AG Virtual Conferences

Adrianople Group's Webinar Series - “The History and Future of African Charter Cities”

The conversation lasted for nearly 3 hours and explored the past, present, and future of African charter cities attracted more than 60 attendees from 15 countries.
August 18, 2020
August 18, 2020

During this virtual conference, we discussed:

-Africa’s thousand year long history with charter cities

-A next generation charter city project in Nigeria

-Charter cities as a tool for informal communities inclusion

The presentations lasted for about an hour, which was followed by two hours of networking and discussions about the future. Attendees included professionals from different sectors including accounting firms, engineers, creators, charter city co-founders, and investors.

Heba Elhanafy - The History of Charter Cities in Africa

The first speaker, Heba Elhanafy, is an Atlas Fellow and researcher at the Charter Cities Institute. Born in Egypt, Heba has a bachelor's degree in Architecture and Urban Planning from Alexandria University and a master’s degree in Urban Development from the Technical University of Berlin.

Heba explained the history of pre colonial urban development within Africa and their connection to charter cities.

Heba covered four proto charter city developments in Africa; Kumasi, Kilwa, Kano, and Lagos. These ancient success stories have many key lessons for today’s charter city entrepreneurs:

  • They were all indigenous creations
  • They were all sustained by trade
  • They all heavily utilized urban agriculture
  • They all had strong connections with rural villages

The commonalities allowed for similar, autonomous outcomes, but each city had its own unique journey.

Kumasi started as a tributary state, but got so strong that it kicked out the Denkyira Kingdom and created the Ashanti Kingdom. Kilwa Kiswani was a collection of agricultural and fishing communities on the coast of Tanzania that built their own culture and political autonomy that lasted through the region’s Portuguese colonization. Kano began in Nigeria as a hunter gatherer state that developed into a bustling sector of industry and agriculture that is still culturally felt today. The trading state of Lagos grew under several distinct sovereigns, but the core of its economy was so strong that it never lost autonomy and is the most populous city in Nigeria today.  

A 1572 depiction of the city of Kilwa from Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg atlas Civitates orbis terrarum.

Iyinoluwa “E” Aboyeji - Talent City in Nigeria

Iyinoluwa “E” Aboyeji spoke next about his plans to create a new charter city in Nigeria to cater to the country’s rising professional class.

E is the co-founder of both Andela, a talent seeking startup in Nigeria that builds teams of remote engineers, and Flutterwave, which is an API that allows large corporations to more easily make transactions in Africa. Both of these startups led wildly successful funding rounds with Andela garnering $24 million from the Chan Initiative, run by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. Most recently in the charter cities space, E is the founder and general partner at Future Africa, a venture capital firm that wants to spread prosperity across the continent. E is also the founder and chair of Talent Cities Inc., which is a network of charter cities across Africa with a focus on technology and digital economy. 

E began by bringing the audience up to speed about newer economic growth across Africa. In the last 4 decades, African economies have integrated themselves into global value chains and become the largest emerging market in the world. E emphasized how these changes have increased the urgency behind charter city ideals. In the next 30 years, over ⅔ of the world’s population will live in cities. ⅓ of that urban migration will occur in three countries: China, India, and Nigeria. Of these nations, China has 114 cities inhabited by over one million people, India has 44, and Nigeria only has 8 with 10% of its population living in Lagos. 

With this in mind, E’s approach for Talent Cities was supported by a critical analysis of the economic landscape to identify three main factors that would allow the organization to get started as quickly as possible. These factors are 

  • First-Collaborating with a government patron
  • Second-Identifying the infrastructural necessities for the project
  • Third-Understanding what the future of the zone will be.

After E finished, a two hour, audience driven conversation was sparked to try and solve many of the questions floating in the charter cities space. Topics of discussion ranged from local integration to garnering international capital, all while contact information was rapidly being shared amongst the conversation’s participants. 

Jonathan Hursh - Utopia and Informal Community Inclusion

As things were winding down we received a surprise guest when Utopia co-founder Jonathan Hursh joined the webinar. Utopia is an urban innovation studio based in San Francisco that invests in “CityLab” projects throughout the developing world. Jonathan Hursh is an advisor to both the World Economic Forum and Harvard's Master in Design Engineering program, and possesses a wealth of knowledge about the developing world. 

Hursh explained the motivations behind Utopia’s investments and how they identify environments for growth in the developing landscape. Hursh’s Utopia sees organic and informal communities as an opportunity for impactful growth because they are not calcified and still possess a malleable framework conducive to rapid change. Currently, the fund has active innovation studios in Lagos, Kathmandu, and Rio de Janeiro. These innovation studios are designed to create an urban ecosystem for emerging cities that cultivates entrepreneurial spirit and encourages creativity.  


It was our hope to create a lot of value, interesting conversations and hopefully a positive surprise or two. We really enjoyed putting this together and are having even more fun planning the lineup for our events series. As we plan the next events there will be opportunities for speakers and the Geoeconomics Podcast offers additional opportunities for the conversations and stories to continue.

Special thanks to everyone involved and we look forward to seeing you at the next one!