Home > Book Summary > Book Summary: Simone Abd Al Maliq, For the City Yet to come

Book Summary: Simone Abd Al Maliq, For the City Yet to come

This book covers a case study of four African cities and the mechanisms of social existence in these cities with some attention to the role that the state plays. Abd Al Maliq shows an alternative way of constructing the city of the future by looking at the actual practices in some of the most dynamic cities in the world. Instead of moving from the ideal state to reality he shows how we can move in reverse.


(1) African cities provide a dysfunctional arena of the political in the modern age. On paper they should not work, yet in reality they do. They are diverse and alive, they need new concepts of politics. A lot of energy and is produced from these diverse spaces but a lot of wasted potential as well.

N: Whose faults is African cities states today. Is it a lack of imagination by the international, dependency, colonialism? (stupid question)

(2) African cities are not governable but they thrive and survive (Lagos, Kinshasa)”Here what we may know conventionally as legality and illegality, war and peace, the corporeal and the spiritual, the formal and the informal, and movement and home are brought into a proximity that produces a highly ambiguous sense of place” There are multiple space constructed.

(3) Thesis: How does this collision of all that is different in African cities produce a livable space “with specific  value and capacity” what kind of future is being made for African cities.

(3) Factors: Years of popular disillusionment with the African state. Labour intensive demand of securing basic needs. Entrenched “negotiability” of justice. Effects of international mediated and supervised economic reform process. These have overwhelmed the effectiveness of urban practices, prioritizations, social reciprocity, and the continuous interaction of complementary diversity. It is difficult to know which strategies will pay off in the future. It is hard to know which “social practices, alliances, and knowledge” can be used and used effectively.

There develops a concern with finding social ties that provide security, ties which can be used for or against cities and individuals. how much control do different groups hold on one another and where do the lines cross. This is all being negotiated.

N: Is this negotiated from scratch? or arre there previous models that Africans can use and refer to?

(4) State of constant emergency makes it hard to reflect only to react. But emergency also includes “emergence” given this state one cannot refer to a normality being erased or a sense of something changing. No certainty, but also no anxiety about losing the past. (Is this a valid claim? No sense of previous normality seems difficult almost unhuman)

Self reliance gives rise to many networks of mutual support, sanitation, shelter etc… But they are simultaneously ways to abuse and control the other.

(6) nice sentence capturing the dynamic uniqueness of this moment in African History.

(6) Social support systems of family ties are strained. Strains are political (official roles over others) Economic (need to coordinate outside of the family for survival) and identity formation (especially important for youths in a dynamic envt, who am I which group do I belong to)

N: Is this a description of every city in the world? (good point) But really it isn’t as bad elsewhere despite feelings of anomie.

(7) Tension between maintaining international standards (funding) of citizenship, city space, official governance, and the real associations that make the city work that do not conform to citizenship or the international moral ideals.

(8) Politics for 10 years after independence was successful, modernization needed money and new institutions, but to find this money old social political relations were overturned. Today government are in fiscal enclaves with little care for the people in the rest of the country.

There is no sense of what is valuable, what is important, the large role of international funding and ownership only adds to this (cause of this?) no internal/external space of market.

(9) Structural adjustment ruins the state leaving the city dwellers to recreate the social survival skills and links.

Informality is not an aberration but a platform for sustainable politics. (Economy or politics)

(10) Officially hidden, but actually well known. Allows speed and reliability of economic activity. normative rhetoric on integrating the city locally can’t see the larger aspirations of the multiple roles that are being forged which are cross-cutting and much more useful.

Safety and welfare have to be negotiated, but in case of failure resorting to family networks involves becoming manipulated by the family. There is a search for a safety net that retains a persons autonomy.

Produce “affective” bonds, to allow cooperation. new forms of natural and artificial collaboration are emerging. Which actors collaborate around what and how is interesting to see.

(13) Intersection of coordinared collective action in parallel to decentralized local small scale authority in city.

(13) Each with its own morality and social economy. If African cities work it is in this dynamic of communal and decentralized that they pull it off.

4 notions that this book will use to frame African cities: Invisible – spectral – movement- informal.

(16) Method: No confidence in any continuous systemic structures so case studies come from immersion and practice. African cities are more than failed cities, they have potential solutions for the future and new knowledge. (Can the author really immerse himself? he is an NGO professor? Who is the book addressed to, solutions for who?)

(17) There is no uniform “Africa” but city actors are moving closer to each other. Global economic restructuring is making “Africa”. Yes they are colonial creations still tied to the world through colonial institutions and economies but they are modern, innovative, and resourceful. The city moved on.

(19) “If colonialism is to be retained as a useful concept in understanding African urban history, it requires appreciating the different influences that were brought to bear on particular urban spaces.” Cities have different experiences of colonialism but they also provide models for one another for how to deal with that legacy.


(21) Urban seek to maintain sense of local scale but pursues livelihood beyond it. New Arenas of stability emerge with practice of mutually accepted way of doing things.

(22) “The notion of the informal will highlight the heterogeneity of social collaborations that coincide with a major urban redevelopment project Pikine, a large suburb of Dakar, Senegal. The invisible will be used to outline the diffuse yet forceful mechanisms of collective resistance to wide-scale introduction of specific rationalities of development in Winteveld, a fringe urban area of Pretoria in South Africa. The spectral refers to both the symbolic status of certain showpiece development efforts in Douala, Cameroon, as well as the space of remaking relationships of social power  and the lingering sense of incompletion that haunts the way in which the city is visualized or imagined by its residents. Movement, as applied to a brief case study of diverse African actors in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, is used to foreground a particular valorization of mobility at work in efforts to respatialize not only livelihood but the salience of long-term urban institutions.”

(25) Structural readjustment and liberal economic globalization all promote exchange of vast amounts of product between borders using informal networks.

Informal sector is half of the workforce, save money, overcomes unnecessary regulation, cheaper, repository for skill without opportunity, compensates for absence of social mobility.

(28) Women create an independent income base by commercial farming, they form ties beyond their rural village.

No schools, child labour in exchange for informal education.

60% of population is below 21, 25% between 0-4 years. Is the young population the source of change and instability in Africa? Does that play a factor beyond dependency, colonialism and other heritages? (Dakar)

(37) In Dakar social solidarity is not linked to well being. Each are valued but have different mechanisms. Social order limits and cushions the place of possibility available to residents.

(40) Real authority in Pikine lies with the soufi religious authorities, the marabout. Specific senagalese Islamic revival. Tehre are two orders, Mouride and Tidiane. Mouride are commercial and emphasize hard work, tidiane are hierarchical and elites and hereditary.

Marabout authority is not spiritual but based on their ability to “fix” things.

(42) Network of marabouts in different cities provide reach to economic opportunity beyond the local. marabout has interest in being perceived as effective in at least some cases. unemployment means who gets work depends on who you know, so youth work menial jobs and give portion to marabout until they get an opportunity.

Marabout benefits from unregulation and lack of access to other opportunities, Marabout had the only water tap in the city and objected when new ones were planned. marabout gains control by securing opportunity windows.

Other sources of opportunity and groups are Associational groups, women groups, hip-hop, commercial markets. There is a debate on whether the marabout entrepeneurs should pay taxes since by doing so they would recognize state authority above theirs.

(50) Project de ville: Divide Pikine into sub-municiplaities that are locally autonomous but politically dependant on the center. Leads to negotiations between different particularistic interest groups that jockey to take resources from the center.

Conflict between religions brotherhood and other players creates space for cooperation that woul otherwise not have existed. Role of international access to funds by presenting publically the internal social dynamic.

(54) New technology and improvements require new hands to work them. This threatens the old authorities and creates space for sabotage of the new classes. Formation of Associations provide space for debate/conflict which is good. New wealth means that the poor are not manipulated anymore. (The national political problems of senegal and the role of the army are not really seen)

(58) Women groups supported the youth groups to distract the frey (youth group)

Snapshot: How economic autonomy leads to political autonomy. Would the ideal state offer economic autonomy to everyone? Norway.


N: Is this cosmopolitanism in Africa good? Or even manageable? Will it return to a state of ethnic politics? Are homogeneous polities more manageable.

Invisibility (can be a good or bad thing drug trade) is about the freedom to experience space without being scrutinized, without becoming official, hiding the unpleasant and highlighting the pleasant. Things must look alrigth even when they are not and other times they look in crisis when they are not.

N: yes modernity is dead but what do you do about witchcraft eating albinos and other things. Are those not truly regressive?

(69) “Because of this diversity, the community was eventually relegated to systemic underdevelopment and a structurally tenuous juridical and political status.

More stable residents and groups here, sense of clinging to past hides some emerging groups and shows others that dont have as much power. Freezes of previously fluid social relationship through legality. Legality is opposite of invisible and is inflexible.


(92) “I use the notion of the spectral here to refer to a series of refractions among real life, artifice, imagination and action whereby residents hedge their bets as to what events, relationships, resources, and opportunities actually mean to their everyday navigation of the city”

(92) It is hard to gain a sense of the stable, the same practice can have different outcomes and involves different actors almost every time and this leads to a sense that what “really” is going on is beyond, is spectral, in the future it is both haunting and beckoning. Residents of Douala actually believe the city is haunted.

(93) nice quote “They believe there is something beyond the bad politics, inadequate infrastructure, and sometimes feverish sense of entrepreneurship that drives their everyday urban lives. It is something not said because there is no language to say it, something not remembered because memory is viewed as dangerous.”

The instability leads to a retreat to family and imagined community in ethnicity but there is a need to go beyond the family group for economic opportunities that maintain that very group. The expanding city also challenges the sense of identity.

(100) Downtown centerpiece represents what a city should look like but it is uninhabited and commercially empty (just like Beirut).

(107) Visible: That in 3 months go from poor to making lots of money. Invisible: How the hell did he do it? Must be spectral.


How Sufi Islam in Jidda is appropriated and used to create a sense of community. Modalities of organization rooted in African history and resuscitated for new purposes.

Mobility though initially economic has become self reproducing and is expanding. there is a sense of the formation of the new mobile subject “highly mobile collective subject” which has become an entire community. The very concept of migration can be seen as proactive and therefore holds with it attitudes of networking and expansion.

(122) Need to deal with constantly mobile influx and setting a local fixed and constant politics creates stabilizing mechanisms for migrants in their functional duties. Flexible local institutions.

(123) Sufi tradition provides such accommodation in the zawiya, a lodge for traveling brothers. By their very existence Zawiyas promote travel. External funding here comes in the form of muslim funding (Iran, KSA Lebanon, libya …)

(127) On the pedagogy of a muslim university. Various centers around the world, promise of local excellence with money and life in gulf. A parallel to the american system.

Role of Hajj, Arab rule in Africa is positive due to deregulation.

(131) African community in Jidda 1994 grew so large that it caught the attention of royalty because of illicit economic trade. To keep the peace they self  disciplined using the Sufi Zawiyah to maintain their economic opportunities.

(133) Summary so far. “What I hope I have been able to show through the various case studies is the ongoing capacity of urban actors to make something of and with the city.”


How are Africans building cities they can belong to whole creating a future to an internationally connected city.

(137) Sense that Africans are not connected to their cities. Belonging is linked to the “economics of making connections”

Colonialism practiced policies that disconnected African urban residents from one another.

*(139) Colonialists transformed African urban experience to make it necessary to have connection to Europe. Urban became constant urbanization process. 1950 the largest city in Africa was Cape Town with 250 thousand people. In 1990 at least 18 cities have a population larger than 3 million people, massive urbanization period (real novelty)

(142) European city vs African rural was challenged by the need for laborers in the city. They also displaced Africans and limited potential for resistance. The migration to the city keeps links to villages, remitions reproduce rural population and cycle of migration.

Urban African was housed and controlled by European, city wanted labourers but it did not want wage labourers. African treated as tributary. Individual (invisible) cities had to be hidden from Europe or they became exploited.

Africans became individuals by cutting ties to family (by european but Africans resisted this and formed new and brought old communities)

(147) French Labour was forced till 1950, labour was like military service. Anything to avoid wage labour.

*(senegal) Because Labour shortages were common, French seek to free up labour. Labourers would work till they had enough and stopped. So taxes were imposed which had to be paid in monetary form. many left their lands to gain liquid currency for taxes but this was counter productive in that the land was left uncultivated and it would have produced much more, but not in liquid currency.

(149) Europeans only recognized forms they understood or experienced (ex doctor certification etc) Since commercial transactions were in cash african assets were lost  especially those that couldn’t be traded let alone translated at a loss. European incomes soared in this period. Valorization of African individual became monetary.

(151) Economy was formed to be export oriented. City played role of node in this. 1920 depression then reverberated all the way back to Africa. Depression created awareness end of 1930-1940 militancy in Africa peaked. Labour militancy.

1946 strike in Dakar, African government employee was paid same as non-African to support his family, first differentiation between government sector and rest. Creation of labour cleavages.

Cities and places of dense residence that emerged with labour housing attracted unemployed youths and then established informal economies in them.

Communism evicted in 1940s from Africa, this allowed the formation of indigenous national and marxist politics.

1946-1951 Economic boom in Africa. Increasing role of Africans in their own affairs and increasing militarism.

(157) Before WW2 Africans were encouraged to go back to their villages when done, tied to village were encouraged. After WW2 displacement was the policy from village and each other.

(160) Language of health concerns used to segregate whites from blacks and then Aesthetic. (signal of European permanence)

Cities created economic opportunity and autonomy from Europe but linked to function of  cities as exporters. So these economic relations were erased in that they were unsustainable.

(167) Anticolonialism of cities. clash between post-colonial urban promises that looked colonial to rural inhabitants coming to see modernity in the city.

(168)  Move from modern space to a space for entrepreneurs since everyone had to do something on the side to survive. Wage labor becomes security and supplement to informal economy. City draws people by its lure because rural economy cannot provide livelihood.

(170) As poor took over public space, rich withdrew into private.

(171) Persistence of colonial economic arrangements keep African cities dependent on providing raw material to Europe, unable to form industry.

(175) Sense that economic ails of African cities are due to their location on the global economy and by substitution rural ails as well. (implies that this doesnt have to be so, not nature of capitalism but legacy of structured economy of colonialism)

Women provide security and stability in economy, despite loosening of familial ties there is a rise of cultural events that are more African.


what are African cities up against?

Rural Africa is in crisis; environment is changing loss of local knowledge systems, desperate approach to resource usage. Remittances in decline ability to rely on  external family in decline, urban farming on the increase, rural farming decreasing.

(181) Flooding market with cheap goods prevents formation of industry or agriculture. The national economy is so poor it cant even afford the cheap imports. Greater diversity of rural economy at least one source of non agricultural income in all rural households. Diminishing viability of living in the village.

(183) International division of labour has bypassed Africa, Economic globalization has stalled. (no specialization in africa) stuck in 1980. Slow growth slower than population rise but inequally distributed.

1998 22 African countries took structural adjustment, none of the plans succeeded. Structural adjustment is killing industry. Shortage of material, infrastructure and market. Smaller state (bureaucracy taxes …) less jobs less ability to intervene in economy. External debt forbids saving and investment by state.

State failure to control society means its tax base is narrow, all from foreign trade tax and fiscal services.

(186) Donors limit politics make country more volatile by removing the grey area of negotiation.

(189) Shifting responsibility to municipality without transferring the funds.

(194) Individual land ownership doesn’t run deep. state came to own land. infromal land practices. Insecurity of tenure (can be kicked of land even if legally on it) most land is informally arranged until the state or the wealthy come and take it. No clear ownership, property rights negotiated with state who always has ascendancy over land.

(202) Disappearance of public sector housing investment. Private responsibility to provide shelter. 15-20% self built houses. (sense of continuity in spite of government fluctuation).

(204) Informal houses pools families together with common courtyard while state policy is still centered on single family households.

(206) Most live in informal housing because proper codes are too expensive.

(209) Land economy is developed between formal and informal sectors.

Because African economies still rely on primary production they are vulnerable to predatory acts. (stability not as important as access to resources). The informal sector is so large it generates economies of scalewhich different groups try to take advantage of.

(212) Governance therefore also moves to the informal. Associations allows discussion between formal and informal and is more effective than just the state action.


City has change in it, place of local and global, social cohesion and dispensing it for livelihood.

(214) need to delink from old social contexts in order to form new ones conducive to lives in the city.

(216) Cities conviviality and fast information transfer makes up for economic inequality between ruler and ruled.

Old social way of  existing different roles in different social settings is the promiscuity between urban living as an individual and other ties, but emergence of new modes that do not have any ties to old social groups, only to each other.

(220) “defending individual or collective industry has little  use. Rather efforts should be focused on what identities can be in constant state of movement and how to anticipate and recognize such changes” On how pentocostal identity challenges national and muslim other and leads to conflict.

N: people like identities to be fixed not just economic utility. The factor missing in this story is that ideas and identities can’t be chose at will.

(227) In a changing environment information is important so situating oneself in a position to access it is crucial.

(232) Independent action and social interdependance coexist unlike in Europe and US. They are both intensifying but need to be negotiated.

(236) External links make it easier to tolerate changes in other communities since it doesn’t affect your situation of survival, but also makes negotiations rigid since no need to compromise with other internal groups.

(238) Intensified local activism creates synergy and better local politics.

(240) “The theorization of global change has paid insufficient attention to the social practices through which diverse ‘socialities’ brought into greater proximity concretely operate within these engagements and what is then done with them.” Identity is still salient in globalization.

(241) “For as African cities increasingly suggest, the city in general is a nebulous world where security operatives, freedom fighters, terrorists, corporate raiders, gangsters, rebels, activists, millitants, presidents, smuggles, communication technicians, bankers, accountants, consultants, and priests are all like each other but not the same thing. as of yet we have no language to adequately understand these “like” relations- yet the relations are the important thing and not the clear definitions of identities. It is in navigating these many relations that new species of urban economy are being made.”

(241) Concluding word. no one knows where African cities are going, change is fast and unpredictable, but important to understand beyond simple categories in order to get a grip on what is happening.

Class Notes:

Can Polsci even do ethnography, with their emphasis on theory?

Anthropology is not critical theory, anthropologists do challenge and make statements, challenging the label of informality.

Irony of liberalism is that they don’t want the state but if you don’t have a state you call it a failed state.

What is “formal”? is wall st. formal? Is the morid trade network formal? Is it because legal institutions back up wall street? or that it has an official budget. Or is it that the rules are informal, not formalized. Where formality lies is the public reach as the state defines it. Legal seems to define formality, law sanctions formality not legitimacy or rationality.

The informal groups engage the state they want some protection from it not just evading the state.

Not saying that these informal networks are normatively good, they can’t  develop society like a state, can’t form international ties or industrialize like the Asian states did.

State or world bank or IMF may define crisis or society can define the nature of a crisis and in one case the response is completely unrelated and the other it is better targeted. Definition  of crisis leads to solutions that are considered.

African state functions the way it does because of corruption, bad politics etc.. but also because international environment is liberal. IMF WB wouldn’t fund infrastructure.

Not a failure but  not a success. So you need a state to maintain army, taxes (rules of the game)  but if it doesnt do that the failure of the state doesn’t mean the failure of society. He is implying that the IR conceptual frameworks have failed us.

Loma people: Grovo : chimp, Vogui: Protector

State can’t capture groups in ethnography research, the researcher only writes down what  he sees.

Is the state provider of a good? Is it really good? So in Africa for 40 years state couldn’t provide phones, until some lebanese guy came and privately opened cell phone company and it spread. So state couldn’t provide a good. What are the needs for the state? solar power by NGO made festival  by giving power and investing in it. Market and informal can do what the state cannot. The balance is getting the  state to overview this without stifling it. To only let good and not bad like drug dealers, albino skin hunting.

State is no longer the strogest or most dynamic economic actor ir goods provider, but only the state can make positive social changes like affrimative action.

Should people wait for the state? had they waited for the phone it would have never come. Should people simply wait for the government. but if people take matters into their own hands we get electricity generator monopolies, the strong gain, no chance for transparency or accountability, all of this are things only the state provides or is supposed to provide, taxes employment, service provision.

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