Reforming Urban Laws in Africa

International award for ground-breaking urban law reform guide

Programme Type: Publishing Programme:

African Centre for Cities is pleased to announce that Adjunct Professor Stephen Berrisford was awarded the Dubai International Award for Best Practices (DIABP) in the category University Research Award on Legislation, Rules, Regulations & Governance Systems for Reforming Urban Laws in Africa: a practical guide which he wrote along with the late Patrick McAuslan.

Jointly awarded by the UN-Habitat and Dubai Municipality, the Award recognises outstanding initiatives that are making valuable contribution to sustainable urban development along the priority areas of the New Urban Agenda. A total of 524 entries from 89 countries were received for the Award in 2017 and 10 winners in 5 categories were awarded.

The Guide, a project initiated by (ACC) at the University of Cape Town in 2009, was designed and supported to address a wicked problem facing African cities: the laws used to manage, plan and govern these cities are out of date and ineffective, yet very difficult to replace or improve.

With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation the ACC has worked closely with the Association of African Planning Schools, to develop case materials on urban planning law reform as well as a model curriculum for teaching planning law in an African university.  This work was taken further, with Reforming Urban Laws in Africa: a practical guide.

The Guide is intended to provide practical advice to officials and consultants working on urban legal reform on how to manage law reform processes in a way that is more likely to produce effective results, drawing on the co-authors’ practical experience and many years of experience in urban legal reform in the region.

“The Guide responds to the widespread despair that urban legislation is not working in African cities and that the efforts of governments, donors and civil society to address this problem generally fail.  This results in a common lament – especially from lawyers – that ‘we have great laws and policies, but no implementation’,” says Berrisford. “The Guide takes this up as a challenge: maybe, if there’s no implementation or ineffective implementation of the laws we need to look at the laws themselves; maybe the laws are not written to take into account the actual context within which they will have to be implemented or the actual people who will be expected to comply with them?”

Berrisford argues that there are no silver bullets in terms of cleverly constructed legal instruments that will solve the governance and planning problems of African cities. However if more attention is paid to the law-making process – to the questions that are asked, the people consulted, the options considered – the chances increase strongly that more effective legislation will result.

A vital part of the project is putting the Guide in the right hands. Free printed as well as digital copies in both English and Portuguese are being distributed and a series of short video lectures by Stephen Berrisford discussing each of the major issues tackled in the Guide have been launched. The 13-part series is available in full on the dedicated YouTube channel and will be featured on the African Centre for Cities website on a weekly basis.

“Urban legal reform is an essential, but unglamorous, part of turning around the way that African cities are governed and planned. If we can’t run our cities in ways that are efficient, include people in decision-making, treat people fairly and drive economic growth then our economies cannot grow,” says Berrisford, who was thrilled to receive the award. “Urban legal reform on its own will never be sufficient to turn around the development path of African cites, but without it very few other improvements will be effective.”

“I hope that this recognition will encourage the use of the guide by people responsible for urban legal reforms in many African countries, and that it will help to build a community of practice around urban legal reform in the region that can then grow from strength to strength,” he says.

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