Archives for posts with tag: politics

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”

 Image

Image

Image Source

Advertisements

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.

20130928-194618.jpg

Image Source

I recently had a chance to read McKinsey’s 2010 report on Africa’s economic outlook and another on what, in their view, makes a “good city.” Here are a few things that stuck out to me:

MGI Report on Africa

-Currently there are 52 African cities with more than 1 million people (as many as Europe)

-By 2030 50% of Africans will live in cities (already more Africans (40%) live in cities than Indians (35%), and the continent is not far behind China’s 45%)

-From 1990-2008 African trade with Europe and N. America declined (51% to 28%, and 16% to 15% respectively) while trade with China grew from 20% of total African trade to 28%

-China’s infrastructure commitments in Africa now surpass the World Bank’s (11.6 billion in financing in 2006 and 2007 versus 4 billion from the WB over that same period)

-The African labor force by 2040 is expected to be 1.1 billion (Larger than China’s or India’s, and every continent’s outside of Asia)

-Effective education is still sorely lacking in Africa (test scores have actually declined or stagnated for much of the continent) while its governments spend nearly 20% of their budget on education versus 11% for OECD nations.

-Africa’s largest oil exporting nations (Nigeria, Angola, Libya, Algeria) have dangerously undiversified economies compared to their international peers (Malaysia, Indonesia)

-23% of Africa’s largest resource deals now have an infrastructure or industrialization component, up from 1% in the 90s. For example, China’s 2008 deal with the DRC for cobalt and copper included 2.9 billion to construct 3200 km of railways, 31 hospitals, 145 health centers, and 2 universities (I’d like to know how much of this has been completed).

-African daily oil exports to China have quickly risen from 1% in 1995 to 13% in 2008 (the US and Europe receive 30% and 37% of Africa’s oil respectively)

-African governments (65%), private sources (25%), and foreign aid (10%) combined are currently investing around $72 billion per year in new infrastructure across the continent. Still the continents infrastructure is only somewhere between one half to a fifth of Russia, Brazil, China, and India’s. The report estimates that the continent needs to invest $118 billion a year to catchup and keep pace with its economic growth ($46 billion more per year than it currently invests). Chinese and private investment could help reach this goal, as both sources are increasingly at double digits rates.

-In 2008 37% of Africans had mobile phones, 39% had access to electricity, and 63% had access to improved water sources, versus 48%, 84%, 89% average for each those categories in Russia, China, Brazil, and India.

A few thoughts on the report:  it’s troubling how critically lacking Africa is in basic education compared to other areas of the world…this lag is what I would predict to continue to create instability in many African countries–under educated citizens are more likely to be easily manipulated by politicians who play up “tribal” or other divisions to instigate violence. This lag can be traced to the state colonialism left Africa at independence when many African countries (like the DRC in particular) had less than a dozen university educated citizens in the whole country. Now many of the few educated Africans leave the continent for better opportunities for them and their families in America and Europe, creating a serious brain-drain—I’m curious if this recent narrative of “Africa Rising” is bringing many of those doctors and business people home like what happened in Rwanda once Kagame stabilized the country and opened it up for businesses. The article also seems to find optimism in Africa’s rapid urbanism primarily because of the consumer focused business opportunities it creates when so many potential customers are bunched closely together in a city. Is this what cities are to businesses? Places to export resources and sell people cheap stuff? Doesn’t that sound like the model of the slave trade in west Africa? Why don’t business perspectives like McKinsey see cities as places where services can be more effectively delivered or hubs for better education that can lead to more stable nations and thus better business locations? Again it’s going to come back to well educated and savvy leaders in Africa who can make business deals that provide substantial infrastructure and education improvements in exchange for resources. Highlights from McKinsey’s city report will be up soon.

Image

Image Source

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:

ImageImage

Image source

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.

Image

Image source