P133 – Trajectories of Activism in Urban Africa: Collective Organizing and Urban Transformation in Africa
10 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Ilda Lindell / Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, Sweden


Grassroots collective organizing potentially plays an important role in creating more just cities. Examining the trajectories of associations is critical to assess this potential. While some collective initiatives have persisted and participate in wider national and international networks, others remain fragmented, localised, narrowly focused, or fall into regression. These dynamics may result from internal fragilities and external pressures, or from a loss of faith in existing models of urban participation and what grassroots associations can achieve. The panel addresses the prospects for sustained collective organization – the sources of fragility, what accounts for demobilization, regression and political disengagement; but also what sustains it and the role of supportive networks and relations with other organized actors – including how these are created and dissolved, overcome those fragilities and increase political leverage. Equally, the panel explores the political potential and limitations of grassroots associations and their networks for achieving progressive urban transformation. This includes examining their political content, as they are not necessarily politically progressive or autonomous from state power; the political subjectivities and constructions of (urban) citizenship they nurture; and to what extent they contribute towards a holistic and inclusive vision of the city. The panel contributes to debates on urban citizenship and “the just city” in Africa.

Trajectoires de l’activisme en Afrique urbaine : organisation collective et transformation urbaine en Afrique

L’organisation collective au niveau communautaire peut jouer un rôle important dans la création de villes plus justes.  Pour pouvoir évaluer ce potentiel, il est essentiel d’examiner les trajectoires des organismes communautaires. Tandis que certaines initiatives collectives ont persisté s’inscrivant dans des réseaux nationaux et internationaux plus vastes, d’autres restent fragmentées, localisées, étroitement ciblées, ou bien tombent en désuétude. Ces dynamiques de fragmentation peuvent résulter de fragilités internes et de pressions extérieures, ou d’une perte de foi dans les modèles de participation urbaine existants ainsi que dans la capacité des organismes communautaires à achever un programme. Ce panel abordera les perspectives d’une organisation collective durable – les sources de la fragilité, de la démobilisation, de la régression et du désengagement politique ; mais aussi ce qui la soutienne, le rôle des réseaux de soutien et les relations avec d’autres acteurs organisés – y compris leur création et dissolution, ainsi que leurs stratégies pour surmonter leurs fragilités et augmenter leur influence à l’égard de la politique. Le panel examinera également le potentiel politique et les limites de ces organismes communautaires et de leurs réseaux en faveur d’une transformation progressiste de la ville. Nous étudierons leur contenu politique, étant donné qu’ils ne sont pas nécessairement progressistes ou indépendants des pouvoirs de l’Etat ; leurs subjectivités politiques et leurs constructions de la citoyenneté (urbaine) ; et l’importance de leur contribution à une vision globale et inclusive de la ville. Ce panel contribuera aux débats sur la citoyenneté urbaine et « la ville juste » en Afrique.


Paper 1

Millstein Marianne / The Nordic Africa Institute

Trajectories of Movement Politics in Cape Town

South African cities have experienced an intensification of urban protests. Contrary to previous actions, these protests are described as spontaneous responses to service delivery and, with some exceptions are short-lived and only weakly linked to more durable networks and social movements. While still under-researched, a debate is emerging as to what extent these modes of protests, as a politics of urban citizenship, differ from previous waves of social movement mobilisation and action and, if so, what account for these shifts. For instance, Hart (2012) sees these protests as ‘movements beyond movements’ and link this to a broader crisis of nationalism and democracy in post-apartheid South Africa. While it is critical to place these protests in this broader political and economic frame and shifting identities in a post-apartheid South Africa, it does not say much about the nature of urban politics and exactly how and why current protests are, assumedly, something ‘new’.
Perhaps it also conceals important continuities between waves of collective action. In this paper I will explore these trajectories in Cape Town. Based on literature reviews (including a systematic assessment of case studies) on the first wave of social movements and the recent wave of protests, media reports and my own work in Delft, I will explore possible continuities and ruptures and discuss implications of these for a shifting politics of urban citizenship.

Paper 2

Di Nunzio Marco / Université Libre de Bruxelles/University of Oxford

“Asking is necessary”. The Entitlement to Ask and the Politics of Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

‘Asking is necessary’, a 65-year-old carpenter, who had been working in the construction sector in Addis Ababa for more than forty years, told me after that some of his colleagues and members of the labour union had been fired from an international construction company after they made demands for better working conditions and better salaries. This paper examines the ways construction workers try to instate their ‘entitlement to ask’ through collective action as a lens to investigate the effects of the arrangements governing capital investment in African cities on how, why and by whom the ownership of urban development is claimed and maintained.
Addis Ababa is a paradigmatic case. The construction of Dubai-style buildings and large infrastructural projects in the city has drawn the attention of international investors and business commentators, bearing witness to the making of an ‘African success story’. This paper provides a critical commentary to the current discourses on Africa rising, while situating struggles for the city through the analysis of the political arrangements shaping economic growth. I argue that our understandings of these struggles should not exclusively focus on finding ways of redistributing the benefits of economic growth more fairly. It should extend into the ways claims and demands from below are taken into account to affect – and not simply ‘assess’ – how development, economic growth and collective wellbeing are conceptualized and pursued.

Paper 3

Eberth Andreas / Leibniz University of Hanover Institute for Science Education (Geography Education)

Everyday Life of the Youth in the Informal Settlements of Nairobi, Kenya: Construction of Place of an Empowering Civil Society

Considering areas as ‘spaces’ omits the individual perception as socially constructed ‘places’. How can we inquire and analyze this phenomenon?
Nairobi as ‘space’ is presented as a metropolis coined by strong socioeconomic disparities. The numerous slums and their inhabitants appear as marginalized ‘spaces’.
However, by inquiring the characteristics of the everyday life of the 15-24 year old youth who were born, grew up, and still live in there, the image of the slum as ‘place’ can be taken into consideration.
A case study, applying the method of reflexive photography, visualized this phenomenon in August 2014. The participants individually took pictures of their everyday life, which, according to them, are particularly relevant. These photos are the basis for the following interviews.
The analyses of the inquiries illustrate that the participants hardly framed negative images like criminality or HIV/Aids. Rather, they presented their environment by showing a high degree of involvement in community-based organizations. This shows that the adolescent inhabitants of the settlement have a strong connection to their slum, thereby implying it more to be a slum: their home. Being organized in youth groups, they create their own place according to their personal visions.
This generation appears as an empowering civil society that appropriates and develops their place independently from political responsibilities.

Paper 4

Bénit-Gbaffou Claire / CUBES, School of Architecture and Planning, Wits University

Do Street Traders have a “Right to the City”? The Politics of Street Trader Organisations in Inner City Johannesburg, post Operation Clean Sweep

Street trader organizations are paradoxical objects for study. They are seldom looked upon as social movements – academics present their division, their fluidity, their fragility; media are prompt to call them ‘fly-by-night’, ‘opportunistic’, organizing only ‘popcorn protests’. It is difficult to use the concept of the “right to the City” to analyse their claims – so contested are rights to dense inner city spaces, between a variety of users, not all of them in dominant socio-economic positions; and so ambiguous is the figure of the street trader – poor and oppressed but also appropriating public space for profit, and increasingly claiming, in neoliberalising cities, her identity as entrepreneur.
Through the study of street trader organizations active in Johannesburg inner city, in the aftermath of the 2013 ‘Operation Clean Sweep’ (where the City of Johannesburg unsuccessfully attempted to evict all street traders from its inner city), the paper seeks at better understanding the politics of street trader organizations – how they frame their claims, forge unlikely alliances and enter in divisive conflicts, understand their commonalities and divergences, in relation to a municipality that creates or consolidates their divisions to rule. Of particular interest will be the question of the progressive character (or not) of these claims; organisations’ common concern for street traders’ political representation; and their quest for forms of autonomous management of street trading.

Paper 5

Bertrand Monique / Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, UMR 245 – CESSMA

Social Mobilisation against Land Evictions and Grabbing in Bamako, Mali: Leaders and Grassroots

For the last decade, many land ownership conflicts have caused an increasing movement of collective protest in Bamako. Resistance to “land grabbing” and evictions is widening in the urban space, through various types of litigations and juridical segments of the housing market. Contestation is no more limited to poor communities or irregular settlements, nor to requests for compensation. It is now connected to international networks of activism, mobilised as a matter of “human rights”. Open protests about speculation and corruption rather enlighten the limits of the participative paradigm in the Malian capital.
In this context, the strengthening of a coordination of associations imposes three levels of analysis: about the movement’s leaders, the victims and their local representatives. Beyond the political crisis which shook the country in 2012, mobilisations more generally follow the transformation of Bamako under liberalism, and the changing clientelism relationship along the political trajectory of Mali. The grassroots commitment, however, expresses a tactical legitimacy on ownership, and basically alternates between disaffiliation and comeback to the collective action. Fragmentary or intermittent social interactions make difficult for the leaders to promote a common advocacy for property and customary rights. Land disputes finally combine an undoubted process of individuation and reinforced social networks.

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