Centre for Urban Law & Finance in Africa

Stephen Berrisford

A November 2015 workshop, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, Mistra Urban Futures, and the African Centre for Cities, brought together legal, financial, and urban professionals from across Africa to develop ideas for building expertise in urban law and municipal finance on the African continent.  

The participants unanimously supported and endorsed the establishment of a Centre for Urban Law and Finance in Africa (CULFA).  This Centre will play an important role in addressing the flawed legal and financial frameworks within which Africa’s cities operate. 

Africa needs urban finance specialists and urban lawyers.  These are specialized fields, and they are critically important to the success of African cities:

  • Africa has financiers, but lacks urban finance professionals.  A financial professional working for a city can help mobilize the capital needed for water, wastewater, and drainage systems; for city streets and urban highways; for public transport systems and for public housing.  Financial advisors understand the capital markets, and they can help the city understand how, when, and where to find investment capital to support their development.
  • Africa also has many lawyers, but few that specialize in municipal law and finance. Legal tools are key to the implementation of urban policies. When it comes to a local government’s powers and functions, legal personality, organizational structure, and boundaries; or its relations with its residents, businesses and other structures of government; it is the law that sets the rules of the game.

While at the Bellagio Center, the participants were able to agree on a vision for CULFA, the nature of the education and training that it will offer, the initial home for the Centre (at the African Centre for Cities in Cape Town), the longer term advisability of exploring other locations on the African continent, and a time frame for progressively bringing the Centre into operation.

Next steps, over the coming six months, will include expanding our network to confirm the need for such a Centre, and to take advice on how best to bring it to reality.  This will include, but is not limited to: networks of cities and local governments; multilateral finance institutions; bilateral development partners; and African and international research centres.  In parallel, we will be developing an initial financial needs assessment, to inform eventual budgeting and proposals, and identifying potential supporters.

Over the ensuing six to twelve months, we anticipate preparing business cases for potential funders (which will identify the value added by the proposed Centre), scanning the horizon for other initiatives that may be engaged in some or all of what we propose, assessing the comparative advantages of this initiative vs. other initiatives, and developing a two to three year budget and timeline of activities.  We will also develop a pilot course that would illustrate the fields of study, to be delivered to a selected audience from three to four African countries.

Urban Law Lab