Citizenship, marginality and urban (in)security in contemporary Africa: introduction

by Kieran Mitton and Ibrahim Abdullah

06 Dec 2021
Journal of the British Academy
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Abstract: We introduce four contributions to this special issue exploring insecurity in contemporary African cities, drawing on case studies from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Somalia, and South Africa. We problematise alarmist and decontextualised discourses surrounding Africa’s rapid urbanisation, identifying common findings across empirically rich contributions ranging from gangs and vigilantes to migration, mobile phone technology, and community (dis)connections to basic services. We show that marginal residents traverse blurred boundaries between formal/informal, legal/illegal, and acceptable/subversive in their quotidian struggle for survival, arguing that by reifying rather than reducing structural inequalities, Africa’s growing cities force many into ‘insurgent’ forms of citizenship. Importantly, this is rarely entirely oppositional or supportive of the state and status quo: it occupies ambiguous social space as both resistance and collusion. The complicity of some state elements in producing transgressive or informal modes of urban governance and services underlines our key conclusion: addressing Africa’s urban insecurity requires political change: technological and infrastructural progress alone is insufficient.

Keywords: City, citizenship, contestation, insurgent citizenship, marginality, transgressive citizenship, social movements, urbanisation, Africa.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 11 (Citizenship, Marginality and Urban (In)security in Contemporary Africa)

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