy. “Such experiments will have to be rapidly shared across the African continent to enable rapid uptake and deployment. This conference aims to convince delegates that we all need to work in an open-source manner to foster a confidence that we can pro-actively address African urbanisation and use it to shift the backbone of the common African market onto a sustainable footing.”

Professor Edgar Pieterse, Director of the African Centre for Cities

Prof Pieterse says this conference represents one of the rare occasions where Africans from all social sectors, governments and investment communities come together to apply their minds to finding answers to some of the biggest questions facing the continent amidst climate change, jobless growth, and rising inflation.