ACRC’s theory of change identifies coalition-building among diverse stakeholders as a key factor enabling inclusive urban reform – particularly by actively involving organised disadvantaged groups.

We define urban reform coalitions as groups of diverse stakeholders – potentially involving civil society, state agencies, private enterprises – who perceive benefits in coming together, for varying lengths of time, to achieve common goals.

To this end, we have been engaged in advancing the practical application, theoretical understanding and strategic opportunities of urban reform coalitions. In mid-June 2023, we organised a three-day conference in Manchester, exploring the role of reform coalitions for equitable, inclusive and sustainable urban outcomes.

Building on deliberations from the conference, we held a webinar in September 2023 to discuss the role that academics, action researchers and professionals can play in fostering the formation and functioning of urban reform coalitions. In doing so, we wanted to give special focus to how knowledge and evidence can catalyse urban reform coalitions.

Chaired by ACRC research associate, Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael, the webinar comprised presentations from three panellists, who talked about their experiences of working with urban reform coalitions and shared valuable lessons learned, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Shalini Sinha, Urban Asia Lead and Home-based Work Sector Specialist at Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), started by talking about the “I, Too, am Delhi” campaign, including the importance of having multi-sectoral partnerships and an intersectional perspective, along with the need to “demystify the technical”.

Next up, Catherine Sutherland, Associate Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, shared her experiences and lessons from co-producing knowledge with disadvantaged groups in a project aimed at building flood resilience in Durban, South Africa. Discussing the collaborative Palmiet Catchment Rehabilitation Project in Durban, Catherine showed how academics can use their privileged position to work as intermediaries between communities and state actors, using innovative methodologies and pragmatic framing.

Finally, Paul Mukwaya, Coordinator at the Urban Action Lab, talked about his experiences as part of the Just City and Informality Working Group, led by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Uganda. He highlighted some of the challenges around sustaining urban reform coalitions, as well as how lessons drawn from informality can strengthen policy and practice for more just city futures.

Ezana closed the session by highlighting the necessity of further research and deliberations around urban reform coalitions, to advance our strategic understanding of how to sustain urban coalitions as reform agendas change, manage expectations among coalition partners – considering the slow pace of reform – and resolve conflicts of interests among coalition members and external stakeholders.

Watch or listen to the full webinar recording below and find out more about the projects discussed by the panellists via the links provided.


The full podcast transcript is available below.

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Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Welcome to the African Cities podcast. I’m Ezana Haddis, researcher at the African Cities Research Consortium. I’m going to be chairing this webinar entitled “How can knowledge and evidence catalyse urban reform coalitions?” We hope that you learn from our panellists and actively contribute to the conversation. For those who are unfamiliar with the African Cities Research Consortium and its acronym, ACRC, it is a six-year FCDO-funded research programme that is seeking to generate new knowledge and operationally relevant evidence to address intractable development challenges in African cities. ACRC’s theory of change identifies one of the key factors enabling inclusive urban reform as coalition building among diverse stakeholders, particularly by actively involving organised disadvantaged groups. We conceptualise urban reform coalitions as groups of diverse stakeholders, potentially involving civil society groups, state agencies, private enterprises, organised community groups, who perceive benefits in coming together for a different length of time to achieve a common goal or a common agenda. Based on this understanding of urban reform coalitions, we have been engaged in advancing the theoretical and strategic understanding of urban reform coalitions. Recently, in mid-June this year, we organised a three-day international conference in Manchester on the role of reform coalitions for equitable, inclusive and sustainable urban outcomes. Building on those deliberations from the June conference, today we’ll discuss what role academics, action researchers and professionals could play in fostering the formation and the functioning of urban reform coalitions. In doing so, for today, we’ll give a special focus on how knowledge and evidence can catalyse urban reform coalitions. We’re going to start things off shortly with a presentation by Shalini Sinha, WIEGO’s urban Asia lead and home-based work sector specialist. WIEGO is Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising. Shalini will highlight the role of WIEGO in facilitating knowledge production in the “I, Too, Am Delhi” campaign and the key takeaways from their role in the campaign. Shalini will be followed by Catherine Sutherland, an associate professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She will share her experience and key lessons in knowledge co-production with disadvantaged groups in Durban, South Africa. Then, Paul Mukwaya, coordinator of Urban Action Lab, and an academic at University of Makerere, will briefly present Urban Action Lab’s efforts and key lessons in supporting reform coalition building and co-producing knowledge with disadvantaged groups. After the three panellists’ presentations, we will open the discussion for questions and answers. Now, without further ado, I would like to invite Shalini Sinha. Shalini, you have the floor. Thank you.

Shalini Sinha Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m going to speak about a campaign that we ran in Delhi along with a host of partners. It was called “I, Too, Am Delhi: Let’s make the city together”. And the campaign actually was built around the new masterplan that the city was making. And it brought together 40 plus activists, researchers, academics, civil society organisations, collectives, with the goal of engaging with the masterplan in the hope that the masterplan would be more inclusive and participatory, inclusive in its writing and implementation and participatory in its writing and implementation subsequently. Before I go there, I want to introduce my own work, which is around informal livelihood. And so our engagement around the masterplan was around livelihood. But there were several others who were representing different constituencies and different issues, and those were… it could be around gender, it could be around transport, it could be around housing, but all of it came from marginalised groups. So even though we had a very diverse set of partners coming together, I think the goal that brought us all together was to be able to contribute towards an inclusive city and that city then and that process then we thought could come through the masterplan. Now the masterplan, as you know, is a statutory instrument. It’s sort of decides how the city is going to be built, allocates spaces for different kind of activities. But on the other hand, for the livelihood groups, it is also often cited even for housing, for livelihoods is often cited for evictions and penalisation, etc. So for our own advocacy for informal workers, which are 80% of the total workers in the city of Delhi, it was important that we engage in this process. And in our efforts to engage in this process, we were part of this coalition. As I said, it had very diverse membership, it had 40 plus members, and it was loose, not registered, but we started in 2019 and came together several times for several activities. I will explain that a little bit later. As I said, the three main pillars were livelihood, gender and housing, but it did also include many other aspects, okay. Now, in 2019, when we started off, you know, one of the first issues that we wanted to talk about was get the people’s voices in. And so the initial phase of 2019 of starting then was not because the window of giving inputs to a draft masterplan was opened then, that opened in 2022. We started in 2019 because it was heard that a think tank had been contracted out to draft the masterplan. And we thought that a simultaneous process of creating knowledge which would then build into feeding into the whole writing of the masterplan rather than waiting for the draft masterplan to be out there and then give feedback. So we started off with the whole process of, you know, having public meetings, gathering information from the grassroots up, but then converting them into knowledge products, which not only depicted the real issues from the ground, but also gave very concrete kind of inputs into, you know, it talked about how to not just a manifesto of demands, but more emphasis on how and also using the planning language. The coalition had different strategies at different times, and in the initial stages it was created a knowledge product, used it to influence the drafters of the masterplan, people who were writing it in formal, informal meetings, presentations, etc. And once the draft masterplan was out, then the strategy of the campaign also changed, in that we then became actual participants of the masterplan and went in and gave input on the masterplan. So that’s a very, very brief historical trajectory of how the coalition works. So here I’m now just going to talk about the key lessons that we wanted to produce. First of all, was that the whole technocratic nature of knowledge, of planning as a technical object that will that is used, this view is used to exclude many marginalised people. And many times, people who are living on the margins have an idea of what they want from the city, how they want the city, but are often not able to translate it into technical. So I think one of the technical planning are articulated into a technical planning language. So the first thing was to demystify the technical, to talk about the masterplan and to decode it for our grassroot partners, and then to take the partners’ input into the kind of propositions that we wanted from the plan, and therefore so the reclaiming the technical and saying that, you know, masterplan can be a space for negotiation, for better designing for a better city and that can be done through a coalition is I think, what we tried to do. The diverse coalition partners with different strands was, came in very, very handy for us because we wanted to talk in the language of the planning. We wanted to talk about how. We wanted to actually give very concrete suggestions which could be included into the draft planning paper itself. And in order to do that, we were ready with this coalition which had researchers, academics, practitioners, as well as activists, as well as the community. And there was a lot of, lot of information and knowledge flow between them and a churning that happened with the process at different phases for what was needed, and it translated into different knowledge products. Many of them you will see on our website, they are called fact sheets, they are called technical reports, they are called media sheets. But let me give you the example of one of the first knowledge products that we produced, and there was a host of them, more than 15 or 18 of them, which is called a fact sheet. A fact sheet: this name was chosen very specifically. It was a fact sheet. It was not a manifesto of demands. The fact sheet was supposed to be about one issue, so it could be about one sector of informal livelihood like street vendors. It had facts and data at one end. It had challenges that the sector faced, and then it had a set of recommendations. Now, the challenge was to sort of do it in a way in which we were able to make it accessible both to the communities that we were talking to, but also to the planners. So that itself was a challenge in which repeatedly, the activists and the scholars came together to articulate in a way which addressed both these group of audience. The nature of the coalition and the nature of the writing and the spaces of negotiation we got made the alliance to be very nimble on its feet. It was not one strategy that we followed. Knowledge production was one strategy, but the nature of knowledge products that were produced during the campaign also varied. So I gave you an example of fact sheet. And then when the draft masterplan came out, there’s another example of intervention of people going in and engaging with the plan and giving their comments to the plan. And the coalition was able to give as many as 20,000 odd and these were communities. But then that happened because the masterplan, draft masterplan, was also quite technical, even when it was written by the coalition because of its various actors, able to decode it to the community, take it to the community, and then help the community to participate in giving their feedback, Of course, and grounded in the whole coalition was the grassroot accountability and accountability started with consultation with the grassroot communities, and we continue to do that, even as more and more researchers, etc, aligned with us. And so the centre of the knowledge product remained the coalition, and it remained this group of people who were keeping this knowledge for a particular purpose. It was not something that was supposed to be in any way sort of academically oriented, but it was for the purpose of this kind of advocacy. Subsequently, we see that many of the products that we have produced and knowledge products and our own work, we have been writing about it and our partners who are from academics and researchers have been writing, have been writing about it, using it for theorising and for other further research. But so have our grassroots partners who have been using these products for advocacy, for getting their demands, but asking for their demand. So there is this mixing of practice and… Theory and mixing of practice, which determined the nature of the campaign, but it also laid the foundation of a strong movement and also subsequent local struggles which will follow in the implementation of this masterplan. Thank you.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much, Shalini, it’s interesting work. Following Shalini, Catherine, you have the floor.

Catherine Sutherland Thank you so much. And thank you to the African Cities Research Consortium for inviting me to chat to you today. It’s really given me a space to think about the role of researchers or as we are in academia, our role in these urban reform coalitions. And so I would like to talk to you about our case study, it’s the Palmiet Catchment Rehabilitation Project in Durban. It’s quite a small catchment. It’s a river that runs over about 27 kilometres through the inner core of our city and it enters one of the largest rivers in Durban, Umgeni River. It’s at this point where we have the Quarry Road West informal settlement, that I and my research team work a lot in to participate in this Palmiet Catchment Rehabilitation Project. And I must say that this work isn’t just work of my own that I’m presenting today, this knowledge that I’m presenting today comes from the communities that live in the settlement and also from my team of researchers at UKZN. So what’s interesting about this catchment project is you might wonder, how do rivers or how do catchment rehabilitation projects become framed as urban reform coalition projects? And I think what we’ve realised in Durban is that our city is a city of rivers. And we began to realise that the rivers hold, they capture, they move and they deal with a wide range of unmanaged risk in our city. So many of the urban challenges we experience come through the catchments and are actually reflected then in the rivers. And that can be pollution, sanitation, runoff from poor stormwater management, solid waste and also interestingly they absorb the excess or the people moving into our city that don’t have access to adequate housing. So many of our informal settlements, where people are claiming the right to the city, are on riverbanks in high or precarious spaces. But that’s because it’s marginal land and that’s where they can establish themselves in the city. So in fact, rivers are even holding the spaces for urban informality in the city. So this urban reform coalition has been going on for ten years. And through this project and other similar ones with different kinds of governance models, we started to realise there was a process of urban reform happening through our rivers and our catchments that would really enable the city to address some of its key challenges. And these projects have come together under Durban’s Transformative Riverine Management programme, which was launched in 2021. And this programme is interesting because what it looks at is how do we use ecological infrastructure, ecosystem services to support the built infrastructure in our city? How do we support community-based ecosystem adaptation, which is a key focus of adaptation and climate adaptation in our city. And most importantly, what these projects do is that they create social learning and they create partnerships between the states and citizens. And through engaging in these catchment rehabilitation projects, we start to see different relationships forming, but a wide range of actors who actually exist in the catchment. And you can see in this catchment we’ve got formal settlements, we’ve got an industrial park, wastewater treatment works, informal settlements, Palmiet Nature Reserve, the University, all of these different activities in one catchment. And so a wide range of stakeholders that come into the space. And as I said, my work focuses mainly in this informal settlement, but we actively engage in all parts of the catchment. And so who are all the actors that are part of this urban reform coalition? Well, it’s the state, through a wide range of departments, largely led by climate protection branch, but also coastal stormwater and catchment management. We’ve been able to draw human settlements in, environmental health, the water and sanitation department. We also have local community forums from the middle class suburbs of this catchment, which is quite interesting. They come through as ratepayers’ associations or conservancies, and then we have a group of community-based researchers that we’ve trained in this community as well as community members who actively participate in this project. And what’s amazing is that last week we had our Palmiet Catchment Rehabilitation meeting, and still after ten years, even though this is a voluntary process and we really are still struggling, I don’t know that the water quality in this river is any better than when we started. But we have achieved certain important things in this work. We had 50 people in a Wednesday morning meeting coming from the municipality, coming from these community groups, from the University, and very actively engaged around the action plan that we’ve established for this catchment and arguing and contesting about what should be happening in the city. So it’s amazing to think that after ten years you can still fill a room with actively engaged citizens and the state through trying to look forward to how we can reform our city. So what I thought to do was to reflect on what is the role of researchers, where do we fit into these processes? And what I wanted to start off with is that, to explain that as researchers, we are actually embedded in these urban reform coalitions ourselves. So we’re very much part of one of the active groups that participate in these coalitions. But I think we need to reflect on and this is particularly around the knowledge production part of what I’m sort of what the seminar focussed on is that because it’s around knowledge production, we do hold a privileged position in these urban reform coalitions in relation to knowledge. And so we need to think about how we exercise our power very wisely because we play the role of intermediaries or bridges. And what I mean by that is that we have the ability to shift discourses, so we’ve seen in this particular project, we’ve been able to reframe the state’s understanding of informality and informal settlements in the city. And at the same time, we’ve been able to reframe our working and co-production processes with the informal community, their understanding of the state and  what is possible for the state, what can states actually do, what can they do in driving their own development forward? We’ve also been able to humanise the ideas for the city around what it means to live in an informal settlement and to be part of the urban fabric and how the city responds to that. And very importantly, I think we play a key role in negotiating and perhaps shifting some of the positionality of gatekeepers. The key sort of gatekeepers in this catchment are sometimes the political gatekeepers who play off their politics in these spaces, but also sometimes these very conservative ratepayer groups who have a very particular view of the city. We also co-produced knowledge with marginalised communities, I think in a way as researchers that brings the kind of issues and challenges they face into an idea of a research process. So what we’ve tried to do with the community in that informal settlement that we work with and they are co-producing knowledge, they are raising the issues and challenges that they face, but they’re not just raising the issues, we are reframing them with them to set them as research questions. And those research questions reflect their reality and their needs. But because they’re framed in the way of research questions, they’re able to speak to science and policy. And so they transfer more easily into the kind of language and knowledge base of the state. We also are able to produce and work with different kinds of methodologies and technologies because of our position in the research space and as academics. And so through this form of new kinds of methodologies, we work with communities to again, translate what they know into policy-relevant data and formats. And the examples we have there is that we used photo voice, for example, to work on the Narratives of Home project, where we used images and narratives of living in informal settlements to communicate to the city what it means, what does home and place mean when you live in an informal settlement? And so when we faced the floods in Durban in 2019 and 2022, this brought a new lens to climate induced mobility and how the state should respond to rehousing these informal residents because they understood the narratives of home. So through a participatory GIS process, we also did GIS mapping with the community, and we discovered that the state’s database said that there were about 450 houses in that settlement, and of course that was outdated. And we then got to the point that actually there were 1,100 households in that segment, which both empowered the state and the community, because they weren’t aware how many households they had within their own community around what is the planning when you face risk in that informal settlement community and what are we dealing with? And then another important point I’ve been thinking about for a while is that I think that as academics, we are able to understand that different knowledges manage over space and time, as research is being able to read the context and be able to read the landscape. We interested in the connections between things so we can shape in a sense how and which knowledge moves and what time and where. Even just the idea of Diana Mitlin creating this sort of knowledge base of urban coalitions has created an analytical framework that gives a home and some power to the knowledge that we producing in the spaces that we working in. And so we can use these different knowledges over space and time in ways that actually interface with the kinds of strategies or policies that the city’s working with. And then to finish off some of the challenges is the risk of our own positionality. What is our own agency and our agenda when we are working in these spaces? And sometimes my team within the city are known as social scientists because we work with the state, we partner with the state. So what does it mean when we are less critical social scientists? Well, I think we are critical, actually, but we get framed as “tame” social scientists because we’re trying to build relationships or partnerships between the state and citizens. And of course, we’ve got to continue to obtain funding because it’s through using our funding that we can draw in different actors into the space or different knowledge bases so that we can try and support this urban reform coalition going forward. And so I think one of the things that we really need to understand is about how as researchers, we stay on the road with communities. They’re going to continue living in that informal settlement for many years to come. The chances of them being relocated are very slim. So how do we use what we can do to stay the long distance? Because really, to create this kind of transformation probably will take us 20, 30, 40 years and we’ve got to stay the distance. So thank you for listening to me today, and I look forward to the other presentations and the debate that will be had. Thank you.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much, Catherine. I will call upon Paul.

Paul Mukwaya Thank you so much for this opportunity to speak to the group and all the participants. Paul Mukwaya are my names. I’m coming from university-based lab, I’m a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography – Geography, Informatics and Climatic Sciences – but I also lead activities in the Urban Action Lab. The Urban Action Lab is about 15 years old and informed by then UN-Habitat that was interested in having a home in universities with regard to climate change and urban development, especially in higher education institutions. That’s where we started. But we have evolved as a space. We have evolved as a platform and we have also evolved as a research group. We are working with a wide spectrum of actors and therefore our belief in the Urban Action Lab is that knowledge resides within communities. And therefore, questions of the methodology that we take out there to speak to communities is that we engage a lot with community science, they are the data collectors, they are the data owners, and that’s the best possible and appropriate methodologies that originate within the communities are very important for us. So the Urban Action Lab, again, has engaged with quite a number of reform coalitions. Some of these speak directly to a broad range of urban related issues, but some of the issues are issue specific. For example, you could have the National Transport Consultative Forum, you could have the Gulf Association of Kampala, you could have the Uganda Pit Emptiers Association, you could have the platform for vendors in Uganda. But there are those that are broadly to the broad urban development issues, for example, the National Urban Forum. But today I wanted to speak about the Just City and Informality Working Group. The Just City and Informality Working Group is about three years old. It started informally by its nature, by its name, Informality Working Group, it started informally. And we’ve been moving through several stages. We used to call it the Informal Working Group, now we are calling it the Informality Working Group, and we just added “Just City”. Essentially, our interest is to speak about injustice. We’re interested in speaking about disadvantaged issues, people and wherever they are, we speak about broader informality concerns. And of course, we are operating in a very unequal space that is typical of Kampala City. Now, this Informality Working Group was an initiative from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung foundation, it’s a German organisation, an advocacy group. But what we’ve done is to divide ourselves into four sub-work groups: one that speaks directly to informal trade, another that speaks directly on informal housing, another speaks on informal basic service delivery and the fourth group speaks directly on informal transportation. And what the Informality Working Group does is to bring together communities, community groups. All societies, that’s civil society, academia and civil urban development practitioners. And our interest is again largely to improve the lives of citizens and to emphasise the areas of injustice, areas of disadvantage, areas of informality, and of course, the many unequal spaces that we have in Kampala City. So we articulate the issues that are reflecting these groups of people, but we also go ahead to advocate for good practices. Of course, Kampala City is largely over 60% of the economy, 65% is informal, and over 70% of the population is engaged in mostly in the informal sector. Therefore, what we do in the Informality Working Group is to advocate for good practices that inform broader strategic actions by the responsible duty bearers. So our interests, rather than thinking about suppressing informality, our interest is to speak directly, to say, to argue that informality is very important and it is part and parcel of the city domain. And we therefore need to draw lessons on how we can strengthen policies and practices to ensure that we have just city future for the whole population across the city. Like I said, we normally work in communities and if we emphasise again, our idea is the belief that urban knowledge originates in communities. It resides there. And therefore we work with communities to ensure that the best forms of action that we believe can change the whole city are very important. And in many of these meetings, policy briefs that we generate together with the communities, these are very, very important and they speak directly to the issues that are very important for the community that we work with, to some of the informal settlements that we normally work with. And what we are also, advantage as the Urban Action Lab is that we work directly with the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda that has a very strong footprint in these communities. And the question that we don’t go out with normally, but we generate it with community members is something that speaks directly to the work that we do most. But what is very important is that as we generate knowledge together with the communities, there is the need to build community capacities. Not all communities are better able to handle the community challenges. So the capacities to generate the knowledge, the capacities to seek appropriate solutions is very important and we speak directly to this. And therefore, that engagement that we continue to have with the advocacy groups, that we have with politicians, that we have with local leaders, that we have with the civil society organisations and several community groups is very important to identify and see through those community capacities that need to be built. But we are also aware that as we do this work, there is a strong political muscle that is increasingly infiltrating our works. And we have a series of political politicians that have strong links to the state. Some of these are state bureaucrats and business actors with several business interests. And we are considering these selfish interests. And as they are creating lots of leadership conflicts and quarrels and of course also creating rival coalitions even within the three Informality Working Group, we are seeing a situation where a few groups of people are creating rival coalitions and therefore at some point earlier this year we were losing cohesion and therefore difficult to increase our legitimacy. The third thing that we are identifying as we create knowledge within communities is how do we manage the different expectations of the different groups of people in these reform coalitions? The process of coalition building is for us very hard. It requires a lot of time. Time on the part of the Urban Action Lab, but the many actors we need a lot of time and of course the resources. And therefore there is a need to think through how best can we mobilise sufficient resources so that the process is sustainable, but also we can manage the expectations, but not withstanding the infiltration, we are also observing a situation where the interests of members are shifting from time to time. That relates to managing expectations. So that also derails the process of properly organising the Informality Working Group and of course realising the intended outcomes that we envisage at the end of the day. That’s what I wanted to share with you.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much, Paul. Thank you very much, all three presenters. If I’m forced to wrap it up, or to summarise it, I could say like Shalini introduced us to how mobilisation matters and Catherine showed us how geography matters and Paul highlighted how politics matters. Now, I would like to open the floor for questions and answers. Okay, we have a first question. The first question is from Lindani Mtshali from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, I guess. What strategies can be employed to build and sustain cross-sectoral partnerships with urban reform coalitions?

Catherine Sutherland Can I come in, Ezana?

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Okay.

Catherine Sutherland Yes, I think I mean, when I think of the other two presentations today, I think they were raising some of these critical issues about how do you build these cross-sectoral strategies. And I think that, again, this importance of co-production comes to the fore because we often think of trying to build these strategies from the outset. So how do we do this? But so often in these processes, in urban reform conditions, and I thought that was really so interesting when we looked at the work on the masterplan in Delhi, is that what you see is that the kind of strategies evolve out of you engaging with the particular focus that you have. So in engaging with that masterplan, a whole lot of strategies and we heard those lovely ideas of the fact sheets that were used in different ways by different groups, so that’s how knowledge was used, is that I guess you’ve got to have some idea of your strategy, but your strategy is almost to uphold what the kind of vision or principle of an urban reform coalition is. And then when you start to engage with the work and you start to co-produce knowledge with a wide range of actors who all in a sense going or should be aiming in the same direction, then your opportunities for strategy start to emerge. So I think I would say that you’ve got to have some idea of the overall strategy and vision, and that’s really about keeping the actor network together. But as you co-produce knowledge, then what happens is in this engagement with each other, you find that there is mapping that emerged out of our work, that that was something that the community and the state needed. And so we went down that road. So often you’ve got to be able to be open enough to create strategies and processes that do become cross-sectoral by engaging with all of those actors in the space. So it’s a little bit different to the way in which we’re used to working where we have a strategy and we go and do it. These strategies are actually often emergent. I’m not sure if that’s correct, but that’s how I would kind of see it.

Paul Mukwaya Ezana?

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Yes, go ahead.

Paul Mukwaya Yeah, that’s a very interesting question. And that has come through in the work that we have done for ACRC over the past about 17 months or so. Now, the idea, I think for me, is addressing the questions of positionality, but co-production of knowledge is very important. So what we normally do and what we’ve done as the Urban Action Lab is for these many actors, if the actors, the communities can identify with a problem, can relate with the urban challenge, if they think it’s a challenge telling, and we ensure to communicate a message that we are all in it together. And we are all we all have the solution to get this challenge resolved. So once the actors identify that, then they are all brought on board to ensure that we can move forward and together. So continuous engagement that we are all in together, we are relating with the challenge, has helped us a lot.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much, Paul. Shalini, I’ll give you a chance to respond, you know how to sustain this cross-sectoral partnership, but I will add another question, which you can also respond together. This comes from Jennifer Houghton. I’m sorry for not pronouncing your name properly. How can coalitions respond to emerging issues that might perhaps be shifting from the initial focus of the coalitions? It relates with, you know, how to sustain a coalition, so, Shalini?

Shalini Sinha So I’m going to respond from our experience of the coalition, which was trying to influence the masterplan. And in a sense, our strategies changed as the masterplan, as the external environment of the masterplan changed. So when it was going to be, when there was brainstorming of how it was going to be drafted, how it was going to be written, we had a different set of strategies. And when it was out, when it was the draft masterplan was out, we had a different set of strategies, even in our knowledge products that I have said. So it is important to understand what you are trying to influence at what time. So and what is the platform that you are using. So in the initial stage there was no platform, there was no process in which you could engage. So it was a more informal way of influencing the writers of the masterplan, saying, look, we have some facts, figures, suggestions – we’ll come and tell you about it. Why don’t you hear us out? Once we went there, we made sure that it was presented by a community member. So we established that the community members who were backed by scholars and academics were part of the team, but it was the community member, the informal worker, the street vendor who was presenting, or their groups were presenting, thus establishing that these marginalised groups can contribute as a stakeholder to the writing of the masterplan. So the strategy was not just of creating knowledge product, but how to present the knowledge product that we were creating. And it varied. So let me tell you the story of giving objections. So that is a proper institutionalised mechanism in which a window of a few weeks is given, where any citizen of Delhi can give comments, suggestions, etc to the draft masterplan which came after two years. So when that opened, what happened was that we were all sort of the draft masterplan was out, we were studying, it was very, very technical and our community groups were saying, what is it? And so we had to do another set of engagement in which we are the “scholars”, quote unquote, but able to decode the masterplan into a language which the community could understand and respond to. But how would the community’s response be presented to the people who were writing… The Delhi Development Board, which was writing the masterplan? So the thing is that it was during Covid times and they used the Covid time to reduce the window of giving presentations, and it has to be online using very sophisticated digital platforms, not Zoom, etc, but much more sophisticated, which are really out there, which cannot be accessed by the people that we work with. So there the strategy was that at one level, you were facilitating feedback from the community, but at another level you were also creating a medium to give that feedback. So the protests on the streets was we want to give physical feedback in writing. No digital, we cannot do digital. There is a great digital divide in Delhi. So we want to come and give the feedback, set up a desk which can get our feedback. So I think there are two aspects to it of, you know, addressing issues. One is the whole timeline of the main issue that you are following, and the second is how you present the knowledge that you have created, co-created, co-produced. But presentation is also… And that itself, this whole process in our case actually led to cross-pollination of ideas in jobs. So housing people were also talking about home-based workers and home-based workers were also talking about housing. But similarly, activists were speaking and community was speaking the language of the planners and academics were speaking the language of demands. So there was a cross-pollination of ideas, cross-pollination of articulation, cross-pollination across issues as well.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much, Shalini. We have two questions. One is from a colleague from The University of Manchester, Joe Ravetz, Future Cities lead at Manchester Urban Institute. The question is from Joe’s work on the global peri-urban, typically a zone of land conflict, local versus global, bypassing of communities and livelihoods. So Joe is asking you in this context of peri-urbanisation, how to start building wider knowledge coalitions in such a fragmented space. And the second is from Kenny Lynch from the University of Gloucestershire. Thank you for the great presentations. I wonder if any of the speakers could share any observations they may have on edge of city settings. Kenny’s interested in the edge of cities and how urban processes of fast growing cities bleed into the peri-urban areas, in line with Joe Ravetz’s question.

Catherine Sutherland Yeah, I don’t mind having a try at answering some of those questions, Ezana. I mean, I think it’s very interesting these questions about peri-urban areas and edge of cities. So Durban is a fascinating city because 43% of our city is actually under dual governance, it’s governed by municipal administration and by traditional authority. So we have this work that we do on other forms of reform, urban coalitions around the spaces where you have, again, these very conflicted spaces, very contested about how this space is being formed. And in fact, in those areas, it’s literally like city building from below, where communities are building the city for themselves outside of these formal processes. And the same idea with sort of edge cities where you create a second city adjacent to the city, and how do you bring that into the sort of, I guess, urban reform coalition idea, if you’re working in the sort of city frame and you’ve now got this edge space? But I think what you’ve got to try and do is you’ve got to look at who all your actors are in that space. And perhaps that’s where as researchers, we’ve got to try and be smart and almost think of hooks that you can try and bring with the state or whoever is really governing in those spaces. You’ve got to find the key actors that are governing. And sometimes that’s out of the formal system and you’ve got to try and think about how you create these kind of hooks that start bringing people into a space where collectively you can start to recognise that even though it’s highly contested, and I can tell you in our Palmiet Catchment project, it can be highly contested when you’ve got formal residents with informal settlers. But what you do is you bring people in through this hook of what is really in a sense a common challenge that everyone’s trying to go forward. And that’s kind of what you and Diana have written about in urban reform coalitions is that you might be coming at it from different perspectives. It might be highly contested, but there’s something that links everybody together. And by understanding all those actors, when we started on this project, we first had to just try and map out who all the actors work and to find clever ways, and like Shalini said, you’ve got to have different strategies at different times to bring in different actors so that you actually bring them together and find some hook or some issue that’s going to link everybody that starts everyone engaging. And then through that you can you start finding smaller partnerships forming and then over time you can build it. And I know it sounds maybe too positive or too easy, but I really think this is how these things start, and we certainly see it in our city, where so many spaces are highly contested and and highly political that there is still this, I still believe in this idea that actually for all people, there’s this kind of goodwill or this good intention to live in a good society. And if you can find a hook, where you can start seeing other people’s positions and putting yourself in other people’s shoes, suddenly you start seeing your city differently and you start shifting your position. And I think as researchers or in academia we have, you know, that was part of that privileged power that I spoke about, that I think we can read that landscape and try and create these hooks that bring everyone in into the start up, at least of the coalition. It might collapse, but at least you’re starting. So that would be my response to both those questions. And sometimes we just have to try and you just have to start and it’s amazing what comes out of beginning together.

Paul Mukwaya Ezana?

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Paul, okay.

Paul Mukwaya  These questions for me are very related, including the first one on how do you respond to emerging issues. But how do you then respond to the shifting intentions or interests of the reform coalition members? For example, a fragmented space could also be an emerging issue. We are working in a toxic, for example, in Kampala City, in a politically toxic environment. We are working in very uneven spaces. Even the question number three would be about edge cities would be an emerging issue. And therefore, for me, it depends on the type of coalition. In Uganda’s case, or Kampala’s case, we have coalitions that are broad in nature, they address more or less all issues with regard to urban development challenges. But there are also other coalitions that are issue-specific. And therefore there is no room for them to navigate into another emerging issue. And therefore the complexity as the cities change, including having edge cities, you may not be able to create coalition after coalition. You may run into that risk of creating coalition after coalition. But it depends, again, in my view, on what is the intention of the coalition? Is there room for each to navigate into an emerging issue or is it as respected as it can be? In Kampala’s case, we have, for example, the National Transport Consultative Forum, that is not restricted to just the jurisdictions of Kampala City, but it addresses issues even within the surrounding municipalities. So it just gives… My view is that the concerns of the coalitions are very important and therefore giving them room to navigate whatever emerging issues is coming across them. Ezana.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much, Paul. Shalini?

Shalini Sinha I just want to add to what the other two panellists have said. Besides the fact, besides all the various issues, I just want to add one thing to what Catherine was saying about a hook. It’s important to have a hook, but also with it is also important is to deeply explore the stakeholders or people who are going to be influenced by that particular hook, because sometimes in the articulation of a problem or the solution, trying to find a solution of the problem, we may not include everybody who’s influenced. For instance, city planning typically would not look at the informal workers, particularly, say the workers who work from their homes, because they see that they’re working from their homes, it’s a labour issue, it is not a planner issue. But once you explore their context, you know, then when the home becomes a place of work, it becomes a housing issue, it becomes a city planning issue. So I think the identification of stakeholders and identification and nuancing of the issue is equally important as one of hook. And second is that, you know, if the coalition is run on sort of democratic principles at least, and Main Bhi Dilli are facing this, that “I, Too, Am Delhi” – I said the Hindi version of it – the “I, Too, Am Delhi” is that once the masterplan comes out, will we die out? Will the coalition die out? Or will it take another form in which it will start engaging with zonal implementations, local planning? We don’t know. We have to wait till it comes out, and then the coalition and its own democratic processes will have a journey within and either take a different avatar or just die out. So I think some of it is sort of trajectory of growth.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much, Shalini. Yeah, I think we have you know, we have run out of time although interesting things were being raised. I’m so grateful for the panellists for generously sharing their experience and their key takeaways. Thank you very much. You’ve been listening to the African Cities podcast. Remember to subscribe for more urban development insights and interviews from the African Cities Research Consortium.

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Header photo credit: Frank van den Bergh / Getty Images (via Canva Pro). Traffic congestion in Kampala, Uganda.

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