Communique of the First Network Conference (27-29 October 2020)



This conference provided a platform for the presentation of findings on the scoping studies titled "State of Urban Infrastructure in Africa: Focus on Transit Oriented Development" commissioned by the African Research Network for Urbanization and Habitable Cities. The Conference was structured into four sessions over three days in line with the two distinct yet connected packages that make up the study. There were two keynote presentations - on Day 1 by Prof David Toll and on Day 2 by Prof Vanessa Watson. The Plenary Sessions discussed the theme: Infrastructure in Urban Africa – Africa City Reports; Housing in Africa; and Transit-Oriented Development and Infrastructure – Solutions/Imperatives. Attendees had the opportunity to take part in open discussions with panel members at the end of each session. The following thematic issues and questions were discussed at the Conference: the state of Urban Infrastructure in Africa; A review of transportation infrastructure challenges/gaps in selected African cities; Relating transportation challenges to a selected thematic area in Urban Development; Governance framework for city transportation; Transportation investment – mechanisms used in providing transportation solutions; Leveraging TODs as an instrument for development in African cities; Conceptual linkages between TODs and SDGs; and Appraising Housing in Africa.


The Conference attracted 237 participants from a wide range of institutions including 93 Registered Institutions and Companies, 60 Government Departments/Ministries, 25 Universities and eight Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. Participants were drawn from more than 20 countries on five continents (Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and America).


In her opening address, the Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town Prof Sue Harrison informed the delegates that a core objective of the University of Cape Town is its research focus, and its vision to play a vital role in research and knowledge dissemination in Africa, which aligns with that of the Network. She also outlined some of the important research being undertaken by the University of Cape Town in the area of Urban Development. She noted that good research practice should contribute to the development and the wellbeing of communities and that ARUA Network for UHC can champion collaboration with the government as well as the private sector. Prof. Timothy Gbenga Nubi – the Director of the Centre of Excellence in Urbanization and Habitable Cities in Africa, and the African Research Network for Urbanization and Habitable Cities in his welcome address highlighted the capacity building objectives, capabilities and reach of the ARUA Network rooted in Africa. He noted that infrastructure is the blood of a city and that Africa will continue to grope in darkness if researchers do not create a road map for infrastructure development.


The Keynote Presentation by Prof. David Toll on Day 1, centred on engineering solutions that respond to climate-induced challenges for road-building in African cities. It highlighted the need for contextualization in designing solutions, exploration of innovation and peer learning.


While on Day 2, Prof. Vanessa Watson gave an expository Keynote Presentation on City Planning that was titled 'New African City Plans: 'world-class cities' or property developer land grabs?' Her presentation examined 'urban and territorial planning' with highlights from SDG11 and the New Urban Agenda 2016. The Goal and Agenda work towards an urban paradigm shift that will readdress the way societies plan, finance, develop, govern and manage cities and human settlements, recognizing sustainable urban and territorial development as essential to the achievement of sustainable development and property for all. The presentation outlined how current urban planning systems are problematic but have taken the form of high-level graphics on the websites of international firms of architects, engineers and property developers since 2008. These new urban developments are entirely exclusive, which shows the need for more inclusive models to solve Africa's urban challenges. 


Before the Conference, each Partner University and Research Cluster affiliated to the Network prepared a report on their study, which was reviewed and assessed for suitability of the research for presentation at the Conference. At the end of the review process, nine State of Infrastructure in Urban Africa – Africa City Reports; and eight Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and Infrastructure – Solutions/Imperative Reports were accepted for presentation at the Conference. The Africa City Reports provided an in-depth, comparative analysis of the nature and depth of transportation challenges that cause dysfunctionality in the following African Cities – Freetown, Nairobi, Osogbo, Lusaka, Banjul, Abuja, Lagos and Accra. The research Cluster Reports linked Transit-Oriented Development to several objectives including Urbanization, Housing, Environmental Health, Design Solutions, Land Management, Sustainable Construction, Pro-Poor Development and Spatial Data Infrastructure. The summary of the Sessions in which the accepted reports were presented are outlined as follows:


Plenary Session 1: Prof. Muhammad Bashar Nuhu chaired the session and three country reports; from Freetown City, Nairobi City and Johannesburg City were presented under the sub-theme: State of Transportation Infrastructure in Urban Africa – African City Reports 1. Similarly, the following Clusters Reports namely; TOD and Urbanization, TOD and Housing and TOD and Environmental Health with emphasized on solutions and innovations for Africa were significantly highlighted. The presentations reflected the context overview of the cities, challenges in the key transportation infrastructure, governance structures concerning the actions taken in the last 20 years, policies developed and lessons for other African Cities were shared. Evaluations between two or more cities were presented, and evidence showed and reflected better practices and greater solutions for African peer reviews and benchmarking to promote the attainment of sustainable cities in Transportation infrastructure.      


Plenary Session 2: Prof Washington Olima chaired the session. The following Africa City Reports, namely The Osogbo City Report, Lusaka City Report, The Banjul City Report, and TOD and Design Solutions, were discussed. The presentations captured the overview of the cities, urban infrastructure challenges, transport governance and investment framework, and actions that have been taken in the last 20 years in addressing the urban infrastructure challenges and possible impacts. From the presentations, it emerged that urban transport is critical to the functionality of cities and sustainable mobility is crucial; also, the African Cities are facing various urban infrastructure problems, and lessons can be learnt on how to address the issues. Integration of land use and design solutions to traffic management is integral to the achievement of sustainable cities.


Plenary Session 3: Professor Gbenga Nubi, the Director of the Network, gave a presentation that focused on housing as an opportunity for urban regeneration in Africa. It was highlighted that the United Nation's Agenda for Sustainable Development Goal 11 "to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable" puts sustainable urbanization at the centre of the global agendas for development. It was noted that slum dwellers in Africa are pawns in political games and there is a need to focus on massive urban regeneration in the next two decades and that Africa cannot continue to retain slums for tourism.  Recommendations for redevelopment was given, and they include to recognize priority groups for development and reallocation; project, maintain the core residential land use in any redevelopment project; recognize and utilize the strong human capital asset of the community; recognize key vulnerabilities and implication on housing finance access.


Plenary Session 4: Dr Cecil Madell chaired this session, which included reports from Abuja, Lagos and Accra as well as on the connection between TOD and sustainable infrastructure, pro-poor development, spatial data infrastructure, land management and infrastructure solutions.  Transportation and infrastructure-related challenges discussed include the focus of the private sector on developing mobility routes (e.g. freeway construction for the few in response to congestion) in peri-urban areas. In contrast, the public sector is unable to provide adequate public transportation for the majority of city residents; the poor management and maintenance of public transportation infrastructure and rolling stock by the public sector; the continued marginalization of informal economic activity which could benefit from well-planned public transportation systems; in essence the inability of public transport to respond to the needs of the majority of city residents.  Covid-19 had a severe impact on access to and the use of public transport, in particular for the poor with significant loss of income as well as increases in fees by operators. Of particular concern was the inability of forward (spatial) planning and land use management to impact on infrastructure development in a manner that supports public transport and benefits the majority of citizens. The need to significantly improve the management and increase the usage of spatial data in spatial planning and land use management was noted.  Furthermore, the positive economic growth benefits of urbanization were recognized. UnHabitat’s (2015) SDGs (in particular SDG 11: make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable) are supported, as these provide a clear set of goals for developing infrastructure that is not utopian, but rather respond to the context-specific needs and lived realities of citizens of our cities.  It was noted that care should be taken with the uncritical importation and application of TOD and the associated principles should instead be pursued and that its application must be contextually relevant and specific. A key finding of the presentation and discussion included the significant benefits TOD could yield as spatial planning and public transport strategy with the management of rapid urban growth in our cities. 


The workshop participants provided useful feedback, which would positively enhance the on-going research of the Network. All agreed that the presentations made at the Conference were very informative and stimulating. Generally, there was consensus among the delegates that the Conference was very successful. The Conference benefitted from the financial support provided by UKRI and the NRF in South Africa. The contributions of the partner universities, research clusters, the Director of the Network, Session Chairs, Moderators, the Keynote presenters – Prof David toll and Prof Vanessa Watson, presenters, delegates, reviewers, Members of the Conference Planning Committee, and the Conference Management Centre team at the University of Cape Town – Yvonne, Cindy and Roxanne, towards making the Conference a success are also gratefully acknowledged.




Prof. Gbenga Nubi                                                             Prof. Abimbola Windapo    

Director of the ARUA UHC Network                        Chair, Conference Planning Committee


Dr Taibat Lawanson                                                          Prof. Muhammad Bashar Nuhu

Moderator                                                                 Session Chair


Dr Hikmot Koleoso                                                            Prof. Washington Olima

Moderator                                                                 Session Chair


Dr Joseph Macarthy                                                          Dr Cecil Madell

Moderator                                                                  Session Chair

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