Urban encounters: politicising the everyday in African cities

P03 – Urban encounters: politicizing the everyday in African cities

Buire Chloé . LAM-CNRS (France)
Ruy Blanes . INCIPIT-CSIC (Spain)
Jon Schubert . Universidade de Leipzig (Germany)

African cities are nodes of encounters, a choreography of historical networks, transitory associations and unexpected alliances. At a time when cracks are showing in the hegemonic dominance of developmental regimes across the continent, this panel contends that digging into the messiness of everyday urban life might provide new keys to understand how alternative political subjectivities can emerge. However, despite the high visibility of overt political protest surrounding presidential mandates (Burkina Faso, Burundi), influence peddling (South Africa) or suppressed justice (Angola), we hold that it is by looking at the production of the political not in institutions but in the ‘timeless banality of daily life’ (Trouillot 2001) that we can understand how people’s actions and discourses can at the same time be subversive and participate in existing power structures. Rather than trumpeting grand narratives of a wave of ‘Arab Springs’ spreading through Sub-Saharan Africa, this panel is then interested in the interstitial spaces between domination and the cultivation of consent that can be carved in the materiality of everyday urban life. When the space for politics is circumscribed, what kind of spaces does the city offer for struggles over freedom and dignity? Could derelict urban landscapes and infrastructures constitute sites of resistance? When do acts as mundane as accessing clean water, caring for one’s health or walking a waste-invaded pavement become subversive? We invite papers (in English or Portuguese) exploring invisible repertoires of discourse and action anchored in the daily practices of city-dwellers.

Discussant: Jon Schubert . Universidade de Leipzig (Germany)


Com o referido tema, objectiva-se, fazer uma relação entre a forma precaria como as pessoas se apropriam do espaço no bairro Rocha Pinto e as soluções apresentadas no Plano Director de Luanda de 2015, de modo a perceber os instrumentos capazes de revelar valores urbanisticos e ambientais nas populaçoes do bairro, onde se verificam problemas de acesso, construções precarias “subrepostas” umas das outras, carências de serviços basicos e a degradação, do ambiente o nivel alto de deliquencia. Estes valores são consequência da actual estrutura urbana precaria do bairro. Para a pesquisa Socorremos-nos de instrumentos que são impregues na area de percepção da Antropologia urbana, nomeadamente: observaçao participante, questionários de respostas abertas e entrevistas abertas, que nos ajudem na busca de indicadores capazes de suportar as exigências, trazidas nas diversas linhas condutoras do Plano Director de Luanda de 2015. Uma vez conhecidos os instrumentos de pesquisa, selecionaremos três áreas deste bairro – Rocha Moagem, Rocha Padaria e Rocha Parque. As informações fornecidas através da analise urbanística do bairro Rocha Pinto, servirão de subsidios para projectos semilares, que contextualizarão a percepção do nível de pobreza, urbanidade e consequentemente a qualidade de vida daquele território de Luanda.
Cláudio Fortuna . CEIC-UCAN . claudiofortuna24@gmail.com

This talk discusses the negative impact of low cultural consumption on sexual and reproductive behaviors in suburban settings in Angola. Focusing on the youth, the talk argues that, alongside with material poverty, low access to consumption of cultural resources such as cinema, theatre, reading and sport competitions play a key role in people’s propensity to overvalue sexual and reproductive activities. This implies that low consumption of cultural resources contributes to the suburban youth considering sex, sexuality and reproduction as the main sources of pleasure, satisfaction, self-steam, and status. In such a context, following sociologist Robert Merton, it is here argued that, being poor concerning cultural consumption, suburban young people in Angola use sex, sexuality and reproduction as means to reach socially approved resources.  The negative outcome regards social disintegration, with difficulties to maintain a family unity, which in turn worsen further material constraints. Suburban settings in Angola (and Africa) are probably the most disadvantaged  environments in terms of cultural consumption, since they tend to distance themselves from rural-traditional life styles, but not be able to match urban-modern life standards. Reflections on the need to politicize the connection between low cultural consumption on the part of suburban youth in Angola, and their overemphasis on sexual and reproductive values is central in the present talk.


José Katito . Instituto Superior Politécnico Lusíada do Huambo, Angola . jose.katito4studies@gmail.com

While the political relations between politics citizens and states are continuously studies through analysing channels of participation (like political parties, ward systems or social movements), a growing body of literature suggest that more attention should be given to everyday politics and everyday practises of urban dwellers. Compared to visible politics like public protests and political negotiations, everyday politics and practises brings attention to how norms, discourses and identities, in less visible ways, inform urban politics. In this paper, I suggest two strategies for gaining insight into everyday politics within urban spaces: First, applying a social constructive analysis of the ideal organisational models promoted by residents within specific urban spaces. This implies that organisational models are understood as symbols rather than rational realities, reflecting contextual identities, norms and discourses. Secondly, giving attention to how rumour and gossip, as informal political practises, impact on political processes on the ground. These two strategies will be applied to an analysis of everyday politics within informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa. The analysis highlight how informal settlements are particularly potent political spaces, where everyday politics reflect the classical tension of stabilizing or disciplining norms confronting urban individualism.

Laura Drivdal . University of Cape Town . Laura.Drivdal@myuct.ac.za

This paper explores the nexus of public participation and conflict, and the potential for conflict transformation through forms of participation and deliberation, in the context of post-1994 South Africa. The urban research setting to investigate this relationship is Walmer Township in the city of Port Elizabeth drawing on the writing of Henri Lefebvre, among others. It further discusses forms of protest and everyday resistance such as vandalism and how these forms of citizen action have brought about new participatory spaces for a selected group of township residents to engage with the state and it draws attention to the obstacles to the transformational potential of these collaborations. It concludes that there exist different structures of community based organisations and many initiatives of mutual self-help in Walmer Township, but that these initiatives are not directed at a more radical transformation like those proposed most prominently by the Abahali baseMjondolo shack-dweller movement that originated from protests against forced evictions of the Kennedy Road Informal Settlement in Durban. This paper argues that Walmer Township residents rather aim for empowerment in close relation to established structures and the existing system and do not significantly challenge these.


Stefanie Probst . Duisburg-Essen University / Nelson Mandela University . s215401824@live.nmmu.ac.za

Religion weaves one of the most important social networks in Luanda, creating what Filip de Boeck (2005) and AbdouMaliq Simone (2010, 2011) call the invisible infrastructure of the city. That means that within the religious universe the city slips out the ideological – conceived space (Lefebvre 1991) turning into religiously generated lived space. This process is in turn strongly connected with religiously molded articulations of citizenship (Fumanti 2010) challenging its normative and conventional understanding within the nation state.  However this religious mode is not disjunctive from state politics and imposed power relations. Especially in Angola, where churches are simultaneously collaborating and questioning or reworking the state politics. In this paper I would like to analyze spatially rooted religious practices of two different evangelical and Pentecostal churches: the Angolan Assembly of God and the Bom Deus Church that question and interfere with political and public discourses on ethnicity, class and gender in Luanda. Additionally I would like to comment on the transnational interconnectivity of Luanda based churches that is the source of new cosmopolitan imaginations including attitudes of social activism within religiously structured universe.

Natalia Zawiejska . Jagiellonian University, Cracow . natalia.zawiejska@gmail.com

The OPC is one of the most popular vigilante organizations in the southwest Nigeria. OPC has been formed in 1994, as one of the consequences of the Abiola’s defeat at the presidential elections. Expression and reaction facing a feeling of marginalization experienced by the Yoruba elite, the movement adopted a radical political ideology and developed a discourse against the institutional political system and more widely, about social justice. They have been highly involved in the provision of order in the popular areas in Lagos. Gani Adams, the second OPC historical leader, turned the issue of security and order into the political priority of OPC. A four months fieldwork in Lagos made us realized that after a period of success, OPC has been accused of bad practices and has been rejected by the population in some areas. Vigilante groups under OPC control developed practices reminding the traditional Yoruba witchcraft practices, especially to force arrested people to confess their presumed crimes or infractions. This strategy has been adopted in order to get a new legitimacy in Lagos lower social classes  and to disqualify the state discourse. However, it appeared that they were using a witchcraft register materialized by a relatively new interpretation of the Yoruba values. Our communication will be focused on the OPC evolution process from the late nineties until now. OPC has succeeded not only to label their own practices and to make popular their mode of action to local authorities, but also to sell their services as security private provider. Our paper deals with the observations done in a neighborhood where OPC controls one gated street. We used a micro-scale analysis at the street level to highlight the sense of young men involvement in the OPC.

Revilla . Sciences Po Bordeaux/ LAM . revilla.lucie@gmail.com

This paper will ask what is the meaning of the revolution to revolutionary youth? In other words, what political project did young people aim for and imagine with the wake of the revolutionary event? Using the lens of historical time in line with Reinhart Koselleck , the Egyptian revolution will be theorized from youth’s perspective in light of the political project they aimed for and imagined through situating them at this particular historical juncture. It is especially since 2013 and the return of the repressive military regime to power, that scholars have been critical of youth’s political participation and forms of resistance as having failed to come to power or propose an alternative to the old regime. Drawing on the form of organization at Tahrir square and beyond in which the revolution did not have a leader, was non-ideological, and inclusive to men and women, scholars have been critical to the possibility of transformation from revolutionary youth accusing them of their incapability to form a unity strong enough to contest the old political forces. Arguing against that, this paper will debate youth’s political project while problematizing the notion of leaderless and non-ideological forms of organization arguing that youth’s political participation was not non-ideological but rather post-ideological, not imagining change beyond the state. It in light of this that a new youth political subjectivity was formed that imagines and practices change differently from the old mode of doing politics.


Dina El-Sharnouby . Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Society, Depratment of Political Science, Freie Universities Berlin . El-Sharnouby@bgsmcs.fu-berlin.de

In this paper I propose to elaborate a reflection on spaces of political contention in the urban space, taking as point of departure the iconic Largo 1º de Maio in Luanda, the historical site of proclamation of Angolan independence in 1975 which has ‘witnessed’ several attempts of public demonstration and contestation since 2011. I will depart from Foucault’s famous concept of heterotopia and engage in an understanding of such urban landmarks as ‘ambivalent systems’ that incorporate both dogma and deviation.


Ruy Llera Blanes . INCIPIT . ruy.blanes@gmail.com

Literature on activism in Sub-Saharan Africa gives us a good glimpse of how activism work operates at a point in time. However, there are few studies that show the long term effects of activist work over time especially how founding ideas are reworked and diverge from their initial use. My paper will examine how a group of Tanzanian former activists retrace, remember and justify their present actions and worldviews based on their involvement in a youth activist group in the 2000s. It will be a retrospective and present analysis of their activist work nearly fifteen years since their inception. It is a study based on the work of youth activist group called Aang Serian peace village, which means “House of Peace” in Masai language. Aang Serian was based in Arusha, Tanzania.  Aang Serian advocated the use of Tanzanian traditions as a basis for developing solutions for youth marginalization in urban areas during the transition period from socialism to market economy in Tanzania. Using interviews with former members, their discussions in social media and participant observation spanning over fifteen years, I show how the former member of Aang Serian argue their involvement in the activist work constitute them as a distinct group and individuals, a process that have changed how their think and act with different actors. These former activist use the term Aang Serian spirit to characterize their distinct identity and mode of social action. My paper will suggest that studies that pay attention to activism and its effects over time can illuminate the ways that individuals and groups citizen identities are transformed and sustained, changes that are sometimes difficult to access during the moment itself.


Mohamed . Ifakara Health Institute . mwalukere@gmail.com

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