Stephanie Bosch Santana introduces a selection of essays produced for Achille Mbembe’s “African Future Cities” seminar held at Harvard University in the second half of 2013. She frames the pieces gathered here in light of a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship figuring African urbanism as a site of creativity and crisis; exploring tropes of migration, alterity, spectacle and uncertainty as they play out across the imagined terrains of African futurities.
‘Sign of Trouble’. Flickr: Katha Schulz, Treegrow. Jan. 2, 2011 Empty cocoon of the infamous palmkiller, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, in situ, hanging in a canary date palm (Phoenix canariensis) fruit stalk. When you see these around your palm tree, it’s usually already doomed. Els Poblets, Comunidad Valenciana, Spain. 30 December 2010.
I was born on October 30, 1981 in Mexico City. A day and thirty-two years later, I woke up in Manhattan with a broken heart. A wonderful relationship had come to a sudden end on the 20th, after almost eight years of sharing our lives together. We resided in Mexico City, Marseille, and Nairobi. We traveled Mombasa, Lamu, Mumbai, Kigali, Firenze, Barcelona, Paris, Antananarivo, London, El Paso, and Juarez. Her name was Jeanne. It still is. The Marseillaise. In the fall of 2012, I had gone to Chicago as a PhD student in an- thropology, while she was pursuing her own career in academia back in France. Would we still be a couple if I had stayed or if she had come?
The photograph shows a man standing on a monumental pedestal, arms akimbo, occupying the home of some forgotten statue. The man is Angolan fashion designer Shunnoz Fiel dos Santos; the now-removed statue bore the likeness of Portuguese colonist Paolo Dias de Novais, who claimed the small coastal settlement that became Angola’s capitol as São Paulo da Assumpcão de Loanda in 1575
Reading the (Zoo) City: The Social Realities and Science Fiction of Johannesburg
South African author Lauren Beukes turned heads when her book Zoo City (2010), a fantastical mystery/crime-drama set in a re-imagined present-day Johannesburg, became the first novel from Africa to win the prestigious Arthur C. Clark award for best science fiction novel of the year. Both the locale of Beukes’s story and its privileging of a perspective from the inner-city margins of post-apartheid society, aligns Zoo City with the nascent genre of postcolonial science fiction.
In Kigali, folks don’t really read the street signs. To be fair, they have only existed since the summer of 2012, when in one fell swoop the Kigali City Council assigned new names to the more than 2,600 roads, avenues, and boulevards comprising Kigali’s lymphatic system. Prior to 2012, there were very few named streets in Kigali: most of those were in the downtown neighborhood known as Centre ville, and all bore French names. The new system relinquishes the symbolic, victorious, patriotic street names of post-independence Africa, like Avenue de la Paix, Rue de la Justice, or Boulevard Mandela.
A street sign in Kigali. January 2014.
All images courtesy Darja Djordjevic.
Rem Koolhaas admits he knew next to nothing about Africa when he decided to investigate Lagos as part of his Harvard Project on the City (HPC). In fact it was partly that unknown that attracted him to Africa’s megalopolis: “this forced me to confront something I didn’t know anything about,” he recapped in a 2002 interview, adding specifically about Lagos, “there was no established interpretation” (Koolhaas and van der Haak). Over the course of half a decade of research, his own interpretation eventually became that “Lagos may well be the most radical urbanism extant today, but it is one that works” (Koolhaas and HPC).
Lagos from above by Jrobin08. Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo and one of Africa’s largest cities, can be chaotic and terrifying—not only for most Congolese, but even for the Kinois, as Kinshasa’s residents are known. A for- mer colonial outpost that has grown into a burgeoning metropolis, Kinshasa is “modern” in many ways, but still fails to deliver on promises to its poorer citizens. To access services that the state and the city do not of- fer, the Kinois frequently turn to religious movements that have filled the vacuum left by the state. Many people rely on their church bonds to survive—and sometimes even to prosper.
The end of year service of the “L’Eglise Universalle Des Noirs” or Mvuka MaBundu in the ghetto commune of Kimbanseke, KInshasa, Dec 30, 2007. The church is an offshoot of the Kimbanguist church and was founded by Simon Pierre Mpadi. The current spiritual leader is Kimbondo Nledi Mponda Mpadi. The women in white are Révélatrices who heal and prophesy.
In this essay I examine “decongestion”—the removal of informal settlers and sellers from public spaces in Ghanaian cities. The above epigraph is taken from a blog post by journalist George Tagoe in the aftermath of one such undertaking in Accra. On a regular basis municipal governments announce a “serious decon- gestion exercise in the central business district” (Odoi- Larbi 2007). With the launch of each new endeavour, there is the promise that this time the activity will be more successful and more permanent than the last: “As we decongest the city, we will make sure that they [squatters] do not get back to the place [city-centre]” (GhanaMMA 2013).
Shop Assistant in Kiosk at Old Fadama. Photo courtesy Debbie Onuoha
As you walk towards Lake Michigan on E 85th Street in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, you will pass tens of vacant lots where working-class families once lived in homes in one of the city’s safest and most stable neighborhoods. Over the last three decades, deindus- trialization has ripped physical and existential holes into this community where most households depend- ed on the steel mills of South Chicago for their liveli- hoods (Walley 2013).
Charles Cushman, Indiana University Archives, 1958.
At the start of the 21st century, we witness a renewed in- terest in the idea of the African future. Gradually, older senses of time and space based on linear notions of de- velopment and progress are being replaced by newer senses of time founded on liquidity and flows. Africa’s future is increasingly thought of as open, full of possi- bility and potentiality, even as pliant. This new cultural and political sense of time is constructed in a number of registers, from the economic to the fictional. It ac- knowledges that things are complex.
“Future_City_Landscape” July 18, 2012. Flickr: lundrah.sawson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
In her essay on new African literatures, Ashleigh Harris draws on an interrogation of form to delineate the ways in which African authors
such as Chimamanda Adichie and NoViolet Bulawayo, schooled in American creative writing programmes, fail to convincingly capture the everydayness of African experience. For Harris, the positioning of these writers “in and for America”, compromises their ability to effectively engage with “African spaces”.
Helena Chavez Mac Gregor reads recent modes of global protest in order to argue that claims made by civilians of and against the state are no longer simply asserted through a battle over representation, but have transitioned into a politics of occupation that prompts a rethinking of the very meanings of the political.
“Zócalo Mexico City, 1st of July 2012”. Photo, Francis Alÿs
In what follows, Lewis Gordon theorises the nodes of intersection between philosophy and blues music and in so doing argues that blackness, as a philosophical and rhythmic condition, signals both the universal and the modern.
Photo by Jurgen Schadeberg. www.jurgenschadeberg.com
In his paper, Jonathan Klaaren critiques the disjuncture between South Africa’s constitutional enshrinement of legal rights and the limited access to justice experienced by most of its population. Klaaren identifies the prohibitive economic burdens of access to legal representation as an institutional failure that remains the legacy of apartheid, and suggests possible avenues forward.
Dans cette interview réalisée par Catherine Portevin pour Philosophie Magazine (numéro de février 2014), Achille Mbembe explique les raisons de son retour sur la catégorie polémique du
« Nègre » dans les conditions contemporaines.
Locating the City in Windhoek: Regimes of the Legal and other Aspects
Addressing a critical lacuna in studies of Windhoek, Ellison Tjirera argues that the affective and material habitation of its spaces by residents contradicts its legal exclusion from full status as a city. Reading its colonial past alongside its post- colonial present, he explores the ways in which Windhoek’s emerging built environment reflects official desires for the “city to come” that may or may not be in concord with those of its denizens.
Interview with Rem Koolhaas, in which he reflects on his research project in Lagos, Nigeria with the Harvard Project on the City (started in 2000, but so far unpublished) and on the interactive film Lagos Wide & Close, directed by Bregtje van der Haak (presented as an art installation and DVD in 2004 and available online as of July 2014). Rem Koolhaas is the director of the Venice Architecture Biennial which opens on June 5, 2014.
Video still. Rem Koolhaas shot by Jean Counet, directed by Bregtje van der Haak (lagos.submarinechannel.com)
In this number I have brought together curators and critics, and simply made public the conversations they are having with artists regardless of you and me. These are people that, like the so-called southern artist, share the same legacies, experiences and definitions that have constrained, at time enabled, but mostly marked individuals to region if not country.
So, even though the conversations are focused on the art work produced, they say as much about the curator and critic as they say about the artist, the work, and the politics of being either or, within the evolving and mutating concept of the south as a lived experience.
1. Lola Macdougall (editor of Punctum magazine, cultural manager--Spain, lives and works in India), in conversation with photograher Gauri Gill (India)
2. Renuka Sawhney (curator, critic, gallerist--Mumbai, works between New York and Mumbai) in conversation with multimedia artist Naeem Mohaiemen (Bangladesh)
Conversation between Lola MacDougall and Gauri Gill (The Birth Series, 2005)
A conversation between Lola Mac Dougall and photographer Gauri Gill that unveils not only work procedures, thoughts and experiences, but like her photographs, poetically reflects on the individual, intimacy, gender and location.
Critic/curator Renuka Sawhney and artist Naeem Mohaiemen have been speaking to each other for some time now. In the following extract, the role of memory as part of a critical approach and form of work(ing) with(in) contested political spaces is unpacked through its manifestation in various locations.
1973 left the imperialists with many problems, 2013