CALL FOR PAPERS | African Infrastructure Futures: Urban research, debates and priorities

The African Centre for Cities will be hosting a three-day conference entitled African Infrastructural Futures: Urban research, debates and priorities, from 21-23 November 2022 (postponed from 18-20 October). The conference will be structured into two parts: Day 1 will adopt a more traditional academic conference format and Day 2 and 3 will focus on the substance of the policy and practice debates, with a curated programme of panel discussions.

Below is the call for papers as part of the academic conference.

Reframing the sustainable urban infrastructure debates
During September-October 2020, African Centre for Cities co-convened the REframe Conversation Series to explore how sustainable and inclusive African cities can best be advanced in a broader context where African governments and development partners are acknowledging the importance of urbanisation. Core to REframe was the question of sustainable urban infrastructure. 

Under REframe, the notion of ‘sustainable urban infrastructure’ provided a scaffold through which key policy agendas (Agenda 2063, SDGs, New Urban Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement) could be triangulated with the political-economy dynamics shaping urbanisation outcomes, emergent socio-technical transitions across various sectors, cognisant of questions of power, politics and institutional capability. The REframe Conversation Series concluded that the current institutional systems, financial models and political arrangements are inadequate to advance the implementation of sustainable urban infrastructure policies and programmes. 

The African Infrastructure Futures Conference builds on the debates of REframe to further refine, substantiate and mainstream sustainable urban infrastructure approaches in Africa. We recognize that doing this requires addressing the material, institutional and financial path dependencies which constrain what can be imagined, tested, and scaled. Bringing sustainable urban infrastructure into the mainstream demands engagements with public and private operators, especially decision-makers who structure the authorising environment for infrastructure investment. There is insufficient engagement between academics, think tank researchers, infrastructure providers and those who commission and finance it. The conference will create a space to bridge these gaps, whilst seeking to surface a research agenda.

While the question of how to finance, build or retrofit, and maintain sustainable infrastructure is central to current debates about Africa’s infrastructure futures, answers have remained siloed into the seemingly separate approaches of three different types of interest groups: national governments, multilateral organisations and their associated think tanks, and academic researchers. The conference will address these parallel knowledge worlds by staging a series of conversations which are articulated through 5 provocations. To accommodate these kinds of exchanges and attend to critical scholarly debates, the conference will be curated as follows: Day 1 will adopt a more traditional academic conference format and Day 2 and 3 will focus on the substance of the policy and practice debates.

The call for academic contributions
While academic thought alone is insufficient in the face of the complex and daunting realities which African cities face, the role of urban research, creative thought, and critical inquiry remains vital. We call for academic contributions that engage with the following themes and questions, providing rich empirical and conceptual content to enhance collective sense-making and identification of pointed research questions. 

We welcome proposals/abstracts which engage with questions including: 

  • What does/could sustainable urban infrastructure mean in the African context? Papers responding to this call might engage with competing definitions, materials, flows, resources/finance, practices, and scales that substantiate our understanding of sustainable urban infrastructure. 
  • What sorts of infrastructure transitions are in-progress, probable and possible to address carbon-dependent and resource-intensive urbanism? Contributions may consider the entrenchments, revisability, and radical incrementalism which mark change and continuity in complex emergent systems. 
  • Who is involved and excluded in agenda setting and prioritisation? Questions of governance arrangements, actors, geo-politics, power and finance are all central to the endeavour to shift directional course. Thus, understanding by whom and how these systems are governed is essential. With an eye on civil society, private sector organizations, donors, and sub-national governments, this theme seeks to explore the dynamics, closures and the cracks in sustainable infrastructure governance. 
  • What are the planning and connectivity interfaces across scales? Can our research shift the orientation from the national state to a consideration of different spatial imaginaries? From the sub-city scale to trans-border corridors, research which shifts our spatial orientation and reframes planning and investment priorities are welcome.   
  • How will speculative technologies shape the ontology of infrastructure? This work might engage with questions concerning the future of African cloud infrastructure, digital platforms for mobility, financial technologies, and other issues of interoperability between the systems that latch onto urban infrastructure and the implications for design.

These questions roughly correspond to the five provocations which will guide the structure of the conference at large. We expect academic contributions to enrich our understanding of these provocations, however, we do not expect them to necessarily support arguments which are presented or underpin the provocations. If you are interested in contributing, submit your 250-word abstract via this online form before 13 May 2022 (postponed from 31 March 2022).

The selection process
Abstract review and selection will be undertaken by a scientific committee. 

  • Prof AbdouMaliq Simone (Senior Professorial Fellow at the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield) – Committee Chair
  • Dr Liza Rose Cirolia (African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town)
  • Prof Kenny Cupers (Head of Urban Studies & the Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel)
  • Dr Nathalie Jean-Baptiste (Director, Wealth Inequality),
  • Dr Wangui Kimari (Institute for Humanities in Africa, University of Cape Town)
  • Prof Nancy Odendaal (School of Architecture, Planning & Geomatics, University of Cape Town)
  • Dr Philippa Tumubweinee (School of Architecture, Planning & Geomatics, University of Cape Town and Izuba InAfrica Architects)

ACC organising  team: Edgar Pieterse (Director, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town); Liza Rose Cirolia (Senior researcher, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town); Nobukhosi Ngwenya (Researcher, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town); Andrea Pollio (Marie Curie Fellow, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town and DIST, Polytechnic of Turin). 

Key dates
Deadline date for abstract submission: 13 May 2022 (postponed from 31 March 2022).

* Abstracts must be submitted online via:

Convening of Scientific Committee for review:  End of May/early June
Notification of acceptance: 31 June 2022
Conference date: 21 November 2022 (22-23 November 2022 policy-focussed days)

If you have any questions, please contact