This article focuses on the drivers and barriers afforded by three innovations—automated vehicles, electric mobility, and ridesharing and bike-sharing—in the four African urban areas of Johannesburg (South Africa), Kigali (Rwanda), Lagos (Nigeria) and Nairobi (Kenya). We ask: what are the drivers behind these innovations in these regions? What are the potential barriers? And what implications for policy or sustainability transitions emerge? Based on a review of the academic literature, we argue that these innovations are particularly important at providing low-carbon transitions for the transport sector, even though low-carbon development is an important topic that is under-researched in many developing economies. We begin by introducing these three innovations and justifying our four case studies. We base the research design on an interdisciplinary critical and umbrella literature review. We then discuss the results of our review, which is organized as a dualism of positive drivers and negative barriers, before discussing how to better harness innovation for low-carbon mobility in an African context. We find that the possible benefits of our three innovations exist only juxtaposed against negative barriers; no innovation is purely positive or negative and all of them have multiple dimensions of positivity and negativity. Although we have treated each of the three innovations as fairly isolated from one another, there are emergent (and potentially strong) couplings or entanglements between them, e.g. between electrification and two-wheelers or automation and ridesharing. In some contexts, hybridization, incrementalism and leapfrogging are seen as positive attributes and desirable characteristics of planning and technology adoption.