An excellent article in the New Republic by Eve Fairbanks about the attack on Westgate Mall as an attack on what has become a popular symbol of Africa’s future:  shopping malls. The article is worth reading in its entirety, but in it Fairbanks recounts how large shopping malls have proliferated in the last couple of decades in many African countries, becoming the most popular hangout spot for all kinds of people from ex-pats to artists to very poor people, not just angsty teenagers. They’re the physical symbol of Africa’s rising middle class and the consumerism comes with it (retail is the hottest area of investment in Africa according to the article)–they’re where all kinds of African urban dwellers come “to act out a dream of the African future.” And in striking contrast to much of the surrounding cities, it’s a dream where has been planned with beautiful and clean infrastructure, running water, and electricity. It’s also a place where new identities can be experimented with, and where anyone is permitted to visit–it’s an open space unlike many walled and gated restaurants or hotels in African cities. Unfortunately this may begin to change in the wake of Westgate…security will certainly be beefed up, and Fairbanks wonders if rougher-looking people from the slums who used to come to window gaze and to dream about the future might begin to be turned away, stratifying what used to be a welcoming and cosmopolitan vision of Africa’s future.

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