The Paths of Sustainable Mobility in Africa Lead to Cape Town

Every day, 1 billion people on the African continent walk to work, school, hospital or home on (UNEP 2022), while an average of 260 pedestrians and 18 cyclists are killed in road accidents (UNEP 2023). Despite low motorisation rates, transport accounts for one third of Africa’s total energy-related greenhouse gas emissions (Agora & GIZ 2023). At the same time, the transport sector provides economic opportunities and jobs for millions of people across the continent. The facts speak for themselves: sustainable transport in Africa should be high on the international agenda.

Cape Town as the centre of the debate

From 26 February to 7 March 2024, Cape Town was at the centre of the debate on sustainable transport in Africa: From the first-ever African Transport Research Conference to the city-to-city exchange led by the Global Alliance of Cities for Road Safety, and from the UNEP-convened Pan-African Action Plan for Active Mobility Workshop to the HVT pre-conference “Powering Change”, transport researchers and practitioners gathered to discuss the future of mobility across the continent. Through the highly interactive Rethinking Transport Lab “Just Mobility in Urban and Rural Areas” and as a sponsor of the African Transport Research Conference, colleagues from the GIZ transport team contributed significantly to creating this momentum for leapfrogging to sustainable transport in Africa.

We are delighted to host such a diverse group of individuals and institutions to build shared knowledge across our cities. We are eager to learn from our visitors and to share how we are working to improve urban mobility in our city; a complex and critical issue.

– Geordin Hill-Lewis, Mayor of Cape Town

Starting the discussion: A creative lab for equitable transport

From 26 February to 1 March, GIZ hosted the second Rethinking Transport Lab, this time on “Just Mobility in Urban and Rural Areas”. 29 participants from 21 African countries exchanged views and jointly developed six concrete ideas for a more equitable transformation towards sustainable transport in their countries:

  1. An (e-)cargo bike project to facilitate women’s mobility in rural areas
  2. A hub & incubation programme for entrepreneurs and their related business ideas, targeting especially unemployed, unskilled youth
  3. A youth-lead organisation advocating for the inclusion of people with disabilities in development processes
  4. Safe Active Streets Programme to improve walking and cycling infrastructure in Africa
  5. A Smart (AI-based) platform for resilient infrastructure planning
  6. A national Transport Data Center in collaboration with the private sector to improve data-driven decision making

Each group discussed follow-up activities to further develop their solutions and to work towards implementation. If you are interested in getting in touch with one of the groups to support their ideas, please contact rethinking.transport@giz.de.

Momentum for African Transport Research

Following the Lab, from 5-7 March, the inaugural African Transport Research Conference, co-organised by the University of Cape Town and the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations brought together around 200 researchers from across Africa and beyond to advance transport research and solutions in Africa and for Africa. The GIZ Transport team sponsored the networking area of the conference and presented the activities of the Rethinking Transport project during a plenary session.

Two pre-conference events already set the scene for the inaugural conference: The Volvo Research and Educational Foundation organised a gathering for the next generation of transport researchers. Young academics presented their work, shared their research efforts, and networked to develop future ideas for pan-African research projects. In a parallel workshop, High-Volume Transport brought together transport experts and practitioners under the title “Powering Change: Developing infrastructures in Africa that are resilient, greener and inclusive”. The hybrid event took a holistic approach in an insightful combination of inputs from academia, the private sector and NGOs, covering topics such as data-driven decision-making, just transition and gender equity, resilience in transport network planning, the role of green hydrogen in transport and more.

During the conference, 150 research papers were presented in more than 30 sessions. Topics focused on land-based transport modes, covering passenger and freight transport as well as urban and rural areas, spanning six key thematic areas:

  • User needs and practices, equity issues
  • Governance, politics, institutions and finances
  • Emerging business models and service options
  • Safety, health and the environment
  • System design and modal integration
  • Analytical tools and emerging technologies

The conference also saw the launch of the Journal on African Transport Studies. The first issue of the journal will contain the papers presented at the conference.

Linking Transport Research and Decision-Making

On 7th and 8th March, UN-Habitat convened a group of city officials from African and Middle Eastern member cities of the Global Alliance of Cities for Road Safety (ACRoS) in an experiential programme across Cape Town. In a similar spirit, UNEP and partners (FIA Foundation, HVT, UN Habitat and more) gathered sub-regional stakeholders for consultations and a masterclass on the Pan-African Action Plan for Active Mobility. Walking the streets of Cape Town’s CBD and cycling in Khayelitsha, the decision-makers and non-governmental participants of both events experiences challenges and  good practices for road safety and active mobility.

A joint World-Café session on the final day of the African Transport Research Conference brought the diverse participants of the several events together in the spirit of linking the latest research and academic insights with policy makers and transport practitioners.

What is next? All eyes on sustainable transport in Africa

Reflecting on the success and the cooperation and synergies between different organisations, these two weeks full of transport events in Cape Town can surely be seen as the start of more activities, more events, and more exchanges on sustainable transport in African countries.

Due to the success of the African Transport Research Conference, it will be established as a series with the next conference expected to take place in 2027. UNEP is planning further stakeholder consultation meetings for the Pan-African Action Plan on Active Mobility in other sub-regions. And a third Rethinking Transport Lab, focusing on the topic of “Financing Resilient Infrastructure” will take place in September 2024.

So keep an eye on sustainable transport in Africa and join the debate!


Rethinking Transport is a GIZ self-financed initiative, implemented by GIZ  and Agora Verkehrswende. This article was informed by a press release from the social enterprise and consultancy Local South on the multiple transport activities and events in Cape Town.


Participants of the Rethinking Transport Lab "Just Mobility in Urban and Rural Areas" in Cape Town 2024 ©GIZ
Author(s)