Special issue of Journal of the British Academy shows change to politics and governance can support African cities’ development

6 Dec 2021

A special issue of the Journal of the British Academy – a multi-disciplinary journal publishing new research in the humanities and social sciences – today presents new, in-depth evidence of the daily realities faced by citizens on the margins of African cities.

The special issue, "Citizenship, Marginality and Urban (In)security in Contemporary Africa" features four separate studies – drawing on fieldwork in Ghana, South Africa, Somalia and the DRC – to illuminate the daily realities of political division, the rapidly growing informal sector and the everyday struggle for political recognition in African cities.

"Citizenship, Marginality and Urban (In)security in Contemporary Africa" includes four articles:

  • Dr Pete Chonka and Professor Jutta Bakonyi’s study tracks the use of SMS mobile payment systems by displaced people in refugee camps in three cities in Somalia – Baidoa, Bosaaso and Mogadishu. Their research found that the use of mobile devices, often provided by humanitarian aid agencies seeking to empower the socially excluded, also enforces the marginality and insecurity of people working in the informal economy.

  • Dr Shauna Mottiar analyses the illegal practice of self-connecting to water and electricity supplies among residents of the Umlazi district in Durban, South Africa where residents in informal housing are forced to accept sub-standard service despite free basic water and electricity policies adopted by local governments since 2000. The study shows that the practice is both a practical means of securing access to basic amenities and a form of protest and resistance that exposes the erosion of citizens’ constitutional rights.

  • Dr Mariam Bjarnesen argues that, in the absence of public trust in authorities and strong provision of formal state security, new legislation banning political vigilantism in Ghana may be an ineffective response to violent clashes between party activists or other politically-motivated incidents such as the Ayawaso West Wougon shooting. Despite the relatively peaceful 2020 elections, Bjarnsen finds that the ban still leaves future security and stability in Ghana under threat.

  • Dr Maarten Hendriks examines the role of the anti-gang, a civilian policing group drawn from socio-economically marginalised youths in the city of Goma (DRC). His research considered the impact that different forms of political imaginations have on everyday policing in the urban environment – including martial arts and action movies whose stars, such as Jean-Claude Van Damme, serve as role models for young men.

Professor Ibrahim Abdullah, Professor of History at the Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, and Co-Editor of the special issue, said:

“The forces that have shaped the political economy of 21st century African cities have not secured prosperity for Africa’s growing youth population and the urban poor. Instead, those at the top – locally and globally –continue perpetuating and exploiting urban insecurity.

“The resulting struggle for political recognition for the citizens of Africa’s numerous cities could be set to grow as the climate crisis changes the political landscape. But, contrary to predictions of widespread urban unrest, research in this special issue shows the variety of ways in which citizens of African cities are asserting their citizenship.”

Dr Kieran Mitton, Reader in Conflict, Security and Development in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, founder of the Urban Violence Research Network and Co-Editor of the special issue, said:

“These new, interdisciplinary studies will be invaluable to scholars and peacebuilding practitioners concerned with how urbanisation affects the everyday security of citizens across Africa. They explore many aspects of urban and economic development that research and literature have so far overlooked and bring into question what citizenship means for those on the margins of the modern developing city.”

“This special issue promotes new understandings of African cities and their potential to drive economic development, while demonstrating that technological and infrastructural progress are insufficient without changes to politics and governance.”

Contact the press office

For further information contact the Press Office on press@thebritishacademy.ac.uk  / 020 7969 5273 / 07500 010 432.

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