African Cities

African cities thought leadership programme

As much of Africa’s urban infrastructure has yet to be developed, there is substantial scope to shape the future. Ensuring that the development and retrofitting of infrastructure builds functional cities, combats ecological degradation, and confronts social injustice and spatial inequality is vital.

The African Centre for Cities (ACC), a research unit and think tank situated within the University of Cape Town which focusses on urban issues in African cities, has been dedicated to researching this infrastructure deficit, its effects and solutions. Accordingly, in 2018, Pinsent Masons approached the ACC in order to collaborate on developing a thought leadership programme related to this topic.

We have structured the Programme around five key themes and invited participants form wide ranging areas of the infrastructure sector to participate in these roundtable discussions.

The Programme is structured around five schemes. At the conclusion of each theme, an interim report will be published, with the intention of creating a final consolidated report at the conclusion of the entire Programme. Interim reports will be available for download on this page and you are welcome to share the reports with your network.


Theme 1: Introduction and high level urban trends in Africa

This report is a summary of findings from the first round table session organised by Pinsent Masons LLP and the African Centre for Cities (ACC). This session was part one of a five part series of thought leadership discussions to explore with a dedicated group of clients with experience on the African continent, the many facets that influence the development (or non-development) of infrastructure in Africa’s cities. These include the social, political, financial, economic and technological factors that simultaneously present infrastructure challenges and opportunity. 

The purpose of this series of round table events is with our partners the ACC, to explore with the participants what are perceived and what are real risks. With new subject-matter experts in each round-table, we aim to debunk many of the myths that prevent more outside investment and interventions in urban infrastructure, and to start a dialogue, with the facts at hand, on how best to approach infrastructure development in  African cities.

Download Report (16 Pages / 2,230 KB)


Theme 2: Building new cities

This report is a summary of findings from the second round table session organised by Pinsent Masons LLP and the African Centre for Cities (ACC).

This round table focussed on the trends related to what are commonly termed ‘new cities’ in Africa. Projects developed under the banner of new cities (although they can be more accurately described as ‘new towns’) are fundamentally reshaping Africa’s urban landscape and the global imaginaries of what urban Africa could be. Dr. Warren Smit, the ACC’s head of research, provided the expert input for this session, reflecting on both the positive and negative aspects of the various types of new city projects.

Download Report (12 Pages / 7,979 KB)


Theme 3: The Important Relationship Between Culture and Infrastructure in African Cities

This report summarises the discussions from Round Table 3, and is the third in the series of five round table discussions.

This round table focused on urban culture and how urban culture impacts on infrastructure development: how culture impacts on what is prioritised and valued in African cities, how infrastructure investments shape culture by providing (or at times undoing) cultural spaces and how the culture of working within the development sector shapes the relationships between actors and thus the processes of implementing projects. Other important themes within this round table were the role of youth and technology in planning and development of urban infrastructure.

Download Report (12 Pages / 3,859 KB)


Theme 4: Decentralized Infrastructure - Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) & Urban Climate Resilience

This report is a summary of the fourth round table session.

This round table focused on decentralized urban infrastructure in African cities, with a focus on promoting resilience and responding to climate change. The director of Adapt, Lauren Hermanus, provided the expert input for the session. The session was structured around five propositions: cities are in transition; cities need to build resilience; the future of urban infrastructure may be small, distributed and connected; decentralised infrastructure can build resilience in African cities; the transition is complex and requires fostering innovation and co-production.

Download Report (12 Pages / 4,873 KB)


Theme 5: Urban governance and decentralisation

This report is a summary of the 5th and final round table session.

This round table focused on urban governance and decentralisation. The expert input was delivered by Dr Sylvia Croese, whose presentation has been used to structure this report. The graphs and tables are drawn from work she undertook as part of a larger project on decentralisation in Africa. The point of departure for this, and the programme overall, is the huge infrastructure backlog in Africa. Understanding this backlog, and how to address it, means understanding what is going on in Africa. In the report, we reflect on the extent to which institutional/ administrative, fiscal, and political decentralisation has taken place in Africa and what effects this has or could have on the development and management of urban infrastructure.

Download Report (12 Pages / 5,380 KB)


Final report: Why and how to invest in Africa’s city infrastructure

This report outlines the imperative and opportunities related to investment in African cities.

The insights in this report are compiled from knowledge developed as part of the African Cities Thought Leadership Programme, a collaboration between Pinsent Masons and the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. The programme included five round table discussions. These sessions brought together Pinsent Masons’ clients and included financial institutions, developers, contractors, planners, professional advisory consultants and researchers involved in African infrastructure projects. The programme ran from November 2018 to November 2019. Each session included an input from an ACC expert on African cities. The themes reflected the most contemporary thinking regarding African cities.

Download Report (12 Pages / 4.52 MB)


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