- African Cities: Alternative Visions of Urban Theory and Practice by Garth Andrew Myers
Garth Andrew Myers’ African Cities: Alternative Visions of Urban Theory and Practice is about “visioning and re-visioning” how African cities are written and discussed in African studies and urban studies. Myers contends that the “blanket” theorizing of African cities has failed. He states: “It seems illogical to shoehorn cities into types just because they reside on the same continent” (p. 2). Similarly, the author decries the scant critical literature on urban studies focusing on Africa. Even worse, the few scholars who focus on Africa do not make it an integral part of their scholarship. Myers’ contribution is to compare African cities with one another building on recent works of a multi-disciplinary group of scholars.
In Chapter One, Myers employs Soja’s six discourses of the post-metropolis to guide the discussion in his book. He attempts to connect Soja’s concept of post-metropolis and by extension western theorizing of urban studies with African studies without making it necessarily a comparative study. He starts by asking: “What if Lusaka is a metropolis?” Thus, Myers substitutes Soja’s themes with his own five themes that he argues face Lusaka and other African cities. The litany of themes as they happen in Lusaka informs the discourse in the chapters that follow. Myers, however, asserts that western theory should not be entirely banished as inapplicable to African urban theory, but rather that its application must be contextualized.
In Chapter Two, Myers asks if one can move beyond colonialism in African city theorizing. He focuses on understanding African cities through the prism of post-colonialism as represented in cinema, literature, and photography. He probes the reader to critically examine if the attempts to build post-colonial African cities via “alternative visions of urbanism and human settlements” has really succeeded. For the author, [End Page 256] these attempts have faced myriad challenges and have failed for several reasons. He illustrates that one cannot understand the post-colonial African city without interrogating the origin or genesis of colonial African cities’ urban legacies. Thus, re-conceptualizing post-colonial legacies faces challenges of “concept-stretching” as it promises more than it delivers (p. 124). Instead, he proposes that to provide practical usefulness towards changing the world for the better, one needs to interrogate the confluence between formal and informal visions of African cities.
In Chapter Three, Myers focuses on “unpacking the characterization” of informality as truism of African urban life. Beyond economic understanding of informality, Myers conceptualizes it to include the “wider ways in which housing, land, infrastructure, and services as well as politics and social organization, develop informally, and the ways in which states agencies, and other formal institutions act informally or act to produce informality” (p. 73). For Myers, informality in Africa is pervasive and issues under considerations vary from city to city. He gave examples of Cape Town, Accra, and Dar es Salaam with different key informality issues such as racism, indigenous land rights, and ujamaa-socialism, respectively. Given these myriad and often conflicting issues, Myers notes that elites are ambivalent and the solutions elites propose are largely rhetorical. Accordingly, Myers proposes a hybrid relational and just city as advocated by Pieterse. This hybrid relational city entails finding common grounds between the informal and the formal spheres of urban life and experiences. While this is possible, how successful it can be is an empirical question for African studies and urban studies scholars.
In Chapter Four, Myers focuses on urban governance, service delivery, and justice, including socio-environmental justice. He notes that while the first two issues are witnessed across Africa, socio-environmental justice is lacking except in South Africa. He argues that pragmatic urban governance goes beyond the “manner of governing” to encompass decision-making processes “that are not limited to the state” (p. 104). He discusses the different competing paradigms on urban sub-Saharan Africa: neoliberalism, materialism, and post-structuralism. He laments that the gap between rhetoric and political and economic realities of achieving good governance has...