The African Cities Research Consortium (ACRC) is commencing pilot action research projects in four African cities: Nairobi, Kenya; Harare, Zimbabwe; Maiduguri, Nigeria and Mogadishu, Somalia.

Aimed at reducing urban poverty and inequality, these interventions are the first in a portfolio of urban reform initiatives which ACRC is planning to implement, with the goal of accelerating transformative change in African cities.

Arising out of ACRC research findings and developed in consultation with local and city-level stakeholders, the four pilot projects were proposed by city research teams as potential solutions to address critical urban development challenges in their locations.

City-based researchers and practitioners – already versed in the ACRC research and approaches – will lead the projects.

In Nairobi, the pilot intervention focuses on improving children’s access to healthy diets. Current efforts to provide school meals in the city do not include informal schools and day care centres located in informal settlements, as they are not registered and are unrecognised by public authorities.

This project aims to strengthen and expand an existing school feeding programme to encompass schools located in informal settlements. It entails conducting action research to identify ways to link food production and supply systems within and outside the city, to sustainably supply food for the expanded school feeding programme.

The project in Harare centres around upgrading and regularising informal enterprises located in the Glen View Eight complex. Zimbabwe’s national government established the complex in the wake of its 2005 “Operation Murambatsvina” mass evictions, which saw more than 700,000 people lose their homes and businesses. Thousands of market spaces were provided for small entrepreneurs in the complex, but these were substandard, with inadequate connections to services and infrastructure.

The intervention will involve supporting the mobilisation of the informal traders, establishing a technical working group to address challenges faced by these entrepreneurs and conducting action research into processes of negotiation and implementation.

Maiduguri’s intervention builds on an existing effort by the Borno State Geographic Information System (BOGIS), which aims to better integrate informal settlement residents into land titling processes.

Complexities around land tenure and ownership in Maiduguri lead to frequent contestation and evictions, with lowest income groups the most vulnerable. This project will conduct action research to unearth ways to tackle uncertainties around customary land tenure processes and advance the interests of disadvantaged groups.

The Mogadishu pilot seeks to increase tenure security and access to justice for informal settlers and internally displaced people (IDPs). While informal and formal mechanisms for securing rights exist currently, they are complex, confusing and rarely used effectively.

Building on a model already used in IDP camps and on policies accepted by the state government, researchers will work with informal settlement residents to support them in navigating these adjudication mechanisms more effectively, and conduct action research around the processes themselves.

With ACRC’s foundation phase research in 12 African cities drawing to a close, the next phase of the programme centres around implementing action research interventions in a smaller number of cities.

Of the four pilot project cities, Nairobi and Harare have been chosen to progress to the final implementation phase of the ACRC programme, along with Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana. The complete line up of cities for the next phase of work will be confirmed at the end of the year.

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    Header photo credit: Diana Mitlin. Mathare informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya.

    Note: This article presents the views of the author featured and does not necessarily represent the views of the African Cities Research Consortium as a whole.

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