- For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities
Abdou Maliq Simone's For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities makes a major contribution to understanding cities of the global South in general and of Africa in particular. Through an extremely insightful narrative, this volume weaves together postcolonial literature, development studies, and urban planning to reveal the clash between the lived reality of African cities and the Western fantasies of urban planning and development. Seeing cities as purveyors of modernity and urban planning as a colonial field, Simone shows how particular assumptions and paradigms of development have been trying to shape African cities and how [End Page 155] those are resisted by the everyday practices of urban dwellers in Africa.
In short the thrust of the book is that African cities survive despite not because of their urban and development plans and that they should perhaps be understood as victorious examples of resistance: resistance against imposed urban fantasies of the West and its desired plans. "Normative" urbanization prescribed by urban and development plans in African cities do not recognize people's complex resources for sustainable urban life—what elsewhere Simone calls "people as infrastructure."1 These plans, he argues, neglect people's practices and their invisible but viable resources, networks, and activities that may indeed "act as a platform for the creation of a very different kind of sustainable urban configuration that we have yet generally to know" (9).
In For the City Yet to Come Simone argues that African cities are often presented by government officials, urban planners, and development workers as failed cities, as unfinished projects, and as something that was supposed to be something else. Achille Mbembe and Sarah Nuttall resonate with this critique, when they articulate that "Africa as a name, as an idea, and as an object of academic and public discourse is fraught,"2 in ways that go beyond even Edward Said's paradigm of orientalism. Africa, they write, is presented as such an extreme case of "otherness," that is otherworldly, as apart from the world, irrelevant, and incomprehensible.
The Western models of development and planning interventions, Simone powerfully demonstrates in this book, are less about responding to the needs of urban dwellers than about making them governable. African urban dwellers (e.g., the informal traders, the shoe shiner, the cigarette seller, the boss boy that steers transport, the beggar, the car washer, and the food seller at the sidewalk food stand) are extremely innovative in making a viable living in cities and engage in remaking of the social and spatial formations of urban areas. They do this "in ways that no public policy or formal institutionally driven development agenda has yet to match" (168). But urban-planning interventions try to shut down these spaces and networks of survival, usually carried out under the guise of concern for health and sanitation, getting rid of loiterers, saboteurs, and racketeers. This is while the informal economy is the main source of livelihood for the majority of African cities, providing for nearly 75 percent of basic needs (6), accounting for 42 percent of the GDP in 1999–2000,3 and employing a large proportion of the nonagricultural female labor force, which has grown from 38.1 percent in 1970 to 62.8 percent in 1990.4
Without romanticizing people's informal economies, networks, and practices, and cognizant of the cutthroat reality and harsh competition that these processes involve, Simone posits that if cities of Africa are at some level working, then what needs to be asked and understood is how they are working. Having worked for decades with nongovernmental organizations as a consultant on concrete urban projects in Africa, Simone uses stories of projects in four cities—Pikine (Senegal), Winterveld (South Africa), Douala (Cameroon), and Jidda (Saudi Arabia)—to bring to light what is hard to keep track of, but that which keeps Africans surviving in cities. Through these case studies he shows how diverse urban inhabitants...