Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Capital Cities in Africa: Power and powerlessness

Capital Cities in Africa: Power and powerlessness. Editeb by Simon Bekker & Göran Therborn. Dakar, Cape Town, CODESRIA, HSRC, 2011, 264 p., ISBN 978-2- 8697-8495-6

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Capital cities today remain central to both nations and states. They host centres of political power, not only national, but in some cases regional and global as weil, thus offering major avenues to success, wealth and privilege. For these reasons capitals simultaneously become centres of ’counter-power’, locations of high-stakes struggles between the government and the opposition.

This volume focuses on capital cities in nine sub-Saharan African countries, and traces how the power vested in them has evolved through different colonial backgrounds, radically different kinds of regimes after independence, waves of popular protest, explosive population growth and in most cases stunted economic development. Starting at the point of national political emancipation, each case study explores the complicated processes of nation-state building through its manifestation in the ’urban geology’ of the city - its architecture, iconography, layout and political use of urban space. Although the evolution of each of these cities is different, they share a critical demographic feature an extraordinarily rapid process of urbanisation that is more politically than economically driven. Overwhelmed by the inevitable challenges resulting from this urban sprawl, the governments seated in most of these capital cities are in effect both powerful- wielding power over their populace - and powerless, lacking power to implement their plans and to provide for their inhabitants.

By using a series of carefully selected case studies, this interdisciplinary work elegantly combines Anglophone and Francophone expertise found both on as well as beyond the African continent. It is essential reading for those seeking a better understanding of postcolonial capital cities in Africa, their inherited social structures, their historical trajectories and the political roles they play.

Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch - Professor Emerita, Paris Diderot University, France; recipient of the Distinguished Africanist Award in 1999

With chapters by some of the most observant contemporary scholars, this volume provides a window on the rapidly changing African scene of the early 21st century.

Bill Freund - Professor Emeritus, Economic History/Development Studies Programme, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Capital Cities in Africa constitutes an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on African cities and urbanisation. Its inclusion of Francophone capitals such as Conakry, Lome and Brazzaville, and its emphasis on the heterogeneous histories through which power is generated and configured across colonial and post-colonial temporalities, and how this process itself engenders specific vulnerabilities and constraints, are the book’s key strengths.

AbdouMaliq Simone - Urbanist and Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London

Full Text

May 9 2012