Project Outline: Ride-hailing Urbanism and Digital Platformization in Africa

This research project will be focused on the digital platformization of ride-hailing systems within Ethiopia and Nigeria. As a developing sector, this project will aim to provide a better understanding of the role ride-hailing systems play in the urban fabric and future implications for governance.
Project Outline: Ride-hailing Urbanism and Digital Platformization in Africa

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Ride-hailing Urbanism and Digital Platformization in Africa

Supervised by Prof. Ding Fei, Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University


The process of urbanism and the mass gathering of people has traditionally been an exemplary facilitator for societal innovations. Whether attributed to absolute necessity or simply demand dynamics, the assemblage of civilization in cities has undoubtedly provided the foremost platform for the advancement of our world as a whole. In contemporary years, the pinnacle of urbanization has assuredly been in Africa, with explosively growing cities sweeping the vast continent. As a byproduct of this expansion, and as it has done so in the past, new innovations have emerged as answers to some of these cities’ greatest challenges. One such issue griping numerous African centers has been the mobility and movement of people across new spatial environments and circumstances.

Project Background

An emerging response to this growing challenge has been the digital platformization of ride-hailing systems. There has been an existing rise in the online sharing economy, where new governance and spaces have materialized to promote digital platforms to urbanites. This simultaneous increase has been coupled with the steady progress of ride-hailing companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Bolt in developed countries, especially in larger metropolitan areas. Ride-hailing is essential in both its convenience and affordability, and its success has supported its entry into new urban realms, namely the world’s urban future: Africa. Nevertheless, current literature has largely been focused on the already prosperous markets in North America, Western Europe, and East Asia, leaving a gap of knowledge surrounding the entry of ride-hailing services and locally cultivated platforms. 

Throughout recent decades, large-scale foreign investments and capital has been poured into connectivity infrastructure throughout Africa’s dominant commercial hubs. This has facilitated a widespread availability of public access to a multitude of digital interfaces on which ride-hailing companies depend. This intersection of external financing has led some within the literature to argue that Africa has become an idle market ripe for exploitation from larger global venture capital firms. More recent studies however, have illustrated that the  emergence of ride-hailing platforms in African cities reflects a multitude of urban entrepreneurial experiments resulting from a convergence of domestic and international capital within both the formal and informal sectors.

Key Objectives and Research Questions

As such, the key objectives of this project are to delineate ride-hailing urbanism through a comparative analysis while focusing on two major cities: Addis Ababa and Lagos with 5.5 and 20 million residents respectively. More specifically, this study hopes to elucidate a better understanding of how ride-hailing platformization is integrated into different urban systems, with an emphasis on the extent to which their models are practiced, governed, and imagined. Additionally, this project aims to provide implications for urban development and its congruence with the digital future.

Three main questions will be addressed during this project in an effort to reach the objectives set. First, what roles do sources of capital, business strategies, and regulatory contexts play in the formation and transformation of different ride-hailing platforms? Second, how does the process of platformization differently intersect with changing urban policies and enduring socio-spatial inequalities between the two cities? Third, why does ride-hailing urbanism unfold in particular forms across these two cities? 


This will be accomplished by first starting with a literature review and study of current scholarly works within ride-hailing urbanism in Africa. Both Addis Ababa and Lagos contain similar transportation networks, yet encompass exceedingly different political, economic, and urban policies. Distinct from other ride-hailing prevailing cities such as Cape Town or Nairobi, which are dominated by large global corporations, Addis Ababa is served solely by locally run companies. Lagos, while similar to Addis Ababa, contains a mixture of both western enterprises and regional-based firms. Together, comparative case studies of Addis Ababa and Lagos can illustrate different trajectories and topologies of ride-hailing urbanism in Africa.

After the literature review will be policy analysis, where various case studies based within several different countries will be done. A specific focus on policies supporting digital economies and platformization will be looked at. Lastly, firm surveys will be conducted for both global and local companies in order to map out future trajectories and provide implications for policy work. The sources utilized will be largely from public sources and government institutions, including online websites of firms and data available from existing literature. The research portion will be followed by future field work, meaning this is an issue of public concern, where interviews with local community members will take place to determine the impact of ride-hailing urbanism. During this time, community partners and stakeholders will be clarified as well, though they are as of now uncertain.

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