Nigerian Cambridge scholar develops new ways to protect spaces vulnerable to violence

It is no longer news that West Africa and indeed, Nigeria is one of the most affected regions in the world when it comes to conflict and violence.

Since 2009, the wave of violence and conflict has spiked around the Africa’s most populous country starting from northern Nigeria which remains the epicentre. There has been a lot of lives and property lost to violence in Nigeria and other parts of Africa just under 20 years.

The UN and other sources claim that 35,000 lives have been lost directly to conflict and violence in the Northeast of Nigeria alone. An additional 314,000 human causalities are further indirectly connected to conflict and violence in the same region since 2009. More recently, over the last 4 years, violence has spread even more across Nigeria.

There also large new cases emerging in countries like Chad, Burkina and South Sudan. There has therefore been a very imperative need to figure out how cities in West Africa can survive these dark times.

In this light, things might be looking brighter, as Stephen Ajadi, a scholar at the University of Cambridge, has developed a set of methods and strategies to understand and measure the vulnerability of cities to conflict and violence.

Stephen is an architect who is also a planner and a development economist. His cutting-edge research into the spatial impact of conflict and violence on African spaces has been largely successful. Combining methods of ethnography with those of advanced spatial analysis, he has developed a new approach for not only understanding how large spaces are susceptible to conflict and violence but has also found strategies for developing resilience to conflict and violence in various spaces.

Over the past 4 years, he has led the largest set of ethnographic studies ever in some of the most unstable cities in Africa—physically interviewing about 7000 people across teams in highly funded projects.

His research has broken new ground in conflict theory, methodology, and policy. He has since implemented strategies and findings from his research at small scales, and they have demonstrated development in certain African spaces. The positive development has opened opportunities for the development of much-needed urban spaces, especially in west Africa.

Stephen’s research has won the prestigious 2023 PhD CSAR Award at the University of Cambridge for research excellence and significance in delivering real-world impact. His research has been applauded by leading scholars at Cambridge. Stephen Ajadi is the founding principal of the international architecture firm RUBAN Office with offices across 3 cities in 2 countries. He also founded the Cambridge Initiative for African Urbanism (CIAU), a research group at the University of Cambridge that focuses on studying African cities. In addition, he founded the Penumbra Space Foundation, an NGO that helps develop physical and social infrastructure for people affected by violent conflict.

Through these platforms, Stephen has contributed to the development of safer rural and urban spaces. From leading workshops to designing and building new infrastructures of open spaces, from educating market people on spatial awareness to developing advanced collaborations at the highest levels of research, he has demonstrated that research can find its way to improve people’s lives in the face of some of the most pessimistic problems like conflict and violence. His research continues to scale its scope and implementation.

Stephen says the development of safer African cities is possible with the right methods and policies, especially if new spaces are planned for conflict resilience from the beginning.

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