What if the postmetropolis is Lusaka?
In June 2004, I stood with several American friends waiting for a minibus in Roma, a hilly neighborhood in the eastern part of Lusaka, Zambia. The hoot of the minibus horn caused me to turn my head and look up the street, and to notice a fancy new sign planted by the bus stop. In bright letters at the top of a square board covered by an elaborate green awning, the sign read ‘Please Keep Lusaka Clean.’ It was the bottom of the sign which really caught my attention: ‘Otherwise the Pirates Will Attack You.’ A black shield identified something called the ‘Ng’ombe Pirates’ with a pirate flag and skull-and-crossbones insignia.
This sign appeared on a Lusaka street long before piracy on the high seas off the East African coast gained the world’s attention, and Zambia is, after all, a landlocked country. Thus, after my friends and I boarded the minibus, we debated, with some good humor, about who the Ng’ombe Pirates might be. The Pirates of Zambia’s football league are the team from Livingstone, not Lusaka, so it wasn’t a football reference. Was Roma, an elite, formerly whites-only township until its forced incorporation into Lusaka in 1970, infested with pirates from the poor informal settlement, adjacent to it, Ng’ombe? Were there pirates among us – either us foreigners or our fellow passengers who had entered the minibus on the previous stops, all of which are located in Ng’ombe, in which Roma’s maids and gardeners live? If so, what was their role: did they help keep the city clean by attacking its polluters, or did the city end up more vulnerable to evil pirate attack if its citizens did not clean up? Was there a new pirate movie playing at the cineplex of the shiny new South African-owned shopping mall, Arcades, to which the minibus was heading? Or were the pirates merely metaphorical phantoms deployed by the clever advertising department of the sponsoring company, Harvey Tile, to make people dispose of their garbage?
I have never located the pirates of Ng’ombe, nor have I found the answer to the question of the sign’s intent (five years later, it was covered with political campaign posters that a Zambian friend, Simon Nkemba, cleaned off to take this photograph). But I have found myself thinking of how the message, site, situation, and experience of the sign encapsulate my understanding of themes that predominate in many cities in Africa and writings about them. First, even forty or fifty years after the end of formal colonial rule, it is easy to see colonialism’s scars, as in the gashes of space and injustice that separate the Romas and Ng’ombes of many cities on a continent where every country but Liberia spent at least some years being ruled by Europeans. Second, the bouncing, fluid chaos of the minibus ride, with the spontaneous relationships passengers made with one another, re-creates countless times a day in myriad ways in almost any major city the informal interactions that encapsulate much of everyday life and economy in many versions of urban Africa.
The sign itself was attempting to encourage cleanliness, to build on a decade of awareness-raising about the environment, made most manifest in Lusaka in governance programs for solid waste management. The garbage around the sign’s base when we first saw it in 2004 and when Simon took the photo in 2009 made a mockery of these attempts. The rise of efforts to promote urban environmental planning and good governance is similarly hard to miss across Africa, and similarly struggling nearly everywhere. The everyday struggles of the ordinary residents of places like Ng’ombe, where residents told me in 2003 interviews that two or three armed robberies may happen each night, parallel those of informal settlement residents in many African cities. Most of Lusaka’s residents live in substandard housing in such settlements, which are often illegal (or ‘unauthorized’ in local parlance), crime-ridden, struggling with HIV/AIDS, and home to many refugees from past wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, or Mozambique. This too is a theme one finds resonating across many African cities, wounded and limping into the second decade of this new millennium.
Yet in Lusaka, the marks of globalization, a transformed modernity, and a distinctive cosmopolitanism, like the Arcades mall, are fast becoming visible, as they are in many African urban areas. Through this globalizing trend, perhaps, we return to the pirates. Much of what happens in African cities is invisible or unpredictable and might seem bizarre to the unfamiliar visitor, like those Ng’ombe Pirates. Sometimes, this invisibility is inexplicable, and sometimes it seems deliberate. The widely available road map to Lusaka one can buy in the bookstore in the Arcades mall has advertisements scattered all around its edges that cover up the vast majority of Lusaka’s ‘peri-urban areas,’ where two-thirds of the city’s population resides. Many of the names of these areas appear on the map, but none of the roads that cut across and through them does. One could never use the map to navigate them. This symbolizes an invisibility that haunts a great many areas in African cities. Yet in and around this invisibility, incredibly imaginary and imaginative facets of the city emerge, creative, propulsive, innovative, and strongly linked with a wider world. As Sivaramakrishnan pointed out, in Lusaka, these areas are ‘called “peri-urban” but in reality it is the city proper that is peripheral.’ In cities like Lusaka, one needs to turn one’s imagination inside out, to see the world in the city.
The paragraphs above lead me to a set of questions. What about Lusaka is actually the way many cities in Africa are, or even the way many cities in the world are becoming? What do those patterns say about the way people think about, write about, or understand cities in Africa or in the world today? As I have argued in the introduction, many major debates and theorists in urban studies bypass the continent, dismiss its cities from the cartography of urban areas that matter, banish them to minor footnotes of exception, or make of them exemplary dystopias and horror shows of future terror. What happens if we place them in the center of urban studies instead?
The postmetropolis according to Soja
In this chapter’s title, I have made a deliberate reference to the third book of Ed Soja’s trilogy of critical urban theory, Postmetropolis . In this book and a related book chapter published the next year, Soja uses the term postmetropolis to draw attention to ‘profound material changes’ in ‘the modern metropolis.’ He describes the restructuring, deconstruction, and reconstitution of space that he sees in cities in ‘broad brush sketches’ for a ‘multi-sided picture … of what has been happening to cities over the past thirty years’. Soja suggests six broad themes, which are articulated in his provocative and inventive style (he names the themes his ‘six discourses,’ on the postfordist industrial metropolis, cosmopolis, exopolis, the fractal city, the carceral city/archipelago, and simcities).
It is seldom noted in analyses of his later works that Soja began his career as a scholar of the geography of urban development in East Africa. Soja started to take a much more critical stance toward modernization and modernity, but left African studies by the early 1980s. In the trilogy, Soja uses Los Angeles as his primary, though not exclusive, empirical backdrop for an engagement with a wide range of social theorists, without revisiting Africa (though he does make meaningful reference to South Africa in the more recent Seeking Spatial Justice).
The first book, Postmodern Geographies, had the phrase of its subtitle, ‘the reassertion of space in critical social theory,’ as its principal aim. Drawing on his interpretation of the writings of the urban theorist Henri Lefebvre, Soja’s central achievement lies in his articulation here of what he termed the ‘socio-spatial dialectic,’ whereby urban space is recast as a product of society that ‘arises from purposeful social practice.’ Soja sought to illustrate his claims along these lines in two successive chapters that close the book, entitled ‘It All Comes Together in Los Angeles’ and ‘Taking Los Angeles Apart.’ It is the latter chapter which gave inspiration to the style of this particular chapter in my book. Soja was aiming to deploy ‘fragmentary glimpses, a freed association of reflective and interpretive field notes’ in order to ‘appreciate the specificity and uniqueness of a particularly restless geographical landscape while simultaneously seeking to extract insights at higher levels of abstraction.’ The vignettes I use below in discussing my book’s themes in relation to Lusaka are similarly fragmentary glimpses meant to convey something specific about the city but also about the more abstract themes.
It is also this more creative end of the first book which gave rise to the approach in the second, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places; but this second book is less significant for my interests here than the third book of the trilogy, Postmetropolis: Critical Studies of Cities and Regions , which is structured in three parts that work to articulate each of the three dimensions of Lefebvre’s spatial triad, ‘the spatiality of human life as it is simultaneously perceived, conceived, and lived’. My concern here is with his Part II, the ‘Six Discourses on the Postmetropolis.’
Again with Los Angeles as the empirical referent, Soja explores each of his discourses in distinct chapters. The first of these, the postfordist industrial metropolis, highlights emerging regionalism at the expense of industrial urbanism, with the formation of extended metropolitan regions built around flexible specialization production systems with the collapse of ‘fordist’ assembly-line industrialism. The second, on cosmopolis, emphasizes how globalization has changed the spatiality of power relations and society in global and world cities like Los Angeles. Exopolis gives rise to a discussion of ‘the urbanization of suburbia and the growth of Outer Cities,’ or the changed ‘geographical outcomes of the new urbanization processes’ of a ‘city turned outside-in’ . The fourth discourse, on the fractal city, is meant to refer to the ‘fluid, fragmented, decentered and rearranged’ social mosaic of the city through rising socio-spatial polarity, inequality, and ethnic segmentation. Soja’s final two discourses mark a bit of a departure. The carceral archipelago refers to the increasingly fortified character of urban space, via ‘privatization, policing, surveillance, governance, and design of the built environment,’ as in gated communities, homeowner associations, and the like. The final discourse focuses on ‘the restructuring of the urban imaginary’ in philosophy, urban studies, film, and computer games.
Reading through Soja’s six themes of the postmetropolis is an entertaining experience. Is it a plausible suggestion for me to simply take his discourses and do a compare-and-contrast exercise? Soja in fact invites us to do exactly this: ‘what will be represented here,’ he writes in the introduction to Part II of Postmetropolis (on the six discourses), ‘is an invitation to comparative analysis, to using what can be learned from Los Angeles to make practical and theoretical sense of what is happening wherever the reader may be living.’ This is, I admit, part of what this chapter is about, given my chapter title: indeed, what if the postmetropolis is Lusaka – or Luanda, or Lubumbashi, for that matter – and not Los Angeles?
One problem with such an approach is that it might perpetuate the sense that we must learn about African cities by studying Western urban theory and then applying it on the continent. Los Angeles is not necessarily a completely false start for understanding African cities – the Nigerian-Angeleno novelist Chris Abani, for example, has said that LA is ‘the quintessential African city’ because he recognizes so many aspects of its social geography as more than comparable to Lagos. As I’ve noted in the introduction, there is no reason why African studies must categorically reject Western urban theory, and many authors in the recent wave of African urban studies put Lefebvre, Harvey, de Certeau, or Massey to good use. But as with these other theorists, we find that references that stretch far beyond Euro-American cities are rare in and tangential to Soja’s discussion of his six discourses. It would take some limbo dancing to finesse an African postindustrial fordist city under that discourse’s bar, if you will – though Africa’s Detroit, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (Port Elizabeth-Despatch-Uitenhage) in South Africa, might perform the function if required (Port Elizabeth has a huge informal settlement called KwaFord, after all, next to Ford’s manufacturing complex). Many African cities have always been cosmopolitan, exopolitan, fractal, or carceral, but in different ways than Soja means the terms (see Murray on Johannesburg, for example). Likewise, we can say that a ‘restructuring of the urban imaginary’ is ongoing across the continent, but not necessarily owing to or coterminous with computer gaming and postmodern cyber-architecture (see Diouf on Dakar).
Soja’s latest book, Seeking Spatial Justice, picks up its narrative right where Postmetropolis ended, with the Bus Riders Union of Los Angeles. While the first half of the book is a concise and helpful restatement of his arguments over the last twenty-five years, the second half again concentrates on Los Angeles, albeit in new ways. Here, Soja makes the connections between academia and activism for social change explicit. He seeks to bridge theory and practice, to take a ‘critical spatial perspective’ into the hard work of ‘cross-cutting coalition building’ that he sees as crucial to forging more just and relational communities, cities, and urban regions (Soja). As with the earlier trilogy the challenge lies in dealing with the relationship between his example, Los Angeles, and cities in Africa. But the twist here is that he develops the idea of ‘spatial justice’ out of his consideration of the work of Gordon Pirie on apartheid South Africa. It stands as a stark reminder of what urban studies can gain from building from African urban studies, rather than having its directional arrows ever flowing from the North and the West into the continent.
I take inspiration from Soja’s six discourses in creating an organizing principle for the book, and in a sense a methodological approach (rather than a set of theoretical or empirical concerns per se); but I am still operating under the premise of African studies talking back to urban studies, not the other way around. What happens, I ask, if we start the discussion about ‘what has been happening to cities over the past thirty years’ from Lusaka, or any other African city, rather than LA? I choose Lusaka for many reasons, not least of which is that its very ordinariness at first glance – no grand skyline, no obvious spectacle, just a few million people living their lives in close proximity – challenges the grandiosity that often inheres to urban theory. That does not necessarily make my task of de-centering any smoother. ‘It is easy enough,’ Robinson writes, ‘to raise a critique of ethnocentrism in urban studies; it’s so much harder to instigate new kinds of practices for studying cities and managing them.’ I seek to follow her lead in ‘decentering the reference points … in a spirit of attentiveness to the possibility that cities elsewhere [e.g. cities in Africa] might perhaps be different and shed stronger light on the processes being studied’. In so doing, I still share Soja’s under-appreciated ‘commitment’ throughout his trilogy and Seeking Spatial Justice ‘to producing knowledge not only for its own sake but more so for its practical usefulness in changing the world for the better.’
Instead of Soja’s six themes, in this chapter and in the rest of the book, I substitute five others – with Lusaka as my touchstone city in this chapter – for an experimental vision of cities in Africa as seen through concerns with postcolonialism, informality, governance, violence, andcosmopolitanism. What has been happening to Lusaka over the past few decades? Lusaka has continued to deal with its colonial inheritance of poverty, underdevelopment, and deep inequality; the functions and forms to Lusaka’s growth contain a high degree of informality; the methods, processes, and networks for governing Lusaka have seen dramatic changes in institutional terms via democratization and neoliberalism; the city is coping with rising domestic insecurity and a variety of seeping wounds to its social fabric; and Lusaka is globalizing at a variety of scales at once. My hunch is that this bundle of phenomena speaks much more strongly to the experiences of cities in Africa over the last thirty years or so than do Soja’s six discourses. These themes are really an amalgamation and restatement of concepts developed and debated in African urban studies over the last few decades or more by many scholars in and out of Africa. They are sometimes themes that are hard to tease out from one another (particularly informality and governance), but ultimately I examine distinct phenomena under each. Since these themes provide the backbone for the next five chapters, I should note that I am merely sketching them here in this chapter in terms of how they might appear in ‘broad brush strokes’ in reference to Lusaka, to set the stage for the further excavation each chapter brings.
The cover image for my book Disposable Cities is based on an air photo of the boundary zone between Roma and Ng’ombe, the hilly former white township and the crowded informal settlement. I used the image in part to show that Lusaka, like many African cities, still bears the scars of colonialism nearly fifty years after Zambia earned independence from Britain. ‘Catastrophic inequalities between juxtaposed neighborhoods all over the city, an absence of drinking water, overabundance of surface water, and toxic drainage, to say nothing of failing sewerage, sanitation, solid waste management, rates collection, or land control’ – I called these ‘the oldest stories of Lusaka’.
Ng’ombe was a part of a white-owned farm estate from the 1930s, when Lusaka was formally constructed and designated as the capital of Northern Rhodesia, a colony of Britain that had been only recently transferred (in 1928) to the Crown from the British South Africa Company (BSAC). The BSAC had founded the colony in the 1890s essentially as a mining concession. By the 1950s, most of what became Ng’ombe was leased to the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (WNLA), which recruited mineworkers for South African mines. A neighborhood formed for a time around the WNLA camp, such that people began to call the area ‘Winella,’ a place-name that appears in maps and reports of the decade. About one hundred people lived in Winella’s twenty houses as of 1957.
By independence, though, the white landowner was back to using this area for occasional pasturage. He more than tolerated settlement on his land – like many white landowners around Lusaka, he engaged in what was derisively called ‘kaffir farming,’ where they were ‘growing’ huts for black squatters (for whom the derogatory term, kaffir, was used in Northern Rhodesia as in South Africa) who rented their rights to be on his land. The Director of African Affairs expressed some slight concern: ‘This charging of rents … for houses in unauthorized locations is an additional complication which requires early investigation because of the effect on perpetuating slums in which no services are provided.’ Nevertheless, the director noted that the district commissioner was in fact doing much the same thing in similar places around the city, in allowing black squatters on government land.
By 1966, the name Ng’ombe (cows) was affixed to the community emerging on this hillslope. The settlement began in the low-lying areas near to Roma and the creek. As it expanded (the 1990 census had 17,288 people, and the 2001 census counted more than 30,000 in Ng’ombe, while local household surveys at the same time counted more than 40,000 people) it moved up the hillside, encroaching on properties belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, for what was called the Roma Convent. The informal settlement’s residents on church lands were then forcibly evicted by order of the Lusaka City Council in December 2002; some seven hundred homes were demolished. ‘Some people in Ng’ombe threw off their crosses and rosaries after that, saying we won’t be in this church,’ one resident told me. Yet Ng’ombe was one of a dozen neighborhoods subject to demolitions that rainy season, and major demolitions had come every few years, across the scarred cityscape of peri-urbanism, in the late 1970s, the early 1990s, the late 1990s, and again after 2002’s episode. The ‘geographies of exclusion’ that colonialism formed have hardly disappeared from the landscape of Lusaka. If anything, they have morphed into new forms.
Lusaka might be conceived of as postcolonial in the two ways that term is most often used. That means, first, that it is a city living in the ‘temporal aftermath’ of – i.e. the ‘period of time after’ – colonialism, and second, that it is a city amid the ‘critical aftermath’ – meaning the ‘cultures, discourses and critiques that lie beyond, but remain closely influenced by, colonialism’. The first sense, the conditions of the temporal aftermath, suggests how societies live with the legacies of colonialism. African societies certainly experienced a diversity of forms of colonialism, and it is unsurprising to see a divergent set of responses to what should be pluralized as postcolonial conditions. As Lusaka suggests, many aspects of colonial relationships have not ended; over and over again, for instance, demolition, removal, and upgrading processes in the postcolonial era replicate colonial tactics. Postcolonial conditions are conditions that aren’t really post colonial in very many senses, other than the temporal dimension alone. But that also does not mean that postcolonial conditions are not dramatically diverse – Lusaka is not any more or less typical than any other city in Africa in this. When postcolonial is used in that second sense, of a critical aftermath, where a ‘set of theoretical perspectives’ aim at ‘hearing or recovering the experiences of the colonized,’ it comes under fire for its abstractions. The challenge lies, as geographer Cheryl McEwan puts it, with connecting postcolonial thought’s ‘powerful discursive insights to material consequence,’ as I seek to do in Chapter 2.
Most of Lusaka’s people live in places like Ng’ombe, which are called compounds, or komboni in Chinyanja. The term has its origins in the colonial era. Legally, blacks only had the right to live in the city if they resided in the compound of their white employer. From the beginning, there were exceptions and violations of this rule. Lusaka had fewer than two thousand residents in 1928, but with the 1931 decision to make it the colonial capital its population began to climb. The planned ‘Garden City’ was meant for white settlers, but few whites ever came. Whites did control large farmsteads all around the town, but most of the poorly drained region was ill suited for farming. Some were able to mine limestone on their plots instead, but most white settlers made some money by renting land to blacks, and the rents they collected became their ‘crop.’ The compounds and the houses erected on them essentially had no legal status within the City of Lusaka, and each grew through the informal rules that governed the landholder’s relations with his or her people. These long-forgotten settlers remain on Lusaka’s map nearly everywhere one turns – John Laing, George, Misisi (‘the Mrs’), John Howard, Jack, Marapodi (named for an Italian contractor, G. B. Marapodi), Villa Elizabetha (named for Marapodi’s daughter), or Mandevu (‘Beards,’ the nickname of the landholder). Many developed adjacent to private whites-only developments built by these same settlers that were typically separate townships from the City of Lusaka, such as Roma. There are also many parts of informal Lusaka that Lusaka’s African people have named, and still more where they have made the European names their own. By 1963, nearly 14 percent of Lusaka’s population lived in unauthorized compounds and another 38 percent lived in ‘employer’ housing – an impossible percentage when compared with the real numbers of ‘employees’ for any supposed employers. By 1974, a clear majority of the city resided in what were by then being called ‘informal areas’.
Some of the most interesting early urban studies research in Africa occurred in these peri-urban settlements in the 1950s, often through what was then the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute (RLI). These works document that the real life of the actual majority of Lusaka’s population, from the very beginning, was found in the peri-urban edges. ‘It has been interesting,’ wrote an RLI researcher compiling a Gazetteer of African Housing Areas for Lusaka’s district commissioner in 1957, ‘to discover the extent to which the inhabitants of the unauthorized locations provide services for their fellows in the Municipal Locations as … vendors of herbs and dried caterpillars, indigent carpenters, shoemakers, wise women, and snuff grinders.’ The RLI’s 1958 report on unauthorized locations cautioned that the government would be ‘mistaken to think of these people as criminals. The great majority of them are very decent people.’ They had no alternative but to take up residence on the fringes – it was in fact economically logical: they had cheaper accommodation, and could replicate something more like the rural life they had left behind, while exercising nearly complete freedom of action and living nearer to work.
But then this 1958 report moved on to discuss what its authors called the ‘five political effects of the squatter problem.’ First: the ‘unauthorized locations corrupt the average African coming to Lusaka from a rural area.’ Second: the lack of stability leads to ‘a lack of social conscience or sense of responsibility’ in the peri-urban edges. Third, as independence and anti-colonial movements progressed, the authors feared that ‘the physical disadvantages of life in these compounds [would] afford opportunities for the agitator.’ Fourth, thinking of places much like Ng’ombe vis-à-vis Roma, the authors warned that ‘the location of some of these locations adjacent to European residential areas does not make for harmonious race relations.’ Finally, the report turned to the ‘psychological effect’ of informal settlements, because a ‘man’ there could be ‘very apt to regard himself as opposed to the forces of law’.
This report lays bare common assumptions implicit in how one side of the gashed city has looked at the other from colonial times onward. To what extent throughout their history have these ‘informal’ or ‘unauthorized’ parts of Lusaka really been noticeable hotbeds of corrupted culture, irresponsibility, agitation, racial revenge, opposition to the rule of law? Hardly ever, it turns out, at least in ways one could ever distinguish from the rest of the city. They are just poorer, often astronomically so, and poorly treated by the power structure.
African urban studies scholars owe an incredible debt to Ann Schlyter and Karen Tranberg Hansen for their remarkable decades-long dedication to what are now anthropological time-series data sets on George and Mtendere compounds in Lusaka. As Schlyter wrote, ‘all over Africa there are cities with collapsing urban services, environmental degradation and poor and overcrowded housing conditions. Lack of urban services, such as fresh water and energy provision’ and other aspects of the problems hit especially hard in peri-urban neighborhoods like George which ‘physically and socially manifested structures of power and patterns of everyday life.’ Her work and Hansen’s work demonstrate, in different ways, exactly this neighborhood-level manifestation of how municipal planning power works (or doesn’t work) and how people actually live in informal settlements – even when these settlements began most formally, as Mtendere did. Once a model site-and-services scheme of the postcolonial regime, built in a neat, tight rectangular grid form with major international funding, Mtendere is now just another ‘informal’ ‘peri-urban’ ‘compound’ to most analysts and observers.
Informality, as Mtendere makes manifest, is as complicated a term as postcolonialism. For now, let me put it this way. We can say, with whatever confidence we have in a given set of statistics, that a high percentage of this city or that city lives in informal housing. But by that point, we may have in effect said that the city is so dominated by informality that it is an informal city. What formal sector activity does exist is so permeated by and interpenetrated with informality as to render a separation of them ridiculous in many cities. It may be time, in essence, to find a new language for this theme, to see it – as my brackets in the section subheading suggest – as (i)n(f)ormal, and familiar. Lusaka opens up the issues of terminology as well as any city in Africa, despite significant variations in what informality means across the continent.
Mzamose Mbewe was secretary of Samalila Ukhondo (SU) Waste Group in Kamanga, an unauthorized compound east of Ng’ombe. SU was started with International Labor Organization funds in 2000. Their name meant ‘Taking Care of Cleanliness.’ They started with eleven members and were down to five by the time the Zambian geographer Wilma Nchito and I interviewed Mzamose in December 2002. She told us of the grand ambitions with which they had begun their work, to collect the trash of the compound. ‘In February 2000 we began the actual collection, door to door … We had targeted 1,333 households since that was the total number of households according to Irish Aid in all of Kamanga – Then! – in the time since it has grown. At one time we managed six hundred. Now we are down to perhaps two hundred.’ They moved the collected waste out to ‘midden boxes’ and slabs, from which the Lusaka City Council was supposed to collect again (what is called secondary collection) to take it to a dumpsite. There were piles of waste along the road from 2000 to 2004 that the city council had not removed. ‘Council told us they have no capacity,’ Mzamose told us. ‘Customers are saying that they will not pay. “We see where you are putting it and we can do that ourselves” … Our plans have been disturbed somehow … The thing we want the most is to have the waste removed. If we had it removed we would be talking of other stories.’
With Lusaka being one of the early adaptors of the UN’s Sustainable Cities Program (SCP) framework, its experiences encapsulate the struggles of governance reform and sustainable urban development on the continent (Myers 2005). The Sustainable Lusaka Program (SLP) focused on a number of priority environment-and-development issues, but solid waste management was the first priority, as it was in nearly every one of Africa’s twenty-nine participant cities. Less than 10 percent of the residential solid waste of the city at the beginning of the SLP was collected and deposited in a landfill.
Seven years of the SLP’s operation did little to expand that collection rate, particularly in peri-urban areas. The seven years since it closed have been marked by straightforward privatization of waste services that meant modest improvements in the wealthiest areas and little or no headway in the compounds. The UN-Habitat’s own published assessment of the SLP, for which principal authorship belongs to the hydrogeologist Daniel Nkhuwa (with Jonathan Mwanza and Kangwa Chama), is quite clear-eyed about the program’s problematic outcomes. The main challenges came in the struggle to ‘rally key stakeholders to work together for effective change in attitude and behavior’.
Some achievements are noted in the report, particularly in the main priority area of solid waste management. The authors cite some raised consciousness about the potential for private sector and community group involvement in waste management, and in some cases a cleaner environment with reduced epidemic diseases. On the other hand, most people in peri-urban communities proved too poor to pay for waste services. The Lusaka City Council never followed through on its end of the bargain, while ‘political interference’ and an ‘unrealistic’ schedule for waste collection in a ‘learning-by-doing’ environment debilitated the project. Nkhuwa and his team argued that ‘the local authority has completely abrogated its responsibilities to the community’ and also that a group they refer to as ‘participatory elites’ emerged to ‘appoint themselves as representatives of the community … to dominate as many community projects as possible for personal gain; the less educated community members usually do not have the courage to confront them, hence they continue to dominate’. Multiparty democratic politics has come to Lusaka, in hotly contested local government elections as well as in the local races in national elections in 1991, 1996, 2001, and 2006, but Zambia’s national governments have continually undermined and underfunded local authorities like the Lusaka City Council – and particularly when, as has been the case for the last decade, the council has an opposition majority. And any optimism that the opposition party that has been winning control of the council of late would somehow be more genuinely pro-poor in Lusaka, were it not undermined and underfunded, is immediately tempered by the recognition that this party’s leader, Michael Sata, has twice been the cabinet minister responsible for widespread demolitions in peri-urban compounds in previous central governments!
UN-Habitat’s other participant cities in the SCP and related urban environmental programs in Africa show Lusaka to be typical of patterns across the continent, and the SCP is just one of a great many efforts at the recasting, rescaling, and reinventing of urban governance to see mixed results in Africa. Chapter 4 takes on the task of assessing governance in a range of African cities, examining neoliberal governance, materialist and post-structuralist critiques of it, and more empirical assessments on the ground (like that of Nkhuwa and his colleagues) of both urban service delivery and socio-environmental justice.
James, his wife and four children, his sister, and her two kids live in two rented rooms in Garden, a peri-urban compound whose name is a joke: it was built in the low-lying outfall field from Lusaka’s sewage treatment facility. Here, a ‘Garden’-style apartment is a house with an extension in the back with two, three or even four two-room units rented to different households. James’s place is crammed with many residents, lacking electricity and using only a standpipe for water. Garden, perhaps more than any compound, betrays the hydrological contradiction that is probably Lusaka’s biggest wound: too much putrid surface water, not enough water for human consumption.
James walks from there to Kabulonga for work. Among compound dwellers in 1986, 48 percent were estimated to walk to work, sometimes, like James, walking 6 or 7 kilometers. Garden’s roads are nearly all eroded away, full of garbage, mixed with water-filled potholes and charcoal-colored water. When I drove James home one day in my landlady’s rental car, we had to drive around and around to get past crater-sized potholes to get as close as we did to his house. Then he insisted we had to have his sister watch the car while we walked the rest of the way, as he was certain it would be stolen or damaged otherwise.
Lusaka has been spared the urbicide of other African cities, where open warfare and persistent violent conflict have made rubble of the cityscape – even in contexts where the most horrific violence is imagined to be rural. Yet it has deep wounds in other ways: HIV/AIDS, crime, injustice, inequality, and displacement. Naomi Banda talked with me about the demolitions in her peri-urban area of Kalikiliki in 2002. On 5 December, the police came with a bulldozer to destroy the homes on the hill on the opposite side of a stream from Mtendere. ‘The people attacked the one who they said had called the council in, and chased the council and police away.’ More than ten police were injured. They came back in firing live ammunition, and three people died, one a fifteen-year-old boy. Two died in hospital, one in the street. ‘This is a rough part of town, but this, it was like a war. Because Zambia has never had a war, when people heard the shots they came running to see what it was, and that is why the people died.’
Kalikiliki and this squatter extension of it are in a zone that was formerly a white settler’s farm, like Ng’ombe. ‘People used to pass that way going to work at Agriflora [a now defunct hydroponic flower factory] but there were robbers and bandits too. Sometimes you could just see dead bodies there so maybe they said let’s put some houses there to calm it down.’ Naomi’s last remark took me a while to think through. To her, the open spaces between compounds were the spaces of danger. Filling them in with homes, however chaotically, would ‘calm it down.’ David Harvey, in Spaces of Hope, asks us to think about creating ‘possibilities of spatial form’ that might foster ‘a wide range of human potentialities.’ Geographer Patricia Daley responds to Harvey, at the very end of her book Gender and Genocide in Burundi, with the assertion that ‘finding spaces of hope [will] require actual engagement with emancipatory politics’ and the ‘rehumanization of African people.’ One way that must happen is by de-centering discussion of urban experience to be able to encompass and rehear what people like Naomi Banda are saying about their cities, even when that means a chaotic spatial form to a residential area if that will ‘calm it down.’ Conceptions of order, security, or calmness in the most marginal areas of African cities may run counter to outsiders’ expectations or common understandings. Chapter 5’s discussion of wounded cities, with its focus on Mogadishu, seeks spaces of hope in a de-centered discussion that valorizes Somali voices, particularly in literature. That de-centering and revalorization of the discussion also lead to the recognition that there can be no real rebirth for a wounded city without cosmopolitanism and imagination – bringing me to the book’s final theme.
The northern spine road heading east from the governmental center of Lusaka to its well-to-do eastern suburb of Kabulonga is a distinctive marker of the layout that emerged from the colonial plans of the 1930s. The wide boulevard passes the northern side of the presidential palace and the southern side of Lusaka Golf Club along the way to Kabulonga, which was, like Roma, a formerly separate, whites-only township until 1970. Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s president from 1965 until 1990, pulled Kabulonga into the City of Lusaka, and then further consolidated control over the territory by abolishing the city council in the 1970s. The Kaunda regime marked its alliances through naming and renaming places and streets; this road came to be known as Saddam Hussein Boulevard, in honor of the late Iraqi president, in the run-up to the Non-Aligned Movement’s conference in Lusaka in 1970.
Kaunda’s regime was forced into holding multiparty elections in 1990 in which his United National Independence Party was trounced by the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), led by Frederick Chiluba. Chiluba was an unwavering US ally, and he had the MMD government change the constitution to proclaim that Zambia is a ‘Christian nation.’ He was not about to keep Saddam Hussein on the city map at a time when the United States and its ‘coalition of the willing’ were fighting to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Hence Saddam Hussein Boulevard was renamed, amazingly, Los Angeles Boulevard. Soja once proclaimed that ‘Los Angeles is everywhere.’ Lusaka makes his case.
More seriously, the story of the naming and renaming of Los Angeles Boulevard suggests some ways in which the ‘cosmopolis’ Soja discusses can be found in many different ways in cities like Lusaka across Africa. Lusaka is connected to the rest of the world, it is a ‘worlding’ city. The flowers produced in its hydroponic factory-farms might show up on dinner tables in Holland the next day. One of Lusaka’s more prominent residents, when he found out that I came from Kansas, told me that Wichita, Kansas, was his favorite city – the place where his airline, Zambian Airways, bought its small planes before it went bankrupt. One could be instantly connected with anywhere else after getting online in the Internet café that was adjacent to LA Fast Foods by the Haile Selassie Road intersection with LA Boulevard from 2002 onward. Farther west along the road, one passes the Millennium Village that Libyan president Mu’ammer Gaddafi created for the summit where the Organization of African Unity became the African Union, in Lusaka in 2000; it was built so as to have a glitzy house in it for each president of a member state to use during the summit. (Kaunda created a similar ‘village,’ Mulungushi, to house delegates to the Non-Aligned Movement conference, and it is now a gated community.) Past the other end of LA Boulevard, once it becomes Kabulonga Road, one can see the tattered remnants of the flag of the Republic of Somalia fluttering above the compound where someone who somehow manages to be Somalia’s ambassador to Zambia resides.
But it is not just in elite ways that we might claim that Lusaka is everywhere, or that everywhere is in Lusaka. Lusaka hosts thousands of refugees, former refugees, and resettled residents from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Mozambique. Whether victims or agents within these conflicts, none of these Lusaka residents is a Lusaka resident sui generis – they are there after fleeing conflicts in which the major powers of the Cold War and power brokers of the new scramble for Africa played key roles. The United States, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Brazil, Portugal, Belgium, France – these powers are all, in a sense, in Lusaka, embedded in the causation of its refugee population’s growth over the last forty years.
Some 93 percent of Zambia’s foreign exchange earnings come from the export of copper and copper products, making Zambia one of the top five producers of copper wire in the world. Copper, cobalt, diamonds, other gems, and coltan from Angola or the DRC find their way into the world market through Zambia every day illegally, often through Lusaka either by train or plane. Every cell phone in the world is stabilized with coltan and operated through copper conductors. There is probably a bit of something that passed through Lusaka in your pocket right now, if not in the phone, then in the coins, or the ring on your finger.
What is more, many people in Lusaka are very aware of and connected to the world and the region, how it impacts their lives. Migration – be it rural to urban, urban to rural, urban to urban, circular, temporary, or whatever we call it – has been fundamental to all of the peoples of Zambia for at least five hundred years. One of my Zambian colleagues explained his country’s effectiveness in hosting so many refugees by saying, ‘that is because all of us were refugees.’ Be it the Tonga originating in the southern Congo basin in the first millennium CE, the Luba and Lunda coming from there in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Nguni in the nineteenth century, or the Bemba and Lozi whose cultures were so transformed by the regional migrations and militarization of that Nguni incursion, most Zambians have legitimate roots somewhere outside of Zambia, should they wish to claim them. And of course the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries have if anything intensified the connectivities, with Zambians studying and working in South Africa (remember the WNLA!), Zimbabwe, Tanzania, the DRC, the UK, the former USSR, the USA, China, India, and elsewhere in ever greater numbers.
There are many words that might capture the related phenomena of the above paragraphs. Although cosmopolitanism is not without its critics, I start Chapter 6 with the idea that it is the best working term for the moment. The philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah takes us back to the root of the term, cosmopolitan, in fourth-century BCE Cynicism: ‘citizen of the cosmos,’ whereby a citizen ‘belonged to a particular city’ and at the same time to ‘the world … in the sense of the universe.’ He argues for cosmopolitanism not as the answer to the world’s problems but as a challenge, ‘a gauntlet thrown down’ in the struggle with the increasing velocity and volume of interconnectivity the world is experiencing in the twenty-first century, which we typically refer to as globalization. Helpfully, James Ferguson has already deployed the term in his Expectations of Modernity, albeit about the modernist cultural bloc of the Zambian Copperbelt, rather than Lusaka. ‘Cosmopolitans,’ to Ferguson, were the Copperbelters of the 1980s and 1990s who had embraced the styles of dress, music, housing, and life more generally associated with ‘the world out there.’ A great many cosmopolitans moved to Lusaka from the Copperbelt as its copper industries declined in those years, another form of ‘an attempt to perform in a society in freefall’ by seeking out the ‘surprising, shocking, foreign, strange, or transgressive,’ another gauntlet thrown down. One finds versions of Ferguson’s cosmopolitans across the continent in the early twenty-first century. But it is a gauntlet that one might just as easily throw down in Lusaka, to draw attention to the reality that globalization and cosmopolitanization are central to urban life even in this rather mundane city.
When the deputy chief of mission in the US embassy invited me in to talk about my research in January 2003, we had a very pleasant chat about a wide range of matters. At one point he exclaimed that he had heard that Lusaka really had more than two million people, and not the official census population of 1.1 million. ‘Two million people,’ he said, ‘but where are they all?’ I was too stunned to answer him coherently, and I honestly don’t remember now what I said. Had I had my wits together, I might have said: they are on the move, all around you. Many, like James, are on the move walking to work, or for the possibility of work. Others are busy farming maize from the little strips of land between the walls of the estates in your neighborhood and the streets and other ‘unimportant, peripheral, and marginal’ zones because they have so little food and so little access to land for farming anywhere else.
It may be, as Katherine Gough contends (in a recent publication about the differing capacities for mobility among youth in Lusaka), that ‘overall the picture emerging from Lusaka is rather bleak,’ particularly ‘in a context of spiraling economic decline and rising HIV/AIDs rates.’ Many people are still ‘getting stuck in the compound’ . Yet there are spaces of hope in sometimes surprising places. Godfrey Hampwaye argues that ‘at the level of urban government the traditional top down character has gradually given way to the formal recognition of decentralization as a means to empower local authorities in Zambia to affect change.’ Certainly, schools, roads, infrastructure, markets, and other features of the cityscape have improved in the last decade as a result.
In 2003, I went to church with a friend, Steven Mumbi, at Oasis of Grace Tabernacle Pentecostal Holiness church, in Mtendere’s Area C. Steven is a taxi driver who sings and leads a twelve-person music youth group – rocking gospel in a charismatic church. The experience was an ecstatic reminder of the importance of churches in so much of what people are and want in compounds. Steven gave me a CD of his gospel band’s music, powerful, inspiring, passionate, and soulful music that brings me back to that day every time I play it.
After church, Steven drove me through Mtendere in his taxi. Mtendere is divided into quarters, known as A, B, C, and D, with road access throughout. Kalikiliki, the tough place across the ravine, is not laid out by plan; instead, its houses hop around the streambed and up the slope in a scatter, and it proved harder on Steven’s taxi. ‘With these compounds, the lower you go the more rough the place is.’ Steven meant this ‘low’ in both economic and topographic terms, but he also spoke with admiration about some of the creative architecture, and creative piracy, one can find there in the ‘low’ places. ‘I could leave this car there for ten minutes and it might be stolen, but I could go to Matero [another compound] the next day and buy it back – piece by piece!’ We then went through PH I, the corrupt housing scheme of former President Chiluba, eerily unlived in for the most part, in which huge amounts of government money went into making a new middle-class planned neighborhood between Mtendere/Kalikiliki and the Great East Road.
It seems to me that this was a day when I saw the conceived, perceived, and lived spaces of Lusaka, to use the language of Soja’s interpretation of Lefebvre, together, kilometer by kilometer – a postcolonial, informal, unruly, and wounded city, yet a cosmopolitan place full of imaginative, generative, and connective synergies internally and across the globe, in spite of the rest. We may still be in the midst of the ‘years when there was a harshness in the land that had little sympathy for the weak,’ as the Zambian novelist Binwell Sinyangwe (2000: 30) put it. Yet there is a creativity to the responses and resistance to that harshness that may go beyond mere endurance, as in Mulenga Kapwepwe’s 2004 play, Like Choosing between Eating and Breathing, about sex workers in Lusaka. The emancipatory politics necessary to re-create or re-vision African cities within African studies and urban studies alike would certainly require many of the re-visions Daley calls for in Burundi – a ‘revalorization of the African human, … a democracy that reflects and protects the human, … alternative forms of masculinities and femininities, … regionality and regional citizenship,’ and ‘the elevation of African agency.’ Ultimately, such a re-vision would be a revalorization of the creativity, even in critique and resistance, manifested in so much of everyday life in urban Africa in these cosmopolitan times.
In this chapter, I have worked from the premise that Lusaka is an ordinary city, but one that might turn our imagination inside out, might potentially be an example of trends and themes for many cities in Africa and perhaps in the world. It is living with the consequences of colonialism’s temporal aftermath and spatial legacies. Chief among these is the dominance of informality. At the same time, in struggling to overcome colonialism’s legacies, Lusaka has experimented, at least on paper, with de-centralized and participatory forms of urban environmental governance, for example in solid waste management. The programs that have led this effort, externally funded and driven, are facets of why Lusaka can be considered a place well connected with the rest of the world. Some of its woundedness is clearly linked with the character of some of the connectivities. Its cosmopolitanism and connectivity have consequences. Yet Lusaka is also an imaginative city, generative of dynamic cultural practices.
I’ve used a series of vignettes patterned somewhat after Soja’s six discourses of the post-metropolis, albeit not in an everything-compared-to-Los-Angeles mode. One test of this book is this: can we start from a city like Lusaka to offer themes that resonate in other cities in Africa, and potentially other cities in the world? Each of the next five chapters seeks to answer this question across a range of other cities on the continent. The other test of this book lies in the question of whether, by – as Robinson put it – ‘decentering the reference points’ in urban studies and African studies, we can have what Soja sought: ‘practical usefulness in changing the world for the better.’ To take on the real implications of Soja’s phrase for creating an agenda for African urban studies, though, it is vital to remember Pieterse’s model of a ‘relational’ understanding of cities and its ‘sensibility of agonistic pluralism.’ The chapters which follow travel the intersections between colonial and postcolonial urban design visions, formal and informal settlement, collaborative and contestatory governance, violent and non-violent urban imaginaries, and local and transnational conceptualizations of urban culture to embed this relational pluralism into my conclusion’s exploration of ‘changing the world for the better.’