Platform politics and Silicon Savannahs

While technological innovation is often associated with cities like San Francisco or Bangalore, several African cities are experiencing an agglomeration of ICT related companies. Both Kigali and Nairobi have been dubbed ‘Silicon Savannahs’, celebrated for their adoption of smart city programmes and projects. In these two cities, this research explores the impact of new digital platforms on the governance of urban mobility. Like in most African cities, the mobility sectors in Kigali and Nairobi are dominated by ‘paratransit’, in particular motorcycle taxis and minibuses. There is considerable potential for new digital innovations to dramatically alter the operations of these distributed and dynamic sectors, creating more integrated, accountable and demand driven services delivery systems. This processes is already underway, however, little research has been undertaken on the governance implications of these platforms. This is vital as these new initiatives are being overlaid on existing political and institutional arrangements, shifting power dynamics and introducing new actors (for example financial investors, app designers and the like).

By mapping out both the existing governance arrangements and identifying key changes being driven by new platforms, this research aims to fill this void and contribute to wider debates on the governance of urban mobility and digital infrastructures in African cities. The research process, in keeping with the wider objectives of the African Centre for Cities and VREF, is designed to strengthen the network of Africa-based researchers and scholars who are engaging in these pressing questions.


This project aims to draw together the existing bodies of work on platform urbanism, hybrid service delivery, and urban governance. The focus is on the urban governance implications of the new applications that are being developed to improve paratransit operations in African cities. The key motivations of the project can be summarized as follows:

  • A lack of current research on the interface between platform apps and the paratransit sector;
  • Little understanding of how urban governments participate in the design and development of platform mobility systems that intersect with existing paratransit mechanisms;
  • A dearth of institutional and policy-oriented perspectives on platform mobility in Africa;
  • A need for exploring how platform urbanism fits within broader mobility and developmental agendas of African cities, for example in relation to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


The overarching objective of this research is to understand how mobility governance is being reconfigured by the introduction of platform based systems for the paratransit sectors in African cities. While we will focus on just two cities, and the platforms and dynamics that are emerging there, there is wider applicability to paratransit in African cities at large. The research questions align to the four motivations underpinning the project as a whole:

  • What are the existing governance arrangements and power dynamics in the paratransit sectors in Kigali and Nairobi?
  • What new apps are being developed to enhance the operations of these sectors? How do these apps ‘work’? Who is involved in their funding, design, and implementation?
  • How are these apps changing the governance arrangements and power dynamics in each respective city context?
  • What are the implications of these changes for the mobility sector at large?