African Dreams: Imaginations of Urban Life and Infrastructure in the African Metropolis

Date: 08/06/2015 - 9:00-17:00

The future of urbanisation in Africa hinges upon the prospects of infrastructure development in no small measure. Policymakers, investors and business-oriented think-tanks alike are imagining a future where progress and development will materialize through significant investments in new ‘smart’ and ‘climate-resilient’ cities. Yet, it is unclear whether these imagined futures are ‘the stuff of dreams or nightmares’, as South African scholar Vanessa Watson put it. The pressing realities of ‘slum urbanism’ as the dominant way of life, entrenched inequality and systematic environmental degradation and injustice are sobering reminders that technological fixes can only go so far in shaping the future of Africa’s urbanisation. A grounded appreciation of urban livelihoods, economies and politics is needed in order to grasp the complex challenges African urbanisation faces in the future.

This workshop is supported by Oxford’s John Fell Fund, the African Studies Centre, the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities, and the Department for Continuing Education’s Sustainable Urban Development Programme.

All photos generously made available by Mozambican photographer Mauro Pinto (© Mauro Pinto, Series Lubumbashi – Interieur, Exterieur, 2007).

Programme details

Keynote speaker and Discussion

Prospects for African urban infrastructure: Confronting institutional legacies to build a capable state
Susan Parnell, University of Cape Town

Discussant: William Beinart, University of Oxford

Session 1: Infrastructures, Soft n’ Hard

Investigate the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ infrastructures shaping African urbanization in the post-colonial moment, how these have been constituted historically, and how they reflect broader translocal relations and connections.

Taming uncertain livelihoods in urban Africa: Electricity infrastructure in colonial and postcolonial Maputo
Idalina Baptista, University of Oxford

At the Crossroads: Mining and political change on the Katangese-Zambian copperbelt
Miles Larmer, University of Oxford

Power politics: Energy infrastructure and uneven development in Ghana
Giles Mohan, Open University

Chair: Steve Rayner, University of Oxford

Session 2: Emerging urbanisms

Investigate different forms of urbanism emerging in Africa as a result of different investments in infrastructure, within broader local-global geopolitics and policy mobility and transfer.

The malling of Eastleigh, Nairobi’s global Somali hub
Neil Carrier, University of Oxford

Building suburbia: The middle classes and urban-rural relations in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Claire Mercer, London School of Economics and Political Science

Emerging African ideas of the urban: Dreams and nightmares of infrastructure
Garth Myers, Trinity College

Chair: Michael Keith, University of Oxford

Session 3: Urban dreams

Reflect on discourses of Africa’s ‘awakening’ through infrastructure and urban projects and the implications these may have in terms of a just, sustainable and equitable development for the continent’s different cities.

Concrete aspirations and the trappings of suburbia: Reimagining the city in southern Mozambique
Julie Archambault, University of Oxford

Mozambique’s city of coal: Inequalities, infrastructure and urbanism in Tete
Joshua Kirshner, University of York

Informality and world-class city making
Ilda Lourenço-Lindell, University of Stockholm

Chair: Claudio Sopranzetti, University of Oxford