Infrastructure and Urban Systems for a Sustainable and Resilient Africa 


Africa is in the midst of a perfect storm. The dual impacts of climate change and El Niño effects cause both drought and flooding. Population growth and urbanisation increase demands on resources and transport. The imperative of a just transition to a low carbon future means nations must meet the needs of all their people. Infrastructures such as energy, water and transport are central to addressing these challenges and achieving a sustainable, resilient and equitable future, but there is an urgent need to reconsider current siloed approaches to infrastructure design, development and financing, and to move towards a whole system perspective.

UKCRIC aims to create a shift in thinking, to consider Africa's infrastructure challenges holistically through complexity science and systems of systems thinking in order to better address the challenges of realising the infrastructure that the continent requires. Such an approach needs to be inclusive and sustainable. It must consider how research into transport, energy, and issues affecting water, agriculture, sanitation, digitalisation and other sectors are all interlinked. 

UKCRIC is coordinating a cohort of multidisciplinary researchers who can bring academic rigour to better understand and contribute to tackling the complex infrastructure issues Africa faces. We are contributing to the debate on future infrastructure needs for Africa underpinned by academic excellence; a rigorous evidence base; and cross-sectoral, systems-based, integrated approaches.

Why is it important?

Africa has huge potential. It has the youngest and fastest growing population of any content. It has vast natural resources. It is urbanising, with urban populations in Africa set to increase to over a billion people by 2050. Such rapid changes inevitably create challenges:

  • Insufficient physical infrastructure such as transport, communication, water, and power. These deficiencies hinder economic activity, efficiency, and competitiveness.
  • Access to markets. Poor infrastructure restricts access to African markets, especially in the interior regions. Without robust infrastructure, Africa cannot achieve expected growth levels. Despite accounting for 12% of the world’s population, Africa generates only 1% of global GDP and 2% of world trade.
  • Commodity-driven infrastructure. Infrastructure development is intrinsically linked to Africa’s economic growth. Large commodity finds (e.g., oil, gas, minerals) drive the need for infrastructure.

We know that developing infrastructure that addresses the needs of a whole population is difficult, costly and comes with many pressures including climate change and competitive demands for limited resources.

Governments across Africa are making enormous investments to build and maintain infrastructure. These efforts are supported by funding and financing from multilateral development banks, private finance and other sources. For example, multilateral development banks loan approximately 20 billion US dollars a year for transport infrastructure investment. This does not include the amount the governments themselves, the community and the private sector are also investing. Collectively, these investments are insufficient to meet the demand for new and rejuvenated infrastructure. Moreover, accessing finance can be difficult and can inadvertently lead to increased indebtedness.

What can be done?

Despite the pressure to make good decisions, there is often a lack of applicable evidence to inform important investments and planning. The evidence base is often out of date and inadequate.

Having robust evidence is absolutely critical when decisions need to be made. Without it, decisions are less informed (or even uninformed), which can lead to poor outcomes and costly mistakes.

UKCRIC is bringing together multidisciplinary researchers to better inform the decisions of policy-makers and planners and to deliver infrastructure that is sustainable, greener, safer, more accessible, affordable and inclusive. Their research informs resilient investment decisions to build appropriate infrastructure that will drive economic development and poverty reduction across Africa.

How you can get involved

UKCRIC is convening a network of academics, policymakers and practitioners for the improvement of Africa’s infrastructure and urban systems. If you are interested in contributing, or in delivering a webinar as part of our Africa webinar series, please email us at


Related activities:


March 2024

Systems challenges in developing climate resilient infrastructure in Africa through the lens of transport. Dr Neil Ebenezer

Please note: Due to technical broadcasting difficulties on the day of the webinar, the first part of the presentation is a re-recording which has been edited together with the original recording.

November 2023

Infrastructure and Cities, A Reflection of Post-Independence Africa. Dr Robert Okello

October 2023

Infrastructure and Complexity: A World Within. Dr Fred Amonya

July 2023

Challenging the Dominance of the Hypothetico-Deductive Frame. Dr Fred Amonya