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Reviewed by:
  • African Cities: competing claims on African spaces
  • Jennifer Houghton (bio)
Francesca Locatelli and Paul Nugent (eds) (2009) African Cities: competing claims on African spaces. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV.

Emerging from a two day debate in the Africa-Europe Group for Interdisciplinary Studies (AEGIS) conference held in Edinburgh in 2006, this edited book includes contributions from researchers based within and beyond the African continent. When introducing the book, Francesca Locatelli and Paul Nugent write that there is a need for analyses which 'shift the focus from the reasons why African cities do not conform to Western "developmental" norms to how urban dwellers in Africa develop their own mechanisms of production and create their own urban forms within their societal structures' (p7). Set against the backdrop of a rapidly urbanising continent and widespread failure of development to cope with the unprecedented growth of cities, this collection of articles thus seeks out agency as it explores the genesis and current forms of a variety of competing claims for urban spaces and resources in African cities.

A variety of cities have been used to undertake this exploration of competing claims in urban Africa. Southern, central, east and west African cities are represented in the book with studies based in Johannesburg, Lagos, and Dar es Salaam, for example. However, the book moves beyond the larger and more-often studied cities to include analyses of some of the smaller cities which make up the African urban landscape, such as Kumasi in Ghana, Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and Mwanza in Tanzania. In addition, some chapters explore themes of urban competition across a range of cities, assessing transitions in Angolan cities or adopting a comparative approach to a variety of West African cities. The incorporation of a broad range of cities and the variety of scales of analysis are one of the strengths of the [End Page 144] book. In this, the book builds on existing literature which documents African urbanism and provides a good mix of cases from which broader themes of competing claims on urban spaces can, and do, arise. Furthermore, the analyses traverse the multiple and overlapping colonial histories of African cities, incorporating those colonised by the French, British, Italian and Portuguese, which affords the reader opportunity to better understand the implications of empire across and within cities melded by various imperial powers.

African Cities presents a temporal as well as spatial diversity in its chapters, spanning precolonial, colonial and contemporary periods. These temporalities build on Locatelli and Nugent's introductory arguments which underscore the need to examine African cities from the perspective of the enduring influence of colonial and customary, ethnic systems on the contemporary life of African cities. In this way, the authors highlight the long trajectories of African urban histories and voice a concern for the deep rootedness of urban problems in Africa.

Within the spatial and temporal diversity in the book, a number of crosscutting themes emerge: belonging and exclusion; claims on urban land and the politics surrounding competition for resources such as land and water; segregation; urbanisation without development; and the linkages between past and present. Arguments for the lasting influence of customary and colonial systems, their interweaving within contemporary urban places and processes and their role in the emergence of contemporary problems in these cities are raised repeatedly within cases presented in the book. This is particularly true in chapters which present competition for land and urban resources. In this vein, Rufus Akinyele's historical perspective of land rights in Lagos traces the roots of the 'Omo Onile syndrome' in which customary land owners operate in a corrupted market system reselling their land in multiple deals which displace previous purchasers, and conducting ongoing land rent collections. Paul Jenkins' concern for the role of elites in the evolution of land control in Mozambique and sub Saharan Africa further presents arguments for the rise of informality in African cities as a response to the interweaving of competing systems of control. These analyses highlight the complexities of competing claims for urban land in places where traditional systems of control involving somewhat fluid land ownership are overlain with the 'fixed' colonial and market-driven land rights.

A pair of articles engages directly...


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pp. 144-147
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