Africa Urban Infrastructure Summit

On the 22 and 23 April 2013, several members of the Cape Town platform attended the inaugural Africa Urban Infrastructure Summit at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

The Summit, which was part of the African Business Conferences series, invited various stakeholders including investors and financiers, private sector business representatives, government practitioners, ministers and academic researchers with interests in urban infrastructure to present their challenges, opportunities and experiences to the conference delegates. Numerous African countries were represented at the Summit, including South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Angola, Gambia, Liberia, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea, among others.

Urbanisation - opportunities for growth and innovation

Africa’s population and economy has grown exponentially, and this has resulted in extremely high levels of urbanisation. These high levels of urbanisation present opportunities for growth and innovation. However, urbanisation also has effects on cities that are less positive. Increasing numbers of people residing in cities exerts pressure on urban centres that were not planned or serviced for such high numbers of inhabitants. This pressure is felt in many areas; for example, increasing water demand and decreasing water supply foregrounds the need for better water management programmes; increasing pressure on often aging bulk services of sanitation and sewage; an increasing demand for electricity; growing populations require decent accommodation solutions;  and better transport systems are required to connect new urban dwellers to opportunities are just some of the challenges that face city planners, practitioners and residents themselves. In addition to this is the need for more services, such as hospitals and schools. In African contexts where urbanisation is often driven by poor communities moving to cities to access employment and better education and healthcare, these infrastructural challenges are compounded by social challenges of inequality, unemployment and crime, among others. Exploring these complexities ran through each session of the Africa Urban Infrastructure Summit.

Africa’s urban growth

Session one presented an overview of Africa’s urban growth, with speakers including Professor Edgar Pieterse from the African Centre for Cities (ACC), as well as Gaetan Siew from the Global Creative Leadership Institute and Michael Webster from The World Bank. This session focussed on the challenges that African cities face, from the structural to the social. A ‘design thinking’ perspective was also presented by Richard Perez, the Director of the City of Cape Town’s World Design Capital 2014 bid. The second session of the day explored affordable housing and thinking about housing finance in these urban African contexts. Kecia Rust from the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa shared information on microfinance initiatives for the urban poor. Christopher Jannou, founder and CEO of SmartHomes International, used the price of a 50kg bag of cement to illustrate the costs of building houses in different African countries, and to illustrate that from these challenges comes innovation – in trying to use smaller amounts of concrete, new and inventive ways to build houses for the urban poor have been sought in order to keep costs down.   Session three focussed on new cities in Africa, and exciting presentations on the ways land is developed to form new cities were shared with the delegates. Mayor Luala of Juba in South Sudan spoke about the need for new cities to be functional and to provide basic services, housing and transportation, for example, as well as to be a city for all. Robert Choudury showed how land was reclaimed from the Congo River in order to create a new, mixed land use development. Trevor Ward from the W Hospitality Group gave an interesting discussion on the importance of hotels for cities – not only does the presence of a good hotel attract investors, hotels also provide investment in the economy (both directly and through the patrons who stay in the hotel) and create jobs.


The fourth session of the conference focussed on the financing and delivering of infrastructure. The fifth session investigated urban infrastructure as important for making regional links – a presentation by the main sponsor of the event, Moto-Engil, indicated the many major projects that are occurring on the African continent. A presentation by a João Muguambe, Alderman for Economic Activities, Maputo, explained the city’s new road links, which will speed up key transport routes significantly. Christian Abrahamsen from Agence Nationale des Grands Travaux (ANGT) presented how Gabon is being developed.


The final session of the Summit looked at energy. Jason Schäffler from the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) moderated a discussion where Busso van Alvensleben presented the types of energy efficient projects that KfW Bankengruppe funds. Mayor Luala presented Juba’s energy needs.

Gambia and Angola in focus

In addition to these five sessions, there were two country focus sessions, exploring in greater depth Angola and Gambia and one city focus session on Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Each of these discussions was interesting in presenting the different inputs required from many different service providers, from governments having the correct structures in place to encourage and support investment (for example, to be able to guarantee secure tenure and to  provide support for public-private partnerships), to engineers and design teams who have to overcome other types of challenges in order to implement their visions for new or improved cities. Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi from United Cities and Local Governments in Africa closed the conference, noting that the summit was timely, and that there is a need for a platform for a group such as this one to gather more frequently to exchange on the challenges of urban infrastructure and to adopt new paradigms that address international calls for sustainability.