ACTUS workshop Agenda. Photo: Author

Rethinking Infrastructure Systems in East Africa

By: Carlos Andres Lopez Franco


Rethinking Infrastructure systems in East Africa
workshop was an event organised within the frame of the ACTUS project at Ardhi University in Dar es Salaam the 4th of August of 2016.

Its main purpose was to generate a space for discussion about water, energy and solid waste infrastructure in Tanzania and Kenya, its socio-economic and cultural relations, and the main obstacles on the road to a resilient urban development in African cities.

Several Tanzanian and International institutions were present: The Institute of Human Settlements Studies – IHSS, Borda Tanzania, the Centre for Community Initiatives CCI, The University of Technology of Darmstadt and the John Hopkins University. Their focus: Challenges and opportunities of the use of local technologies related to the urban services provision, and social cohesion strategies to improve welfare in informal and low-income settlements.

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Dr. Nathalie Jean-Baptiste stressing the climate predicament in Africa. Photo: Author

The workshop was divided in three parts.

Part I.

Following the welcome note from the Director of IHSS,Dr. Wilbard Kombe, Dr. Nathalie Jean Baptiste introduced the overall perspective around rethinking infrastructure systems in East African cities by stressing the climate / disaster risk and also resilience predicament. Furthermore, there was a brief analysis about the new Urban Agenda for Africa and its connection with the multiple urban realities.

Part II.

Five different experts contributed to the second part of the workshop. First, Jutta Camargo from Borda-Tanzania exposed some of the possible approaches to improve basic sanitation. Her presentation dealt with decentralized operating systems and local interventions in various neighbourhoods in Dar es Salaam. Continuing with this topic, Ms. Stella Stephen from the CCI presented their more recent projects about simplified sewerage, capacity building and solid waste management in low-income neighborhoods.

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Presentation from Dr. Rémi de Bercegol on slum electrification processes in Nairobi. Photo: Author

The third speaker, Dr. Rémi de Bercegol from TU Darmstadt, talked about the tensions related to slum electrification processes in Nairobi. Assistant professor Michael Degani from John Hopkins University followed the topic with a presentation about the ethnographic of the use, provision, and payment of electricity. His narrative situated the current relationship between the authorities and vulnerable communities in Dar es Salaam. Finally, Mary Grace Weber, consultant for the World Bank, closed the session with an update on ton-going World Bank programs.

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Jutta Carmargo and Laura Brigth-Davies from BORDA. Photo: Author

Part III.

The third part of the workshop included group discussions guided by three main questions:

Q1. What are the areas which inequalities of access to infrastructure can be tackled?
Q2. How can we overcome the divide between decentralized and centralized as well as private and public urban infrastructure systems?
Q3. And what are the opportunities and barriers for the integration of different infrastructure services/domains?

Several points were raised as a conclusion for the workshop: In response to the first question, Group 1 enlisted important points to take in account for a continuous urban upgrading in terms of accessibility to equitable infrastructure such as: The need of a flexible and affordable urban planning which should include a stakeholder approach within a participatory process. The conception and acceptance of decentralized systems supported by public policies with a clear regulatory framework, and the necessity of more effective financial strategies to formalize public services.

In response to the second question, Group 2 highlighted some of the main issues connected with the duality within the services provision, proposing significant points to be considered, such as: The importance of create independent and mandatory guidelines which could be applied to centralize and decentralized systems as way to keep the quality, the accessibility and the efficiency. The possibility to create public-private coalitions attempting to improve the supervision, transparency and continuity for services provision, and the stakeholder characterization and integration, promoting the access to information, the mutual responsibility and the good practices.

In response to the third question, Group 3 analyzed the co-relation among different infrastructures services, their opportunities and obstacles, such as: The disconnection between water and wastewater infrastructure in terms of management, policies and professional taskforce, could be an incentive to promote innovated and multidisciplinary initiatives to develop. The active integration of several communities and their interest to upgrade their current situation provides a fertile ground for creative and resilient solutions with environmental awareness.

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Group work session on the duality within different urban services. Photo: Author

As conclusion, the participants agreed with the idea that it is necessary a bottom-up social approach with the government support to face the new infrastructure challenges. Moreover, the particular chances that the African cities are passing through, especially linked with environment and social issues, it is becoming an opportunity to reframe the outdated urban models applied before, and shift them to a new perspective where sustainability and social upgrading are the base for human development.

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ACTUS workshop participants at Ardhi University. Photo: Author