FUTURE LAGOS | Interview: Working in Lagos. Making Lagos work. (Part 1)

“There needs to be a platform or framework that allows all stakeholders to be involved”


Lagos perspective harbour

On a cool Lagos evening, Olamide Udoma sat with Robert van Kats and Remco Rolvink at a boutique hotel to discuss solutions for a leading African city and how they are starting to take action. This is the three part interview.

future lagos logo

by Olamide Udoma

Olamide Udoma: What is DASUDA?

Robert van Kats: DASUDA stands for Dutch Alliance for Sustainable Urban Development in Africa. What we do is set up partnerships that find local solutions for large urban development issues via understanding and collaboration. Trying to not just discuss but also act. We work on implementing urban development solutions within things like housing, water, mobility – the big topics.

OU: Why are you in Lagos this week?

RvK: We are in Lagos preparing for a case study programme which will take place later this year in June, July or September, for two weeks. Within these two weeks a small group of local partners will work on a case study. We are yet to decide where specifically the case study will be in Lagos, but we are working on it and hopefully towards the end of the year we’ll slowly get into implementing the ideas that come from the design group. Implementation will start with a small project and be built on brick by brick. So that is why we are here – learning from Lagos but also sharing thoughts, knowledge and ideas towards an urban case study.

OU: What type of projects do DASUDA do?

RvK: We recently finished a case study in Cape Town, where we set up a partnership. It was about the regeneration of a large part of the city. We are also working on tools for mobility and water and we showed those while working on the case study in Cape Town. With our projects, we think about how to collaborate, the process of urban planning, and defining and using predictive tools. For example in Cape Town we can now predict, without going into a lot of detail, what the water conditions on each site will be and then we look at using the prediction as a design tool in finding solutions.

In the case of housing development in Cape Town we looked at how to generate value within the design stages and then showed that potential to all stakeholders from investors to local government. And of course all done in collaboration with local communities, which is very important. In Cape Town it is more or less the same as elsewhere, not the same, but the same idea of a case study in trying to design local solution for a specific place.

We did something similar in Nairobi, Kenya, and I am really excited about the next steps of implementation for those case studies. Here, we are working on the regeneration of an old area, Kaloleni, near the CBD, we had a whole process of not just case studying but really developing together with the local community what is actually needed. If you compare the project in Nairobi to, for example, Eko Atlantic. Yes, Eko Atlantic is an urban development project but is it actually benefitting the people?

aerial of kaloleni, nairobi

We must try to bridge bottom-up and top-down. There needs to be a platform or framework that allows all stakeholders to be involved. It is also important that it is from bottom up. In all our projects, we try to understand what is needed for that specific area in the city and hopefully implement a successful project where we can take lessons learnt and best practices to other areas.

For the project in Lagos the stakeholders do not just include local partners but also the local community, local government, local area leaders, chiefs, and professionals from different backgrounds, both local and international, all the way up to investors local and international and so on. There will be a whole spectrum or range of stakeholders and hopefully at the end of the process all stakeholders will have a part to play within the project and will buy in to the project.

OU: I worry that in Lagos it is hard to get government officials, Lagos State officials, involved. They are the hardest to convince. You can talk to the local community and work with them to design something great, but to then get buy-in from Government is always a tricky one.

RvK: That is one of the things we are working on of course. In the process of developing the case study, every workshop week will have one seminar-like setting where stakeholders, including government who are specifically related to the city and the specific location, will be in attendance. At this seminar we will share our progress. They will be carried along throughout the process and this will convince them of the benefits, not just for the city or people, but for them. Of course, the driver will always be the people and the city but we need to think about what is in it for all stakeholders as well. So we will try to attract all the different stakeholders to the project slowly, bit by bit.  We know that is a big challenge, involving government officials, but we will try to get them in.

Remco Rolvink: The European way would be to start with the government, local, regional, national because they are the main commissioners of such projects. They would usually be the driver in such contexts. But that simply doesn’t work here. We have learnt by doing –  At the beginning, some people asked us, “what are you doing? You are engaging with government so much”. It is actually one of our problems.

In Kenya, however, we are still working at this level. In May, we are hopefully starting a G to G – government to government – relationship project that will last 3 years. It will be part of a peri-urban economic development project. The project is looking at what kind of spatial developments can enhance economic development on a small scale. This can then be duplicated using the principles learnt during the small scale project. It will be effective in the areas where the majority of urban growth in Kenya is happening.

The approach in Nigeria is different – we know that for urban projects it is much better to have a wide scope and to inform government at each step. By showing what progress is being made and include all the different partners, the public sector will be carried along. As Robert was saying, it is a clear interest for them, we just need to show them that it is both financial and socially impactful.

OU: I feel in terms of Lagos State, you have to find someone that is thinking a little bit differently and also someone that can influence change. It is always hard to find that person, who can change somebody else’s mind. It is hard to find someone, within the State Government departments, who will take an interest, buy-in to the project and then push it forward. What will interest them to buy into the project?

RR: We discuss this a lot and I think this is what we plan to do during the workshop weeks in Lagos. We are trying to combine a group of local professionals with expertise from the Netherlands and abroad to become, not a big group, but a think-do tank. Working this way will help guide the process, knowing what route to take when and access to the right contacts.

Hopefully, step by step, we will build on this and it will also be easier to understand what we mean – so that when people see this case study they will know that it is a national, local and international project and not something that we came up with and brought it here in the hope that it will succeed. If the latter was to happen the opportunities for success are then not very big.

Working in Lagos

OU: What has your experience been working in Lagos, in comparison to other cities worldwide?

RvK: There are so many answers. I would say it is the most exciting city – I feel at home in a city like Lagos. It’s the most vibrant city and the most energetic city that I have visited on the African continent. If I am comparing, then I would prefer to be in Lagos working with lots of interesting people I have met in the last few years.

Also, Nigerians back home in the Netherlands and Europe are working at an experienced level within the field of architecture and design that has led to partnership and projects. For example, we worked with Kunle Adeyemi on the Floating School. I was part of his team and since then we have been working on small and large scale projects. It is just the most exciting city. Everything is extreme – the problems are extreme and on the other hand the possibilities are also extreme. You see this in daily life as well. So all this somehow generates energy. This is just Lagos, Abuja is something else. However, this is one man’s view.

floating school

RR: Exactly. This is the same guy that said, while in Cape Town at a meeting , “I like Cape Town but I love Joburg”. A lady at the meeting, Genita, could not understand. She came back to what Robert said like three times, saying “Are you kidding? Are you sure?”. So your feelings towards a city is definitely a personal thing.

RvK: Of course. I think it is very personal. If you do not like Lagos, you hate it. Those are the extremes. I am on the love side.

OU: And you, Remco, love or hate?

RR: Lagos is fascinating, because of a few things – we were just saying the other day how interesting it would be to do some time maps. Because, for example, in the Sandbank City book there is an overlay map of how Lagos grew over the years – you see all the different steps. There are still quite big gaps, but you can see Lagos growing and then it becomes explosive and that was all within 150 years, and this is even further accelerated in the last 30 years. But if you then divide the last 30 years to 15 years, looking at the introduction of mobile phones and what that has done to the city, you can analyse what it has done for a city like Lagos, which is completely organic and all the relations are – you do not talk about informal or formal city anymore its this mesh of movement and connectivity that fascinates me. It would be wonderful to see what studies could be done, not so much academically being studied but what it can do for actual relationships, implementation wise and what it means for the city. I haven’t been to a place in the world where that feeling of change is as vibrant and strong as in Lagos.

houses of lagos

OU: Yes, that feeling of change is happening so quick. One year ago the city looks like this and the next it is something else.

RvK: Or even within a few months.


You can read part two and three of the interview with DASUDA’s founders, Robert van Kats and Remco Rolvink, in the coming weeks, where we spoke about the privatisation of water in Lagos and the globalisation of architecture.


Image Credits:

  1. Image by www.newtowninstitute.org
  2. Image by Gregor Samsa, www.flickr.com/photos/gregor_samsa/
  3. Image by BBC Chartering, www.flickr.com/photos/bbc-chartering/


About FutureLagos

Olamide Udoma is a researcher, writer and filmmaker holding degrees in BSc Architecture, MA Design and MPhil Infrastructure Management. Olamide has worked in London, South Africa and Nigeria with various organisations focusing on transport management, slum upgrading and housing rights in urbanising African cities. At Our Future Cities NPO, she is the Lagos manager and editor.

There is one comment

  1. yacoob abiodun

    A good initiative in the right direction. I hope Lagos government officials collaborate with DASUDA in order to realise the objective you set to achieve. Lagos government officials are one kind. May be out of ignorance or hubris, they seldom impress anybody when it comes to do a project that is for public good, most espciallyfor the hoi polloi.

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