Africa’s urban transition is throwing up new challenges for international development assistance. Yet, at the same time, ‘non-traditional’ development partners are creating unprecedented opportunities for urban Africa. Older donors such as the World Bank, the UK and the US have long been inclined to focus most of their efforts on rural poverty, which sits uncomfortably with the ‘urban revolution’ and urbanisation of poverty on the continent. Although such donors are increasingly attempting to engage with these challenges, many of Africa’s ‘new’ development partners – such as China – have the advantage of their own recent experience of rapid urbanisation and developmental transformation. Also unlike the older donors, they are enthusiastic about funding major urban infrastructure and construction projects, including new transport systems, housing, and Special Economic Zones on the outskirts of African capitals.

Some have talked of a ‘new scramble for Africa’, echoing the arrival of the European powers in the late nineteenth century, and debates about whether this is ultimately good or bad for Africans continue. The urban dimension of European colonialism had distinctive characteristics: cities were viewed primarily as sites for resource extraction, spaces for projecting territorial domination, and places for colonists to settle. But what role do cities play for the new development actors on the continent, and what role do these actors play for African cities? How are these roles negotiated, and how are Africans using the opportunities provided by increasingly diverse international engagement to build cities in their own image?

This full day workshop will explore how the growing multi-polarity of development cooperation in Africa is transforming attitudes towards and practices of urban development, after decades of Western-influenced ‘good governance’ reforms that largely failed to address Africa’s urban challenges. It will map relevant existing research and practice, facilitate exchange of ideas about co-produced research and policy, and imagine urban futures.

Rather than a standard academic presentation format, the workshop will involve a series of exploratory discussions stimulated by some short reflections and provocations. Questions to be considered include:

– how is the rapid increase in investment, technical assistance and migration from rising global powers impacting on cities and urban populations in Africa?
– how are African governments harnessing aid and investment from China and other ‘new’ donors to build urban economies, and how is this affecting urban poverty and wellbeing?
– what kinds of urban development interventions do ‘traditional’ donors privilege in their approaches, and is engagement between these agencies and ‘new’ development actors changing the way urban challenges in Africa are conceived, debated and acted upon?
– to what extent are older donors such as the UK reimagining their own roles in urban Africa in the context of this changing development landscape?
– what are some of the political implications of these changes, at city, national and international scales?

If you are interested in attending, please email by Friday 19th May with a brief statement of your interest/experience/expertise in relation to any of these issues. A small amount of funding is available to support reasonable transport costs for those attending from outside of London.

This workshop is linked to the ESRC-funded project ‘Urban development amid the ‘new scramble’ for Africa: Trajectories of late urbanisation in a multi-polar world’.