Urban Forum

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 191–204 | Cite as

Experimentation in an African Neighborhood: Reflections for Transitions to Sustainable Energy in Cities

  • Kareem BuyanaEmail author
  • Disan Byarugaba
  • Hakim Sseviiri
  • Gloria Nsangi
  • Peter Kasaija


Studies on transitions to sustainable energy in cities point to different types of experimentation including niche experiments, bounded socio-technical experiments, transition experiments and grassroots experiments. This paper argues that experimentation in African cities cannot be definitively framed into such types because each case harbors a unique perspective with implications for how it is understood conceptually. This is based on a transdisciplinary inquiry into waste to energy pilots in an informal neighborhood of Kampala city, which demonstrated how a network of community actors overcome not only energy but also health and poverty-related challenges, through recycling waste materials for production of energy briquettes. Their experimentation is majorly driven by the following: (i) the desire to overcome confinement to services regulated by government and (ii) promoting alternative sources of cooking energy that stem from locally available technologies. Overall, the case study points to how transitions to sustainable energy in cities can start in experimentation at neighborhood scale, using alternative cooking energy solutions as the anchorage.


Experimentation African cities Informal settlements Sustainability Energy Transitions 


Funding Information

The study received a support from the International Council for Science (ICSU), under the Leading Integrated Research on Agenda 2030 (LIRA), GRANT NUMBER: LIRA2030-GR09/17.


  1. Brown, H. S., & Vergragt, P. J. (2008). Bounded socio-technical experiments as agents of systemic change: The case of a zero-energy residential building. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 75(1), 107–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Buyana, K., & Lwasa, S. (2016). Infrastracture governance at sub-national level: the case of Kampala city in Uganda. In E. Schoburgh & R. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Sub-national Governance and Development. Hershey: IGI Global.Google Scholar
  3. Clark, B., Brudney, J., & Jang, S. (2013). Coproduction of government services and the new information technology: investigating the distributional biases. Public Administration Review, 73(5), 687–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. David, M., & Schönborn, S. (2018). Bottom-up energy transition narratives: linking the global with the local? A comparison of three German renewable co-ops. Sustainability, 10(4), 924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Davies, M., & Swilling, M. (2015). Intermediaries and learning in sustainability-oriented urban transitions: A transdisciplinary study from Stellenbosch municipality. International sustainability transitions 2015 conference: University of Sussex, Brighton. 25–28 August 2015.Google Scholar
  6. Davies, M., Swilling, M., & Wlokas, H. L. (2018). Towards new configurations of urban energy governance in South Africa’s renewable energy procurement programme. Energy Research & Social Science, 36, 61–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Davison, A., Patel, Z., & Greyling, S. (2016). Tackling wicked problems and tricky transitions: change and continuity in Cape Town’s environmental policy landscape. Local Environment, 21(9), 1063–1081.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. El Barmelgy, I. M., & Aly, M. S. (2017). Key factors for sustainable industrial cities. Journal of Sustainable Development, 10(1), 41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Elmqvist, T., Bai, X., Frantzeskaki, N., Griffith, C., Maddox, D., McPhearson, T., Parnell, S., Romero-Lankao, P., Simon, D., & Watkins, M. e. (2018). The urban planet: knowledge towards sustainable cities. In Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Evans, J., Karvonen, A., & Raven, R. (2016). The Experimental City. London: Routledge Earthscan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fraser, A., Leck, H., Parnell, S., Pelling, M., Brown, D., & Lwasa, S. (2017). Meeting the challenge of risk-sensitive and resilient urban development in sub-Saharan Africa: directions for future research and practice. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 26, 106–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gasparatos, A., Doll, C. N., Esteban, M., Ahmed, A., & Olang, T. A. (2017). Renewable energy and biodiversity: implications for transitioning to a green economy. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 70, 161–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Graesholm, E. (2012). Making slums governable: Integration and resistance in a Nairobi slum. The Journal of Politics and Society, 23(1), 218–251.Google Scholar
  14. Haines, A., Smith, K. R., Anderson, D., Epstein, P. R., McMichael, A. J., Roberts, I., Wilkinson, P., Woodcock, J., & Woods, J. (2007). Policies for accelerating access to clean energy, improving health, advancing development, and mitigating climate change. The Lancet, 370(9594), 1264–1281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hill, D., & Connelly, S. (2018). Community energies: exploring the socio-political spatiality of energy transitions through the clean energy for eternity campaign in New South Wales Australia. Energy Research & Social Science, 36, 138–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Holmstedt, L., Brandt, N., & Robèrt, K. H. (2017). Can Stockholm Royal Seaport be part of the puzzle towards global sustainability?–from local to global sustainability using the same set of criteria. Journal of Cleaner Production, 140, 72–80. Scholar
  17. Hossain, M. (2018). Grassroots innovation: the state of the art and future perspectives. Technology in Society, 5(6), 10–31.Google Scholar
  18. Jabareen, Y. (2013). Planning the resilient city: Concepts and strategies for coping with climate change and environmental risk. Cities, 31, 220–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jarbandhan, V. D., Komendantova, N., Xavier, R., & Nkoana, E. (2018). Transformation of the South African energy system: towards participatory governance. In Systems analysis approach for complex global challenges (pp. 139–158). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kleibert, J. (2017). On the global city map, but not in command? Probing Manila’s position in the world city network. Environment and Planning, 49(12), 2897–2915.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kruger, W., & Eberhard, A. (2018). Renewable energy auctions in sub-Saharan Africa: comparing the south African, Ugandan, and Zambian Programs. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment, 7(4), e295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lang, D., Wiek, A., Bergmann, M., Stauffacher, M., Martens, P., Moll, P., & Thomas, C. (2012). Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges. Sustainability Science, 7(1), 25–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lemanski, C. (2017). Unequal citizenship in unequal cities: participatory urban governance in contemporary South Africa. International Development Planning Review, 39(1), 15–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mauser, W., Klepper, G., Rice, M., Schmalzbauer, B. S., Hackmann, H., Leemans, R., & Moore, H. (2013). Transdisciplinary global change research: the co-creation of knowledge for sustainability. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 5(3–4), 420–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mayoux, L., & Chambers, R. (2005). Reversing the paradigm: quantification, participatory methods and pro-poor impact assessment. Journal of International Development, 17(2), 271–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McLean, A., Bulkeley, H., & Crang, M. (2016). Negotiating the urban smart grid: Socio-technical experimentation in the city of Austin. Urban Studies, 53(15), 3246–3263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Meijer, A., & Bolívar, M. P. R. (2016). Governing the smart city: a review of the literature on smart urban governance. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 82(2), 392–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mitlin, D. (2008). With and beyond the state—co-production as a route to political influence, power and transformation for grassroots organizations. Environment and Urbanization, 20(2), 339–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mosannenzadeh, F., Bisello, A., Vaccaro, R., D'Alonzo, V., Hunter, G. W., & Vettorato, D. (2017). Smart energy city development: a story told by urban planners. Cities, 64, 54–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Owusu, P., & Banadda, N. (2017). Livestock waste-to-bioenergy generation potential in Uganda: a review. Environmental Research, Engineering & Management, 73(3).Google Scholar
  31. Papa, R., & Fistola, R. (Eds.). (2016). Smart energy in the smart city: urban planning for a sustainable future. Springer.Google Scholar
  32. Parnell, S. (2016). Defining a global urban development agenda. World Development, 78, 529–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Patel, Z., Greyling, S., Simon, D., Arfvidsson, H., Moodley, N., Primo, N., & Wright, C. (2017). Local responses to global sustainability agendas: learning from experimenting with the urban sustainable development goal in Cape Town. Sustainability Science, 12(5), 785–797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ramaswami, A., Boyer, D., Nagpure, A. S., Fang, A., Bogra, S., Bakshi, B., Cohen, E., & Rao-Ghorpade, A. (2017). An urban systems framework to assess the trans-boundary food-energy-water nexus: implementation in Delhi, India. Environmental Research Letters, 12(2), 025008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Raven, R. P. J. M., & Geels, F. W. (2010). Socio-cognitive evolution in niche development: comparative analysis of biogas development in Denmark and the Netherlands (1973–2004). Technovation, 30(2), 87–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rybski, D., Reusser, D. E., Winz, A. L., Fichtner, C., Sterzel, T., & Kropp, J. P. (2017). Cities as nuclei of sustainability? Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, 44(3), 425–440.Google Scholar
  37. Schlör, H., Venghaus, S., & Hake, J. F. (2018). The FEW-Nexus city index–measuring urban resilience. Applied Energy, 210, 382–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schot, J., & Geels, F. W. (2008). Strategic niche management and sustainable innovation journeys: theory, findings, research agenda, and policy. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 20(5), 537–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sengers, F., Wieczorek, A. J., & Raven, R. (2016). Experimenting for sustainability transitions: a systematic literature review. Technological Forecasting and Social Change.Google Scholar
  40. Silva, A., & Stocker, L. (2018). What is a transition? Exploring visual and textual definitions among sustainability transition networks. Global Environmental Change, 50, 60–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Simon, D. (2010). The challenges of global environmental change for urban Africa. Urban Forum, 21(3), 235–248.Google Scholar
  42. Simon, D., Arfvidsson, H., Anand, G., Bazaz, A., Fenna, G., Foster, K., Jain, G., Hansson, S., Evans, L. M., Moodley, N., & Nyambuga, C. (2016). Developing and testing the urban sustainable development goal’s targets and indicators–a five-city study. Environment and Urbanization, 28(1), 49–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Swilling, M. (2014). Rethinking the science-policy interface in South Africa: experiments in knowledge co-production. South African Journal of Science, 110(5–6), 01–07.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Swilling, M., & Annecke, E. (2006). Building sustainable neighbourhoods in South Africa: learning from the Lynedoch case. Environment and Urbanization, 18(2), 315–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Swilling, M., & Hajer, M. (2017). Governance of urban transitions: towards sustainable resource efficient urban infrastructures. Environmental Research Letters, 12(12), 125007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Swilling, M., Pieterse, E., & Hajer, M. (2018). Futuring, experimentation, and transformative urban politics. In R. Poli (Ed.), Handbook of anticipation. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  47. Trencher, G., Bai, X., Evans, J., McCormick, K., & Yarime, M. (2014). University partnerships for co-designing and co-producing urban sustainability. Global Environmental Change, 28, 153–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Van Breda, J., & Swilling, M. (2018). The guiding logics and principles for designing emergent transdisciplinary research processes: learning experiences and reflections from a transdisciplinary urban case study in Enkanini informal settlement, South Africa. Sustainability Science, 1–19.
  49. Wang, X., Li, Z., Meng, H., & Wu, J. (2017). Identification of key energy efficiency drivers through global city benchmarking: a data driven approach. Applied Energy, 190, 18–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Watson, V. (2014). Co-production and collaboration in planning–the difference. Planning Theory & Practice, 15(1), 62–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wolfram, M. (2016). Cities shaping grassroots niches for sustainability transitions: conceptual reflections and an exploratory case study. Journal of Cleaner Production, 73(1), 11–23.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kareem Buyana
    • 1
    Email author
  • Disan Byarugaba
    • 1
  • Hakim Sseviiri
    • 1
  • Gloria Nsangi
    • 1
  • Peter Kasaija
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geography, Geo-informatics and Climatic Sciences, Urban Action LabMakerere UniversityKampalaUganda

Personalised recommendations