The Path-Breaking Potential of African Cities

“The challenge is to learn in the blink of an eye…” Mark Swilling reflected on the pace of innovation and change in the context of African cities.

The workshop began by painting a picture of the unique energy transition in Sub-Saharan countries. Special attention was paid to the ramifications of the transition to decentralised energy production with regards to growth of the urban populations in Africa: this is expected to be three times that of today by 2050.

In this workshop there was a consensual recognition of just how unknown the future is in this context: we cannot predict the way in which African cities will develop. Whether these cities will develop through conventional fossil energy sources or leapfrog to renewables, the conditions of development will be radically different from historical transitions in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, a better understanding of the emerging local energy economies will open new opportunities for creating inclusive and viable cities. The second half of the workshop explored, from an interdisciplinary perspective, what these local energy economies may look like and how this will impact future cities in Sub-Sahara Africa.

What is the imagined future? How can we overcome current challenges to reach this future?
A future is needed where rapid growth of decentralised renewable energy production and investment in rural communities as well as cities, and the whole spectrum in between, has resulted in a radically different pattern of urban development that is less central and more equitable. For this we need, as Jochen Monstadt predicted in the workshop, “hybridity, heterogeneity and creativity of actual delivery systems … [will] survive and contribute to the fabric of urban futures”.