Africa Hub

Growing dignified livelihoods through improved resource productivity and environmental regeneration

About the Africa Hub

The Africa hub has been building strong relationships with academic, private sector and city actors who are interested in the circular economy and what it could mean for African cities. Explore circular economy priorities relevant for African Cities, leading cities of the ICLEI Africa Network and key partners.

Priorities of the Africa Hub

  • Environmental Priorities

    African cities experience significant threats to their rich biodiversity due to rapid urbanisation and unplanned expansion. This places strain on urban institutions, infrastructure and ecosystems that are a basis for ecosystem services such as food, clean water, air and energy. Environmental priorities therefore include: 

    • Regeneration of nature in and around cities which is required given the rapid expansion African cities are experiencing. Education and mainstreaming of nature-based solutions and ecosystem services perspectives in governance, service delivery and practice is important. Nature can improve levels of climate adaptation more especially by enhancing the access to ecosystem services such as food, clean water, air and energy which are key to improving quality of life, livelihoods and building resilience.
    • Shifting from extractive economies that are heavily reliant on raw materials and characterised by exploitation of human labour and resources, as well as destruction of the natural environment through pollution to circular economies that promote resource efficiency and reuse to reduce reliance on extraction and drive the diversification of the economy.
    • Reducing pollution of air, water and ecological habitats through better city-region waste management, mobility planning, investment in natural space, and promoting public and environmental health.
  • Socio-economic Priorities

    According to UNECA 2020, Africa’s economy faces a major challenge of structural inadequacies especially in the critical areas of human resources, institutional capacity, physical infrastructure and financial mobilisation. This has resulted in limited skills and wide unemployment, especially in large youth urban populations. Inequality of access to basic services such as energy, housing, food, water and sanitation, and the emergence of a burgeoning informal economy exacerbates the challenge. In addition, there are low rates of household and local government savings and investment, which undermine robust economic growth as well as support the expanding population in cities which is projected to increase by 800 million by 2050. Globally, Africa’s urban areas contribute the smallest share to global urban GDP (Weight of Cities report). Socio-economic priorities for The Africa Hub are therefore:  

    • Supporting resource productivity, in which resource access is improved to ensure food-water-energy security for all African urban citizens, while doing so in resource-efficient manners.
    • Promoting aspirational sufficiency and quality of livelihoods in urban areas, particularly focusing on the growing middle class, and the next generation of would-be consumers; here, reshaping the collective societal imaginaries of success is vital.
    • Promoting social justice in relation to informality through documenting and supporting the ingenuity, flexibility and varied circular opportunities that the informal economy offers for urban sustainability. The focus here is to enhance these private sector activities in a manner that contributes to dignified livelihoods and greater reach for these businesses.
    • Showcasing existing initiatives, indigenous knowledge and traditional practices which enhance circularity while supporting local governments and businesses to create enabling environments for these to develop, spread and thrive. 

    Creating environments for innovation and experimentation to thrive especially for small and medium sized enterprises through enabling the adoption of technology and e-platforms and supporting skills development.

  • Governance Priorities

    Good governance is vital in shaping the nature and pace of the transition to a circular economy in African cities. It demands multi-level coordination, local government and stakeholder partnerships, and cross-sector engagement in pursuit of important cross-cutting goals. This contrasts with typically-siloed public administration approaches. Key governance challenges include lack of understanding of circular economy principles, and how they align with local government mandates,  lack of access to finance and resources, and institutional inertia due to limited cross-department coordination, no strategic guidance, or unfunded mandates.  Governance priorities for the Africa hub therefore include:

    • Supporting integration and multilevel alignment between national, local government and private stakeholders. Notably for African cities, governance processes that convene and facilitate interaction between communities, small and medium scale enterprises and knowledge partners, can show progress to meet common goals.
    • Building institutional systems for data collection, aggregation, sharing and use processes to aid in informed decision making. 
    • Combining quantitative and qualitative evidence for decision making and upskilling stakeholders on how this can inform planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation processes. 
    • Aligning local strategies and plans with budget processes and supporting access to both large-scale infrastructure programme finance, and small grants for small businesses
  • Priority Materials and Economic Sectors

    It is estimated that by 2050, urban Africa will be the second largest consumer of materials, to support transport, housing, water supply, energy and waste management infrastructure, at 18 billion tonnes per year (UNEP, 2018). Given current developmental priorities:

    • Service delivery mandates represent the most important alignment of circularity with local government mandates. Here, decision makers must be supported to see the links between delivering basic energy, water, sanitation, mobility and waste services, and circular design, processes and technologies, particularly where there is belief that service delivery and sustainability do not align. For example, if investing in urban street lighting, using decentralized solar helps reduce the burden on stressed national grids and fossil fuel power, while still delivering the service. 
    • Waste, and material reclamation strategies are the most strategic inroads for promoting the circular economy. This is because there are existing waste management policies and departments in most local governments, enabling quick uptake of circularity principles. 
    • Food and organic materials offer the greatest opportunity for circular economy practices, given that the largest material flow in most African cities’ is still biomass. African cities typically have strong ties to urban, peri-urban and nearby rural agriculture, which can benefit from organic waste processing.  waste streams are typically associated with food preparation, processing and packaging. 
    • Alternative construction materials represent a vital area of innovation in African cities, to ensure that the built environment is laid in sustainable ways.

Africa’s Leading Circular Cities

The Africa hub has been building strong relationships with local governments across the continent. Cities who have been involved in urban resource management and circular economy workshops and projects with ICLEI Africa include Accra, Cape Town, Nairobi, Entebbe, Rabat, Kampala, Lilongwe, Blantyre, Makinde, Johannesburg and Cairo. ICLEI Africa is working closely with African Circular Economy Network, whose business and private sector orientation complements ICLEI’s local government perspectives. 



Accra is in the early stages of exploring the circular economy,  and has the opportunity to frame a circular development development approach that tackles the city’s pressing challenges. As the city grapples with the management of municipal solid waste and the informal sector, creative and evidence-based solutions are needed which respond to developmental needs while embracing resident’s identities. Circular economy practices are indigenous to many African cities, including Accra, with citizens continuing to practice circularity through every-day activities such as wrapping take-away meals with leaves. The circular economy opportunity for Accra includes embedding and continuing traditional and indigenous practices which reduce material use and extend product life-cycles.

Cape Town

South Africa

The City of Cape Town has committed to undertaking a Circular Economy Action Plan. As one of Africa’s leading local governments that has embraced circular economy practices, the City has undertaken multiple initiatives to support Circular Economy practices. Cape Town currently has two projects underway in partnership with GreenCape. Through collaboration with GreenCape, the City has undertaken the development and implementation of a circular economy roadmap. Using evidence-based approaches the team will explore how the circular economy agenda can be achieved in the City by investigating the economic, enterprise development and investment potential available. In addition, the City has also undertaken a solid waste management project aimed at accelerating waste avoidance. Through this project the city will explore approaches to waste reduction, minimisation and prevention.



Nairobi is one of Africa’s leading cities for the implementation of circular approaches. Through government and organisational support that afford local businesses incentives to undertake circular projects, the city has seen a growth in the adoption of circularity. Nairobi faces major waste management challenges such as health risks due to the lack of a sewer system across the city, and the illegal disposal of sewer waste. Organisations such as Sanergy, a social enterprise with investment from Finnfund and Kenyan state support, have undertaken improved solid waste management projects such as waste treatment. The group collects treat and upcycle waste with the aim of developing the largest organic recycling plant on the continent. Through their circularity based initiatives, Nairobi has begun the journey of reducing, reusing, regenerating and recycling solid waste.



The Morrocan government made the commitment to transition into a low-carbon emission society. In 2019, the country, alongside other Mediteranian states undertook the Rabat Declaration, which emphasised a smart and sustainable transition to a low-carbon environment through green and circular economies. Geocycle is an exemplary organisation well aligned with the vision presented by the national government. 

  • The Africa Hub network

    The Africa Hub has been cultivating a growing community of practice around the issues of urban resources, service delivery and circular development. Participants include local government, private sector, academia and civil society from across the continent. The Hub also supports city-to-city learning exchanges such as the Cape Town workshop on urban metabolism (May 2019), The urban resources and circular development workshops in Accra, and Makinde, Uganda (October 2019), and further workshops on Circular African Cities online throughout 2020. Key events and new ideas relating to circular development in Africa are well framed the December monthly digest of RISE Africa

    African Circular Economy Network (ACEN)

    The Africa Hub, in collaboration with partners, particularly ACEN, has embarked on a journey to understand how best to support members in implementing circular development. 

    In August 2020, ICLEI Africa and the African Circular Economy Network convened thinkers and practitioners from across the continent to unpack the concept of urban circular economy for Africa by Africa. What emerged was an ongoing, lightly facilitated coproduction process to develop a discussion paper that could frame the opportunities, barriers and enablers for realising circular economy in African cities. Virtual workshops and communication have allowed us to reach people across the continent, in ways we had not thought to do when travel and physical conferencing were the norm. Our first meeting drew about 90 participants from 62 cities around the continent and the world. A discussion paper was developed with inputs from about 35 core contributors, and the emerging ideas were shared at a World Circular Economy Forum side event on 25 November 2020 with about 120 interested participants.This collaborative process is ongoing, and while this it has been described with some horror by participants given the uncertainty of what will emerge, it is clear that those participating are driven by a deep passion to share knowledge and frame practical actions for promoting sustainable resource use and infrastructure development in their cities.