This project seeks to address the continued absence of theoretical work on the nature and dynamics of urbanism in African cities characterised by large swathes of informality. Many scholars have been arguing for the better part of a decade already that dominant knowledges and discourses on the African city are largely inappropriate and wrong. These discourses mirror simplistic modernist assumptions about what constitutes a viable, legible, efficient and competitive city. From such a vantage point the African city can only be seen and read as a narrative about absence, failure and inadequacy. On the back of such conceptualisations, an entire industry of analysis and policy fixes have been spawned which perpetuates the myth that African citie can only be understood in relation to a modernist ideal that is the Northern city; essentially reproducing the arrogance of the colonialist project.
Critics of these dominant discourses, such as Jennifer Robinson, AbdouMaliq Simone, Dominique Malaquais, Achille Mbembe, Asef Bayat, Akin Adesokan, Onookome Okome, Jean Tshonda, Philip de Boeck, Sarah Nuttall, amongst many others, point to multiple alternatives in approaching and understanding the African city. Essentially their varied and diverse work propose that one takes the African city for what it is; to start with recognising the significance of everyday practice as people actively pursue a plethora of innovative strategies to not only survive under extremely difficult material conditions but also continuously fashion new ways of being and becoming as citizens and various overlapping collectives. It is in the micro detail of these quotidian practices that one can begin to decipher the alternative logics and dynamics of African urbanisms.
This project brings together a group of African urban theorists and artists who work on ‘the everyday’ as a way of building a new body of theory that can better capture the specificity of urbanism on the Continent. The project commenced in April 2009 and is envisaged to unfold over the next three years and culminate in a book and special issues of journals. In time an art exhibition on African Urbanism will be undertaken on the back of this philosophical enterprise. The project is funded by the African Centre and articulates with related projects they are driving forward.