CoM SSA participated in the Africa Infrastructure Futures Conference, organised by the African Centre for Cities (ACC) in Cape Town, South Africa. Since 2021, the partnership between CoM SSA and ACC, the South-African interdisciplinary hub at the University of Cape Town, has aimed to create a bridge between academia and local municipalities to address urban challenges and create a dialogue on sustainable and climate resilient urban infrastructures. It is in the context and vision of this collaboration that CoM SSA supported the 2022 edition of ACC’s annual Urban Conference. In light of the close collaboration with Mombasa County (Kenya), CoM SSA supported the participation of Mombasa staff to attend the Conference. The event brought together organisations and personalities from academia, the private sector, local government and civil society to discuss and share ideas on the main challenges faced by African cities in a context of rapid urbanisation, increased impacts of climate change, and a growing need for sustainable infrastructure.
The event started with a one-day academic conference, followed by a two-day policy conference, which focused on establishing a sense of urgency about the threat of urbanisation patterns and the impact of climate change on livelihoods, infrastructure and mobility. The first day of the policy conference included a discussion about the continent's current situation, opportunities and challenges, and the acceleration of financing to implement sustainable infrastructure projects that meet Africa's climate adaptation needs. The second day featured panels on more specific topics such as soft infrastructure to accompany the increasing urbanisation, the use of more effective statistical methods in urban planning, and the establishment of innovation ecosystems in African municipalities and how to optimise exchanges on best practices. Similarly, a panel including public representatives from Mozambique, South Africa and the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG) discussed the main challenges facing cities on the continent and reflected on the objective of ensuring that citizens' expectations are translated into the major programmes and policies developed by international agencies and national governments.
“Most of the time there is no dialogue between local governments and those who have the knowledge. We need to fight against resistance from both sides and make these dialogues happen because universities have the capacity to capacitate local governments in different areas that affect sustainable infrastructure such as engineering, urban planning or environment. They have the knowledge that cities do not have and that's why the role of academic institutions is of paramount importance for us”. Manuel de Araújo, Mayor of Quelimane City, Mozambique, and member of the CoM SSA Regional Mayors Forum.
As a representative of the CoM SSA partnership, Shea O’Neil, had the chance to contribute to the closing session of the two-day conference, where the funding partners presented their highlights and key takeaways. In her intervention she underlined that the panel discussions and outcomes reinforced that it is essential to use innovative and participatory approaches when working with CoM SSA signatory cities in order to address the complex urban infrastructure challenges that local governments face in sub-Saharan Africa. CoM SSA will continue working with organisations such as ACC to bolster collaboration between local governments and academia.
The event ended with remarks by Edgar Pieterse, Director of ACC and South African Research Chair in Urban Policy, who emphasised the importance of the relationship between academia, institutions and civil society when it comes to sustainable urban development .He emphasised the complexity of simultaneously thinking about industrialisation, urbanisation, and climate, noting that it can only happen as a deeply co-produced process, with different actors participating in separate parts of the same puzzle
He concluded the conference with an encouraging message for the future stressing the fact that sustainable urban development creates an exhilarating opportunity to create, to be a practitioner, and to be a leader due to the urgent need for new modalities, new reference points, new interests and fundamentally new institutional capabilities to do things differently in the face of climate change.
The partnership between CoM SSA and ACC and the outcomes of the conference led to an additional exchange with one of CoM SSA signatory cities. The Mombasa County staff had the opportunity to engage in a workshop with ACC and CoM SSA on the most urgent adaptation issues faced by the city. By exploring complex issues related to adaptive infrastructure and climate change, the workshop aimed at identifying topics which will be explored in a joint innovative urban adaptation project between CoM SSA, ACC and local partners in Mombasa.
The workshop was enriched by a site visit to the Woodstock Waste Drop-off facility in Cape Town which allowed the participants to gain first-hand experience about solid waste management.
This initiative builds upon the will of Mombasa County to join hands with international actors to provide effective responses to the difficulties that climate change is creating for the County and its population. Both the outcomes of the conference and the work started with CoM SSA and ACC will allow Mombasa County to build the foundation for effective climate action.
By participating in these kinds of events, CoM SSA aims to bring the voice of African municipalities to the main forums of conversation on climate change and energy, while also trying to facilitate the creation of partnerships between local governments and non-governmental actors to generate synergies in the fight against climate change in Africa.