Seed funded: The groundwork of airborne Africa

Linking cities, creating infrastructures, and forging new urban geographies

This LSE Cities’ seed fund project covers initial phases of a multi-year investigation into the impact of air transport growth in Africa on urban infrastructure.

The map of African commercial aviation has transformed beyond recognition since the turn of the millennium. From having very few international flights within the continent, and routes beyond its shores almost entirely along century-old paths of colonial influence to European metropoles, Africa has quickly become crisscrossed by intra-continental flights run by African airlines, and connected by a widening range of inter-continental routes to the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas served by African and other non-European airlines. Breaking from decades of strict regionalism, airlines now race with each other to open nonstop service from East Africa, for example, to Windhoek, Antananarivo, Bamako, and a range of capitals over the full spread of the continent. In sum, more airlines connect more cities across Africa, and across the oceans, than ever before.

This requires substantial infrastructure, but how does this phenomenon extend beyond runways and air traffic control towers? In what ways does growth in air transport affect broader city-making? This project investigates the groundwork of airborne Africa both by surveying the transformed map of linked cities and by taking a close, comparative look at the implementation of urban infrastructure (in transport, utilities, and housing) connected to this rapid proliferation in hub cities as well as previously peripheral points on the map of African aviation. This application for funding is for initial continent-wide quantitative analysis and beginning phases of the qualitative study of a city subset (Nairobi, Lomé, Addis Ababa, and Johannesburg) from the larger project. By focusing on “groundwork” as the intersection of grand developmental plans and the quotidian practices that enable this massive take-off in aviation, the research project offers unique research perspective that compares different trajectories for forging new African urban geographies.