Archives for posts with tag: infrastructure

While much of this blog so far has been concerned with thinking about all the projects in Africa to build new commercial planned cities that will house the homes and offices of businesses making profits from Africa’s resources and nascent retail-hungry middle class, it’s important not to be overly focused on either these headline grabbing, secure, infrastructurally sound enclaves that attract international businesses, nor too focused on the surrounding slums they juxtapose, but to remember the array of roads, pipes, and wires that the country and partnering corporations depend on to actually run their operations in the country. This infrastructure, found in the form of airports, port, roads, power plants, trains, internet cables and cell towers, has the potential to either breach the gap between the wealthy enclaves and the rest of the country by building up infrastructure throughout a interconnected nation, or to further cut-up and cut-off communities from privileged bunkers like Eko Atlantic. This article in the New York Times about the “illegal” tapping of oil pipelines in Nigeria’s Delta region touches on an example of the latter. I’ve been reading Helon Habila’s novel Oil on Water, which has a moving descriptions of the effects of Shell and BP’s oil extraction on the people who made their homes in the delta region:

There are countless villages going up in smoke daily. Well, this place, Junction, went up in smoke because of an accident associated with this vandalism, as you call it. But I don’t blame them for wanting to get some benefit out of the pipelines that have brought nothing but suffering to their lives, leaking into the rivers and wells, killing the fish and poisoning the farmlands. And all they are told by the oil companies and the government is that the pipelines are there for their own good, that they hold great potential for their country, their future. These people endure the worst conditions of any oil-producing community on earth, the government knows it but doesn’t have the will to stop it, the oil companies know it, but because the government doesn’t care, they also don’t care. And you think the people are corrupt? No. They are just hungry, and tired. (p. 103-104)

That’s a powerful paragraph. Are these pipeline puncturers democratizing oil in Nigeria, or stealing from their country? Not easy to answer and probably not even a productive question in light of Habila’s illumination of the situation, but the whole complexity of the situation speaks to the infrastructural challenges places like Nigeria have beyond the edges of their slowly improving cities…will people continue migrating into the cities until the countryside simply a battlefield between the remaining petro-rebels and corporate backed national armies? Th violence in Southwest Nigeria has calmed down since the 2007 amnesty for rebels, but still that does not seem to be an impossible dystopian vision of the future. Roads and train tracks carved through places like the Serengeti or other communities and neighborhoods while leaving others off the map have similar problematic effects that have to be considered during planning. On a different note, looking at the images from the nytimes article about oil tapping, it’s not difficult to link the images of oil soaked landscapes and overflowing buckets of oil to how a cancer-epidemic is developing in much of Africa (chronicled in Botswana by Julie Livingston who ties it to what she calls “toxic capital”). In other places it’s savvy but hazardous activities like burning old computers without ventilators to collect and sell the medal inside them, and other places it’s simply the lack of car emissions testing, constantly dousing people in toxic fumes. And then there is the lack of medical infrastructure and treatment for this and other epidemics…

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Image Source [Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters]

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Is the slogan of the Lagosian Mayor Babatunde Fashola, but the author of this op-ed, Femi Aribisala, is beginning to wonder if by “dogs” Mayor Fashola doesn’t mean “poor people” in his vision of the future Lagos megacity. The article claims that poor people are being rounded up in the night and transported out of Lagos and that visas may soon become a requirement to enter into what Mr. Aribisala thinks has become a city for the rich man. While acknowledging the effective governance of Fashola, he questions who speaks for the urban poor–those who cannot afford a home in Lagos now and certainly will not be able to purchase a plot on Eko Atlantic (if they’re even allowed on the new island in the first place). He raises a needed inquiry into who is driving the narrative of Fashola being a savior of Lagos and wonders if the slum residents might disagree, instead preferring a governor such as Baba Kerere, who introduced housing and education programs targeted on the urban poor during his term in the early 80s. Fashola also has what he calls a “social contract” with the residents of Lagos–pay taxes and receive services–see this article by Howard French in which Fashola glows as an organizer and revitalizer of Lagos life, growing tax revenue from $4 million per month to over $101 million per month while still only receiving revenue from only 3 million of the 8 million working residents of the city. French’s portrait of a benevolent mayor investing in infrastructure that improves the everyday life of Lagos is challenged by Aribisala’s insights into the fact that one way Lagos collects revenue is through tolls on paved roads that then make those roads inaccessible to the destitute whose livelihood may have come from peddling or or driving a motorcycle taxi on those highways, evoking for me similarities to the history of how American highway systems severed black communities and physically cutoff urban blacks during the 50s and 60s. How Fashola reacts to these criticisms will be interesting to follow; the comparison that comes to my mind is of Kagame in Rwanda and the international and business praise that he initially garnered for his organization and development of Rwanda in the aftermath the genocide, and the subsequent muddling of that narrative resulting from reports and stories have been written from listening to the perspective of people living in Rwanda (Hutu or homeless Kigali residents) who do not view Kagame in such rosy terms (see this recent nytimes article based on an interview where the author confronted Kagame about some of the allegations against him). Kagame seems to be getting a little cagey in light of these criticisms and that leaves me feeling uneasy about Rwanda’s future. The initial narrative of Fashola could be seen in a similar light–he and his predecessor, Bola Tinubu, have brought Lagos out of a dark period that is not widely understood by western observers (like the genocide in Rwanda) and have transformed the city in ways that are appealing to western visitors, but of course now challenges to that version of history are appearing. At the end of French’s piece he recounts an episode where Fashola was confronted by the vigorous and healthy Nigerian press, in which he claims Fashola seemed to revel in their challenges and address them head on–hopefully Lagos’s government continues to directly address its critics.

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