An Urgent Need for Urban Law Reform in Africa

At a recent meeting supported by Cities Alliance and the Rockefeller Foundation, a group of urban planning and legal experts agreed to consider a long-term strategy to bring about urban and planning law reform in Sub-Saharan Africa.

There is an urgent need to promote urban law reform in Sub-Saharan Africa if the continent’s rapidly growing cities are to fulfill their potential for economic growth.
This was the key message that emerged from a meeting of urban planning and legal experts held under the auspices of the African Centre for Cities (ACC) and the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS) at the Rockefeller Foundation Centre in Bellagio, Italy 24-26 July 2012.


The call to reform urban law reform in Africa is an exceptionally timely one. With African cities growing rapidly, urban areas have become a key factor in a country’s economic growth.
In many cases, however, outdated and unimplemented laws are preventing countries from responding to urbanisation and capitalising on its potential for growth. Colonial-era laws are ill-equipped to address urban issues such as sustained growth, the emergence of peri-urban areas, increasingly poor populations, inadequate infrastructure, and growing urban crime, often as a result of land and service shortages.
These inadequate legal frameworks are also reinforcing entrenched injustices in relation to land and housing rights in urban areas. They are also frequently used to implement the eviction and destruction of informal settlements.
Within that context, the ACC and AAPS convened the Platform for Urban Planning Law Reform in Sub-Saharan Africa, a meeting of urban planning and legal experts from government, civil society, academia, and the private sector, with the support of the Cities Alliance and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Twenty-one participants from ten countries as well as the Cities Alliance, UN-Habitat and the World Bank gathered in Bellagio to develop a position on urban law reform that can be used to raise the issue on an international level. Senior Programme Officer for West and Central Africa Mamadou Diagne represented the Cities Alliance at the event.
The participants reviewed the numerous challenges to which urban law must respond. In a communiqué, they agreed that there is an urgent need for legal reform that, among others:
  • Starts with the premise that all urban residents must be accorded the right to live and work securely and have a say in their governance
  • Achieves justice in relation to urban land, housing and governance
  • Ensures that land use change and land development are accompanied by the necessary level of infrastructure and service provision
In the communiqué, participants agreed to consider a long-term strategy to bring about urban and planning law reform in Sub-Saharan Africa. This includes developing a long-term vision for law reform in partnership with relevant development agencies, civil society, professional associations, and educational networks.
The strategy also includes a range of activities such as regular meetings, knowledge production, reform of educational curricula, coalition building, linkages with civil society, and concerted efforts to influence major African decision and policy-making bodies such as the African Union, United Cities and Local Governments- Africa, and the African Development Bank.
The conclusions outlined in the Bellagio communiqué were shared at the sixth World Urban Forum in Naples 1-7 September 2012.
The meeting in Bellagio is part of a broader initiative to rethink urban planning in Africa – in particular the curricula – so that African urban planners and management professionals will be able to respond effectively to today’s urban issues. It also aims to support the development in Africa of centres of excellence focused on urban research. The main vehicles for this initiative are partnerships between the ACC and AAPS as well as between AAPS and Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI).