“Yesterday, I was in a session on street design … it’s the things that you see every day but you don’t think about,” said Jennifer Semakula Musisi, Executive Director of the Kampala Capital City Authority, “It takes longer to use a pedestrian bridge than it does to use a crossing on the road. I’m like, ah yeah it actually does! And here I am planning for at least six foot bridges. We’re in the process of procuring it right now.”
Musisi is one of a dozen or so representatives from African cities that attended MOBILIZE, ITDP’s annual, invite-only summit that brings together transport and development practitioners alongside world-class researchers to celebrate best practices and accelerate implementation of sustainable transport projects. Musisi, representing Uganda’s capital city, is one of five African city leaders who attended MOBILIZE as a fellow for the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI). She was joined by Olajide Oduyoye, Head of Transport Safety and Traffic Management from the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) in Nigeria; Christopher Kang’ombe, the Mayor of Kitwe, Zambia; Amadou Saidou Ba, president of the Conseil Exécutif des Transports Urbains de Dakar (CETUD), in Senegal, and Alphonse Nkurunziza, former Director General for Infrastructure and Urban Development for Kigali, Rwanda.
MOBILIZE Dar es Salaam hosted 230 participants from 61 cities in 31 nations in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, North America and South America, representing government, academia, NGOs, and the private sector to share best (and worst) practices in transport and development, such as the street design session that had an impact on Musisi. “Now I’m thinking, I hope people are not going to try to just run across the road! And it raises the issue of access for the disabled, for the old people, people not in good health … what happens?”
Oduyoye also found the experience eye-opening, as he approaches the daunting task of transforming Africa’s largest city. “For Lagos, the opportunity is vast and it is wide, because we’re starting from point zero in a way. What we’ve learned so far is that it’s a lot bigger than we thought.” He also commented that some of the sessions touched on issues he was aware of, but hadn’t fully realized their importance, such as designing streets and programs that encourage the participation of women. “The program this morning talked about how women are not as likely to bicycle as men. In my culture, I can tell you, this is very important. If we’re trying to get people riding, and we get women to bicycle, the men will follow suit.”
In Kitwe and Kigali, the challenges are different from those of the megacity of Lagos. Both mid-sized cities are already applying best practices, and enjoy strong support and encouragement from their national governments in furthering these goals. “In Kigali, we are around 1.4 million people, and that’s why we’ve started the sustainable mobility initiatives, so that we can deal with the issue of car ownership, mobility, and growth,” said Nkurunziza, who found the MOBILIZE experience helpful as he ponders the next phase of Kigali’s growth, “After being exposed to all this, it’s clear to me that we need to plan transportation along with land use. How do we make the trips shorter so you can use cycling and walking modes? Mixed-use developments really have to be given the attention.”
Kang’ombe, who has made major progress with community-funded walkways in Kitwe, was interested to see the political changes that he’s experienced in Zambia reflected in many presentations at MOBILIZE. “In terms of political will, the politicians are changing now, looking at what would be good for the city from the perspective of long term. We now know that the political will is there. We know what we need to do in order for Zambia to develop.”
“I’m impressed with what we’ve seen here,” said Saidou Ba, in reference to a presentation on parking reform, “in Dakar, there is no space for people. Any space we have in the city is taken by vendors, or for parking. But to change this, it’s clear to me now that it all really has to be enforced by the local government, and the city may not enforce new parking rules if they benefit from it. So this has to change.”
These types of conversations are exactly what makes MOBILIZE unique. The summit gives transport professionals and researchers from around the world an opportunity to experience the STA winning city as a learning lab with lessons on how to get world class projects implemented. Interaction between researchers and practitioners foster greater global resource allocation toward the goals of making streets, transport systems, and cities the best possible places for people. In the case of these African city leaders, the location in the most rapidly-growing African city offered a rare opportunity for them to share best practices with each other, and recognize all the ways that urbanization has transformed Africa.
“Transportation is not something that’s been very popular in Africa, so to speak, until a few years ago, it was considered a ‘European and American’ thing,” said Oduyoye, “Now, well its gathering momentum on a high scale. Now is the time when you want to get young people involved, because once you capture them, they can go and educate their parents who may have political power. So, you can change these things.”
Dar es Salaam hosted the MOBILIZE summit after winning the Sustainable Transport Award for implementing the first true BRT in East Africa. Each year, the winning city and honorable mentions are honored at a ceremony in Washington, DC in January. The winning city hosts MOBILIZE later on that year. Fortaleza, Brazil, has won the 2019 STA, and will be the host of MOBILIZE 2019.
“It’s a very good balance between practitioners and researchers,” said Musisi, “people who have studied and come up with solutions, and the people that are actually implementing it. That reality check helps everybody.”