Africities: Popular Engagements of the Urban in Contemporary Africa

Simone, AbdouMaliq. 2001. Africities: Popular Engagements of the Urban in Contemporary Africa. Space and Culture, 4(7-6), pp. 252-264. ISSN 1206-3312 [Article]

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Accelerated urbanization in Africa has produced cities whose formal physical, political and social infrastructures are largely unable to absorb, apprehend or utilize the needs, aspirations and resourcefulness of those who live within them. As a result, the efforts to secure livelihood depend upon largely informalised processes and a wide range of provisional and ephemeral institutions which cultivate specific orientations toward, knowledge of, and practices for dealing with urban life. Soon, the majority of Africans will live in peri-urban and informal settlements, often at the physical and social margins of the city. Yet, marginalization from security of tenure, formal livelihood, and, frequently, participation in viable urban political institutions converges with new modalities of urban social production which frequently confound clear readings of the motivations and effects of various forms of collective action undertaken in the public sphere.
At the same time, African cities are sites for multifaceted development and governance interventions which make largely uninspired efforts to engage such practices and institutions.
Even the efforts of civil society organizations operating under the umbrella of their promotion of ‘active citizenship’ tend to impose an ineffectual normative. What I attempt to do here is discuss a range of orientations to the city and an ambivalence about the city which seems to pervade how residents in many African cities use it and what they do within it. This is an ambivalence largely
about whether the city belongs to them, where the African city can best be made, and to what extent the city is a place for the reinvention of social solidarity or a circumvention of solidarity.
While urban analysts have tended to focus on how such African cities are marginal within urban systems, the primary focus in this article is to begin, in a very provisional way, to identify strategic operations and sensibilities being put together to help African urban residents ‘navigate’ disparate positionalities within both local and global networks of power. These efforts at
navigation give rise to particular notions of citizenship and collective responsibility whose ‘containment’ within clearly demarcated urban identities, municipal domains, and practices of urban politics becomes increasingly problematic.

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Date Deposited:

05 Oct 2015 10:03

Last Modified:

16 Dec 2016 17:21

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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