Archives for posts with tag: Nigeria

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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In 2009 David Adjaye and Philip Freelon’s plans for an inverted and stacked trapezoidal building encased in bronze screens won the design competition for the construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). When the building opens in late 2015, it will have been 100 years since African American Civil War veterans first proposed a DC memorial honoring various African American achievements. This centennial timeline illustrates how long the struggle has dragged on to construct a monument to African American history, it also reminds us just how recently millions of Africans were enslaved in America by the fact that men who actually fought to end slavery were connected to this ongoing project. The building itself mines the more distant connection of the African origin of American slaves for its defining tripartite trapezoids, which evoke Yoruba carved wood columns–specifically the crowns at the top of the columns (not a king’s “crown” as many articles mistakenly assume)–found on traditional buildings in southwest Nigeria. The reference to Yoruba pillars subtly suggests the prominence of African American scientists, artists, and politicians in the creation of America, and also–to use the museum’s term–“the darker corners” of the reality that America was built on the backs of enslaved Africans. Revisions to the original winning design, including a third tier, have further brought out the form of a sculpted Yoruba column, whereas before the plans looked equally like a shimmering fire above a base of a flat funeral pyre…not exactly the imagery a museum to African American culture wants to evoke. The redesign removes the red-stone base, integrating the crown with the ground level. While these have been improvements to the original vision, budget concerns have scrapped plans for an entrance that would have crossed a series of intricately landscaped waterways, reverently breaking the stride of visitors as they approached and serving as a reminder of the middle passage crossing. Another victim of the budget has been the bronze facade, which will now be fashioned from some kind of coated composite. There are concerns whether the new material will shine and if it will eventually flake off. Perhaps, in an America where pernicious racism chips away at any optimism for a united union, nothing could be a more fitting symbol for the dream of a nation that recognizes and honors the contributions and heritage of African Americans…except for maybe a funeral pyre…or, maybe yet, the shift in the form of the building’s tragic flaw from funeral pyre to a million paint specks speaks to the shifts in the way American racism operates.

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Yoruba columns in the house of Susanne Wenger (Mark Duerksen, 2014)

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Columns carved by Olowe of Ise (source)

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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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(image source)

[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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A summary of a book by the title of this post was published last month on the African Research Initiative’s Website (an awesome resource), so here’s my summary of that summary. The book by Vanessa Watson (U of Cape Town) and Babatunde Agbola (U of Ibadan) looks at the future of African cities and examines current planning practices and emphasis in the continent. The book has a strong belief that African planners should plan the future based on planning theories that originate in the global South, not the top-down, formalization-centered European and American norms. Rather than perceiving planners as part of the status quo of plans that benefit big business and political elites, the book imagines a proliferation of a network of planning schools in Africa (from the current dearth of only 90 in the continent with 30 of those in Nigeria and 10 in SA) that tailor their curriculums towards addressing inequality through participatory, survey-based planning methods (getting “shoes dirty”) that strive to account for informality as a fact in Africa instead of a nuisance to be eradicated through eminent domain (Makoko, Harare). One interesting fact from the summary was that currently the majority of African city dwellers were born in the city they are living in, which challenges the perspective of African cities as transient hubs for migrants who plan to return to the countryside. The authors critique the current “fanciful” master plans for African urban areas as “unsustainable in the extreme and inappropriate in terms of climate, available infrastructure – particularly power – and affordability.” Like Philip Harrison, in his article “The Edge of Reason,” this new book looks to redeem planners from the image of nefarious technocrats to the liberal, clipboard yielding, muddy boots lifeblood of participatory democratic institutions in Africa. Now to get this new breed of planners jobs and decent pay upon graduation…

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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]

Today I wrote a response paper summarizing and comparing this article by Filip De Boeck and this powerpoint presentation by Vanessa Watson. I’m not satisfied with what I wrote so I’m going to attempt to hash out my ideas a little better here. So the Watson presentation is intended for her architecture students at the University of Cape Town and in it she runs through the big African planned “future cities” or what she calls “fantasy cities,” showing glamorous designs of them, and then on the next slide shows the “reality” of the actual slums that make up most of the area of these cities. I haven’t been in her actual lecture, but her criticisms seem to be, 1. these cities create islands of wealth that don’t help most of the city’s poor, and 2. the designs of these cities are transplanted from the West via Asia and are not fitted for the realities of African cities. Both points seem fair and accurate, but then the De Boeck piece seeks out the voices of Kinshasa’s urban farmers who are surprisingly attracted to the skyscraper-centric plans, saying “Yes, we’ll be the victims, but still it will be beautiful.” The dream of these new cities can also be alluring and captivating even to the urban poor who will not have access to them…the thought of one day being part of an international megacity frequented by the world’s who’s who evokes pride in one’s hometown and offers hopes that that wealth may find its way throughout the city. These are the similar sentiments to what Wole Soyinka expressed when he said Eko Atlantic is “[r]ising like Aphrodite from the foam of the Atlantic.” Many African urban dwellers desire symbols of beauty and pride to rise from the centers of their cities—buildings that are “so beautiful that it makes one dream.” In this light of these local reactions, current plans for shiny business districts of African cities might rather be looked at as monuments to the potential of the surrounding city, not as unsustainable parasites of corporations. Yet Watson is absolutely right that many of the “monuments” that are being sold by international corporations and architectural firms to African politicians are problematic in that they segregate cities often more than their colonial predecessors did:  De Boeck describes how Belgian colonial planners divided Kinshasa between the white island of wealth—La Ville—and the surrounding ocean of poverty—the black townships—with railroads and army barracks. Now the new wave of planned cities are gated island or 40 km away from the old city, taking the colonialist exclusionary model even further than before. Yet they’re still beautiful and desirable to the urban poor….their allure stimulates dreams for the future….and dreams are what keep everyone going. And also if you were an African doctor or lawyer or business person who might be tempted to leave for opportunities elsewhere where it is safer and stabler to have a family and raise kids (the brain drain), wouldn’t you be more likely to consider staying if you could have a home in Eko Atlantic or Cité du Fleuve? The ways in which the urban poor of Kinshasa have navigated and adapted to their infrastructurally scant neighborhoods (as described by Koolhaas and De Boeck) and the construction of Eko Atlantic and Cité du Fleuve can both be seen as different manifestations of the very human drive to create order and predictability in life. For me this is where the state comes in–as both a creator and moderator of human impetus for stability and security. Here again, the mayor of Lagos, Fashola, seems to be doing a better job at this than his counterparts in much of Africa, including in Kinshasa. Fashola has attracted investment in the glamorous dream of Eko Atlantic but he has also raised tax revenue by not just promising but delivering services, including housing and bus lanes to improve traffic. And the success of Fashola’s incrementalist approach of improving services and infrastructure for neglected, “informal” communities suggests that De Boeck’s prescriptions for slow and achievable planning goals for Kinshasa’s slums are dead on. When rapid changes come to poor neighborhoods, they’re more likely to be uprooted and turned inside out after years of self-organization than to be improved. But the political will has to be there, and the planners, lawyers, business people, and doctors have to be (live) there too….and in subtle but significant ways they will appropriate and alter this “imported” architecture as their own.

Kigali:  “Fantasy and Reality”

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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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The photographer who shot the famous series The Hyena & Other Men (photographs of just that–Nigerian men who keep hyenas by their sides as part of their traveling act) has a new traveling exhibit entitled Kin, which he took in his homeland, South Africa. While a few of the images are stunning frames of dramatic instants (the windswept tree, the hunched, chalked boy) others are overly staged and still others feel even generic. The project lacks cohesiveness that made The Hyena and his other exhibits so powerful. Still as a visual project that seemingly lacks a central motif, I think it might be interesting to see the project as successful in conveying the challenge and resulting confusion that often ensues when one tries to tackle their homeland…as Hugo himself says, “I have deeply mixed feelings about being here.”

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Image source (photographer: Pieter Hugo)

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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