Towards comparative, historically informed research on contemporary African urban transport issues: A proposal for a research network

The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

EP-2019-MAC-01, Njogu Morgan, PhD, Post doctoral Fellow


Urban transport on the African continent is at a crossroads. One fork points towards the possibility of protecting and growing existing equitable and sustainable practices, such as walking and cycling. The other, as evidenced by some investments in motor-oriented infrastructure points towards many well-known social, economic and environmental ills. How is the protection of existing and the possible transition towards equitable and sustainable urban transport on the continent understood?

In thinking about contemporary urban mobility issues, the scholarship is predominantly ahistorical and pays insufficient attention to spatial questions. In the light of this, our overall objective is to bring a historically informed and comparative understanding of contemporary African urban transport issues from a range of disciplinary perceptiveness. In achieving this, we propose the creation of a research network composed primarily of early-career scholars to advance this agenda.

The overall research questions anchoring the network are: how do we understand and compare the historical production of diverse urban transport systems and associated elements on the African continent? What are the ways (if any) that the diverse histories shape current transport realities? What empirical, theoretical and conceptual tools can help bring new light onto the possibilities of breaking from unsustainable transport trajectories or embedding current sustainable ones?

In catalysing this work, we propose to convene two workshops in 2020, one in Nigeria and the other in South Africa. The workshops will address the knowledge gaps and also agree on network formation and ongoing development. Work emerging from this network will contribute to academic scholarship, as well as to policy and public knowledge.

Njogu Morgan is currently a post-doctoral researcher based at the University of the Witwatersrand. His overall research interest pertains to theoretical, conceptual and empirical aspects of sustainability transitions from a spatial comparative perspective.

His PhD research explores changes in societal acceptance of everyday bicycle use from a historical comparative perspective. This research project seeks to add to our understanding of the cultural dimensions of urban sustainability by focusing specifically on bicycle usage and attitudes to cycling in a Amsterdam, Beijing, Chicago and Johannesburg.

In november 2020, Dr. Morgan was one of the main organisers of the Inaugural Workshop about African Urban Mobility: Past, Present and Future.Pdf, 309.5 kB. (Pdf, 309.5 kB)
At this occasion, he had an article published in New Frame: Could Covid-19 change how cities view their streets?

See also Interview with Njogu Morgan