Archives for posts with tag: Lagos

What might be Lagos’s most internationally recognizable building project since the 1980s isn’t a skyscraper or a suspension bridge — it’s a one-room schoolhouse. The now well-known A-frame bobs in the murky surf of Makoko, one of Lagos’s largest slums, providing a learning space for a community of 100,000+ people not officially recognized by the city government. Designed by Nigeria’s rising star Kunlé Adeyemi, the project made waves in the architectural world last year for its simplicity, adaptability, and humanity. I first read (and blogged) about the project last fall and was struck by the auroral beauty of the blue-roofed building set against the cooking smoke and plain timber structures of Makoko where new homes are often constructed on a soggy foundation of raw sewage (see episode 2 of the BBC’s documentary Welcome to Lagos). Here was a project that had actually succeeded in that often sought but rarely realized gauntlet of creating low-cost, high-design buildings from recycled material to benefit poor communities. Write-ups poured in from the New York Times, The Guardian, and many others, and Makoko Floating School splashed across my newsfeed for several weeks.

Last summer when I was in Lagos for the first time, I saw the school from the Third Mainland Bridge moments before glimpsing the city’s skyline and I have to admit that the school stole the spotlight. The Third Mainland Bridge is the longest bridge in Africa, meandering from Ebute Meta to Lagos Island, and, about halfway along, it provides the perfect balcony to view Akeyemi’s school (where I took the photo below). Akeyemi certainly knew how to make the most of a small-scale project that other architects might have scoffed at. For making a name for himself Akeyemi had good training — he worked at Koolhaas’s firm OMA for nearly a decade before founding his own firm NLÉ in 2010. His relationship with Koolhaas adds a fascinating dimension to Adeyemi’s project since Koolhaas’s Harvard Project on the City produced some of the most provocative writing on Lagos to date. Koolhaas challenged outside observers to see Lagos as being at the “forefront of globalizing modernity” — a dynamic urban space that had outgrown Western notions of the city and carrying capacity to become a “self-organizing” entity that completely disorientated visitors but somehow “worked.” Within this paradigm, it’s not surprising that Adeyemi saw that the future was in Lagos and returned to set-up shop. But of course his move and the civically-concerned design he’s been involved in since being back puts a twist on Koolhaas’s “self-organizing” thesis.

Away from the stratosphere of starchitects, the school itself has become the pride of Makoko, a place for a handful of youths to get an education long denied to the unincorporated fishing community. Every day local children park their hollowed out wooden canoes around the floating school and gather on its open-air decks for class, and in the evenings the buoyant building becomes a community center for local leaders. The project is only the prototype of a much larger masterplan that Adeyemi envisions for Makoko, and if funding comes through all of the neighborhood’s stilt-supported shacks will one day be replaced by floating A-frames. When that happens, it may just be a sight to rival Eko Atlantic — the megaproject of office buildings developing on the other side of the city and architectural spectrum.

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(Mark Duerksen 2014)

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*Self-promotion warning* A book review and an article–both related to Lagos–that I wrote last year were recently published online. The African Studies Quarterly book review was on Kaye Whiteman’s Lagos: A Cultural History (highly recommended introduction to the city) and the article looked at Rem Koolhaas’s Lagos project and the highly critical responses to it, making the straightforward claim that critics’ borderline-vitriol was unnecessary and unproductive, and that despite numerous imperfections, Koolhaas’s project in fact pushes African urban research in productive new directions of grappling with African cities on their own terms rather than as stunted or failed versions of Western cities. The article was published in the Johannesburg Salon.

Review of Lagos: A Cultural History

The Koolhaas Effect: Hot Air over Lagos

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Lagos Billboard (Mark Duerksen 2014)

Creating a mashup of aerial images of African cities is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now and today I finally had a minute to put the satellite images together. Here’s the link: Afrian_metropolises. I downloaded all of the images from Google Earth Pro at the same size and scale (from 34.7 miles). The top row shows six of West Africa’s largest cities, the middle row shows East and Central African cities, and the bottom shows southern Africa plus New York and Boston for familiar comparisons (for me at least). A few striking first glance observations include the size of the South African giants Johannesburg and Cape Town, and Nigeria’s neighboring megalopolises Lagos and Ibadan (especially these two Nigerian cities in comparison to Kano, which recent (politically motivated) censuses have given population figures equal to Lagos. This is not to say geographic size of a city is determinant of its population, but the aerial difference between these three cities is readily apparent). Also interesting to note is how obvious (but obviously not a scientific method) it is to tell how paved a city is or is not based on where the city lies on the scale between brown (dirt) and grey (asphalt). There’s a limit to how useful images/maps like this actually are, but it’s fun to look at and helpful to have a for developing a mental imprint of the relative geographic sizes and shapes of African cities. 

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(Mark Duerksen 2014)

This is the final post in an eight part series on the history of Ebola. For immediate information about how to help prevent the further spread of Ebola and keep yourself safe please consult and share the Ebola Facts website.

As we are well aware, this year the two-decade trend of isolated outbreaks in Central Africa every few years has been broken by a much larger and more prolonged series of cases in West Africa. The outbreak began when a two-year-old child in southeastern Guinea contracted the most deadly species of the virus (Zaire ebolavirus) in early December last year, putting into motion the initially slow and then progressively faster spread of the virus to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now Nigeria. Unlike the past twenty year’s string of Central African outbreaks that were each unique and separate despite initial speculation otherwise, this year’s West African outbreak does seem to be the result of a single index case followed by human-to-human transmission. Here’s a good time-lapse map of that transmission through West Africa. Summaries of the specifics of this year’s outbreak are widely available online, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will offer a few pieces of analysis based on the history I’ve covered in the previous posts.

IMG_5260Matt Ridley gets it all wrong for The Times

First there’s a need to correct a couple of pieces of misinformation that continue to circulate with this year’s outbreak. A more minor error is that this is not in fact the first time that there has been a West African case of Ebola as many news outlets have reported. Previously a zoologist working in Cote d’Ivoire caught the Tai Forest species of the virus and then fully recovered in Switzerland. Second and more importantly, the virus has not been previously restrained to only rural, remote areas of Central Africa. As we’ve seen, two of the deadliest previous outbreaks occurred when the virus struck the relatively large cities and regional hubs of Kikwit and Gulu. These Central African cities might not have quite the same level of road infrastructure linking them to other urban centers as West African cities do (although I know plenty of people board buses every day in Gulu bound for several cities and countries), but these two cases do provide a precedent for urban outbreaks of Ebola. And although these previous urban outbreaks were incredibly deadly, the cities were able to eventually contain the virus’s spread within a matter of months. So, in searching for a reason why this year’s outbreak has spread so far and killed so many, the answer is not as simple as stating that this is the first time the virus has appeared in an urbanized setting.

Other explanations have included the slow recognition and response time of international medical teams. Again, a look at the history of the virus shows that response time is not a unique factor in considering why this outbreak is so much worse. In the cases of the 1976 Sudan and Zaire outbreaks and several subsequent episodes, international teams were slow to recognize the virus’s appearance and did not arrive on the scene until after the local communities had already contained the spread of the virus. This fact suggests that one reason for the extent and deadliness of this year’s outbreak might be partly found in the local community’s responses. As Hewlett observed in Gulu, the DRC, and Gabon, many communities in Central Africa possess long practiced social procedures such as quarantine and modified burial practices that they employ when their communities recognize that they are dealing with an especially virulent affliction. I do not know if communities in West Africa have similar procedures, but it would not be surprising if they don’t due to the fact that they’re not used to seeing diseases like Ebola, or alternatively that they did previously possess similar response techniques but that the long civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone destroyed that local knowledge as violence and insecurity ripped communities apart.

Whatever the cause(s) behind the severity of this year’s outbreak, the fact is Zaire ebolavirus’s path through West Africa has been more deadly than all previous Ebola cases combined, and I have to admit that when I initially heard that the virus had arrived in Lagos—the impetus for this series of posts—I feared that Ebola might finally find in the fast life, international networks, and rancid infrastructure of Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest city what HIV/AIDS found in the reused medical needles, sex trade, and migrant networks of 1970s Kinshasa and Brazzaville—that is, the lethal mixture of social and environmental conditions that would allow the virus to eventually explode into a global epidemic.

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Trash disposal in Lagos (Mark Duerksen 2014)

Being a Central African originating RNA virus linked to primates and transmitted through body fluids, comparisons of Ebola to HIV/AIDS were bound to occur. However there are several important differences that will likely yet prevent Ebola from boiling into an epidemic the way HIV/AIDS did. The first significant difference is the length of time from infection to fatality (or recovery for 10-60% of Ebola patients). HIV can hole up and multiply inside an infected person’s immune system for months, years, or even a decade, slowly destroying T-cells until it has killed so many that doctors consider the person to have developed AIDS. Over these months or years while HIV festers into AIDS, a person with HIV may be completely asymptomatic, but all the while still able spread the virus through sexual contact or blood transfusions. This slow and silent development timeline means that an HIV carrier might not even realize that he or she has become infected for years or even a decade and all the while be transmitting the virus to numerous people, allowing HIV to creep into a critical mass of carriers before it is even detected. This quiet buildup of an infected mass of people is exactly what happened for decades in Central Africa, and by the time doctors “discovered” HIV/AIDS, it was already an epidemic throughout the region.

Ebola on the other hand asymptomatically incubates for a few days or up to a few weeks, during which time the victim cannot transmit the virus to another person. Once symptoms develop after the incubation period, the patient’s health declines quickly and death is then generally a matter of days away, leaving only a very small window to further spread the virus (although it can still be contracted from infected corpses, so that is an additional concern and why burial practices are crucial to containing Ebola). One important note here is that those who recover from Ebola can still transmit the virus through semen or possibly breast milk for a number of weeks. While Ebola is easier to transmit during its small contagious window than HIV/AIDS is during its prolonged window, Ebola still has a low transmission rate,[1] requiring direct contact with infected bodily fluids, and the virus cannot be transmitted through the air the way respiratory diseases can be. Despite the horrific extent and fatality numbers of Ebola in West Africa, the virus will likely burn itself out due to its short contagious window (although it might take severe quarantine and curfew measures as we’re now seeing in West Africa) before it ever reaches a critical, completely uncontrollable mass in the way HIV did.

Perhaps the most optimism-inspiring difference between HIV/AIDS and Ebola is the two viruses’ rates of mutation. While both likely simmered in the forests of Central Africa long before scientists officially detected and classified them, Ebola’s genetic structure has hardly changed since the first confirmed cases in 1976 while HIV/AIDS has mutated incredibly rapidly, making treatment for HIV/AIDS much more difficult to square with virus’s continually changing configuration. Ebola’s steady genetic structure makes the prospects for a cure much more promising, and as we’ve seen with the initial success of ZMapp, cures seem to be on the horizon. Now we just have to hope treatments can be produced and distributed asap because, while Ebola is not likely to become a global epidemic, it is causing untold suffering in West Africa that we likely won’t realize the true extent of for some time yet. Ebola’s destructive path through West Africa includes not only the direct victims of the virus, but also those caught in the clashes between soldiers enforcing quarantines and those trying to flee its path, survivors who are now shunned by their communities, communities that no longer trust doctors and hospitals, businesses and entire economies that have taken a massive hit, and medical infrastructure throughout the region that has been depleted, abandoned, and looted, causing other illnesses to proliferate in the absence of treatment facilities. Still it is worth noting the statistics on HIV/AIDS and other deadly diseases deaths per day dwarf Ebola deaths in the Ebola-affected countries–a reminder that those preventable diseases also require immediate attention and that serious long term work to repair medical infrastructure and communities’ relations with medical personnel will be imperative to West Africans’ health once this outbreak can be contained.

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[1] Daniel G Bausch, et al., “Assessment of the Risk of Ebola Virus Transmission from Bodily Fluids and Fomites,” Journal of Infectious Disease, 196(), S142-S147. Available online: http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/196/Supplement_2/S142.full

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to post, but seeing a sneak peak screening of Half of a Yellow Sun tonight has moved me to type up a few thoughts. First of all it was a terrific movie–maybe the best big budget film that I’ve seen set in Africa (and I don’t dislike movies like Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland). Warning: it starts slow. I hope critics sit through the whole thing and don’t write it off based on the first twenty minutes where we feel like the director and actors are getting their bearings. It was actually shot in Calabar and Town Creek, Nigeria by a Nigerian director (Biyi Bandele) and with a Nigerian production company, so I imagine a learning curve was a factor. Biyi Bandele started as a playwright and in the beginning the film feels more like a videotaped play that doesn’t quite match the periodicity of the historic footage of 1960s Nigeria that’s mixed in throughout the film to narrative the numerous political turns the country took during that rocky first decade. So, not having read the book, I started to worry that the movie was flopping about 30 minutes in when it was basically a historic soap opera that followed the lives of twins (Olanna and Kainene) in the first few years of independence as they moved from Lagos to Nsukka and Port Harcourt, fell in love and lost their trust in their lovers. Sex, jealousy, and lover’s rows summarize the first half of the film, shot in intimate frames that offer slivers into the lives of the characters. The second half of the movie pans out cinematographically and in content when war breaks out in a shocking scene at an airport. Despite the choppiness out of the gate, by this point we really know the characters through all their tribulations and more comedic moments (which there are plenty), and how many movies about Africa can we say that about before the violence breaks out?? Then the second half of the film left my heart in my throat. The war, the suffering, the constant anxiety of the second act hints that the first act’s over-the-top-soap-opera-style may have been self-conscious satire. The most memorable line in the movie comes as Olanna and Kainene are walking down a dirt road after they’ve each lost all security due to the atrocious war, and Kainene says, “There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable.” I’m kind of spelling it out here, but based on the early Rotten Tomatoes reviews (mostly from Australians where it’s already been released who have said things like “Much of the narrative plays out like a TV melodrama;” “Only when the protagonists’ lives are at stake – and bombs drop – does the piece truly come alive, with a sense of much-needed urgency;” “Bandele fails to establish the narrative’s wider national and political context, and the film is ultimately insubstantial as a result.”), I’m concerned that critics will miss the message of the movie along with why Bandele chose to partition it the way that he did. If this continues to be the critic’s take, don’t buy it; see Half a Yellow Sun for yourself and see past the production hiccups and the unfamiliar pacing to experience a stunning adaption about love, loss, and Africa. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that the one white character is very much in the periphery even if his presence helps American audiences digest and relate to the movie. Refreshing.

Here’s the Trailer for those who haven’t see it yet.

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A few very relevant and interesting articles came out over break in the New York Times and on Phys.org:

1. Seth Kaplan suggested that Lagos might be a model city for the future. He describes the recent success the Lagos government has had in raising revenue, cleaning up the city, and reducing crime, and makes the case that other fragile states like Nigeria could learn from Lagos and adopt policies giving more autonomy to cities, which could then become hubs of good governance and service delivery. With megacities mushrooming in fragile states there are definite merits to this return-to-city-states idea. But it remains to be seen what will happen when cities like Lagos no longer feel a need for the central government and are perhaps even more powerful than it.

2. Kennedy Odede discussed the bleak odds he lived through growing up in Nairobi’s slums and warned that the kind of urban poverty he experienced creates a fertile breeding ground for extremism and terrorism. Odede is 29 years old; a year from surpassing the life expectancy of Kibera slum where he grew up. He describes the violence and terror common in this mega-slum and explains how survival requires desensitization to death. From there the financial incentives offered by terrorist groups in Somalia and elsewhere become alluring. Odede calls for investment in urban renewal in Africa to create hope for the future in places like Kibera, not simply a new frontier in the military pursuit of terrorists.

3. And, on a lighter note, Phys.org had an article on an innovative and resourceful way some Nigerians are creating their homes out of recycled soda bottles. The house looks sturdy and attractive. It seems almost like living in a piece of El Anatsui art.

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This article from The Africa Report rehashes the need for urban planning for Africa’s rapidly urbanizing population and then focuses on laying out the four ways that planning can be funded: “raising taxes; state transfers; cooperation agreements; and appeals for loans.” The article also promotes the UN’s panacea of decentralization for Africa’s ills, which gets thrown out there a lot as a buzzword without much thought (without distinguishing the more common decentralization of bureaucracy from the more important decentralization of actual power), but in this case connecting it to the example of Fashola’s autonomy from Abuja and his social contract of real services in exchange for taxes works well. The call for cooperation and communication between Africa’s 15,000 mayors is also an important point.

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Following up onmthe last post, here’s another article (from the August New Yorker) questioning whether Mayor Fashola is leaving behind the city’s poorer residents in his pursuit of glamorous projects like Eko Atlantic that provide clean water and reliable power for the ultra rich. The article points to the Makoko slum built over polluted water on boards and logs and asks why solutions like the floating school designed by Kunle Adeyimi isn’t being developed for the people struggling in Makoko. For a look into life in Makoko read this article on the slum’s high teenage birthrate. After years of predominately positive coverage of improvements in Lagos the media seems to definitely be going through a more negative phase…I imagine that much of Fashola’s legacy will be tied to Eko Atlantic for better or worse and making sure the project is completed is consuming the majority of his time currently. What EA will mean for the rest of Lagos is yet to be seen. I have a chance to ask Mayor Fashola a question during a group video conference next week and am thinking about what I should ask and will be sure to share his response here. The article did a nice job juxtaposing these two images of EA and Makoko:

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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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