P 06

Doing the City’ – Socio-Spatial Navigation in Urban Africa

Panel abstract
Earlier studies on urban Africa mainly looked at rural-urban migration and social change. Today, many Africans have been born and bred in cities, where challenges of urban life, such as the lack of infrastructures, the prevalence of informal livelihoods, or the mushrooming of make-shift settlements persist. In their daily life, individuals have to constantly pay attention to the social worlds through which they move and to initiate and maintain relations with relatives, friends, acquaintances, neighbours, work mates, and representatives of public authority, each of whom may be instrumental in solving everyday problems. Some authors have employed the concept of ‘social navigation’ for the constant necessity to ‘read’ and respond to the urban environment.
Navigation comprises skills such as embodied knowledge, routinized sense-making procedures, and verbal and non-verbal strategies that enable urbanites to ‘find their way in the city’ and ‘to do their city’, that is: learn, re-assemble, make sense of the urban space. This panel asks how socio-spatial navigation connects city dwellers to the cities they live in: How are these skills employed in reading and describing the cityscape, in mobilizing social relations, or in manipulating notions of belonging to particular social categories? How do urbanites become competent in dwelling and moving in urban spaces, and how do these spaces in turn make the urbanites?

Time: Thursday, 28/06/2018, 2 - 4 pm, 4.30 - 6.30 pm (double session)
Venue: Seminargebäude, S 204

Rose Marie Beck (Leipzig University)
Irene Brunotti (Leipzig University)
Katja Werthmann (Leipzig University)

Session 1
Michael Stasik (Max Planck Institue for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen)
Silke Oldenburg (University of Basel, Switzerland)
Mamane Tassiou Amadou (University of Basel, Switzerland)
Martin Loeng (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim)

Session 2
Irit Eguavoen (University of Bonn)
Matthew Sabbi (University of Bayreuth)
David Oscar Yawson (University of Cape Coast, Ghana)


Paper abstracts

Mamane Tassiou Amadou
The Phenomenon of “Fada”: Another Means of Youths’ Expression in the City of Zinder, Niger

This text examines how Nigerien urban youths struggle in the public sphere by focusing on the phenomenon of ‘fada’. Appeared in the 1990s in Zinder, a poor city situated in the south of Niger, ‘fada’ are more or less informal places of meeting where young people gather to discuss and distract around tea. However, since their appearance, those popular spaces have been evolving according to the local and international situations. Thus, in the current context of a precariousness economic situation and socio-political marginalization mostly affecting youths, ‘fada’ become spaces of freedom and mobilization where youths transgress socio-spatial and political norms and thus invite themselves into the debate on the ‘right to the city’ especially through demonstrations and activities of common interest. The main goal of this paper is then to explore the place of ‘fada’ in the local public sphere, which leads us to ask some questions: What does the phenomenon of ‘fada’ mean in Zinder? What are the underlying logics of ‘fada’ in the urban context? How do youths adapt those social spaces to new circumstances? Which meaning do they give to them? What kind of relationship do ‘fada’ have with other spaces? Finally, how do those spaces affect the social, spatial, and political environment of the city of Zinder? To react to those questions, this contribution leans on a qualitative analysis of the empirical data collected in Zinder, from 2013 to 2017, based on an anthropological approach (observation, participation, and interviews).

Irit Eguavoen
Social-Spatial Navigation and Doing the City by Informal Residents in Abidjan

The research is part of a project on processes of urbanization in Abidjan. It presents an ethnography of an informal settlement which is located on a central peninsula. There, a vivid quarter with some public infrastructure, amenities, and sociality has evolved rather unnoticed by the wider public some ten years ago after several informal settlements were evicted. The paper tells the story of the residents based on an ethnographic survey, biographical interviews, as well as on a study about the use of ferries across the city lagoon. The data on especially four themes is presented (senses of belonging, attachments, zones of contact, lines of movement) in order to analyse how residents navigate socially and spatially within and across the metropolis and how their residential biographies are intertwined with the spatial history of the city including places that have vanished and places to come.

Martin Loeng
Arusha Is Made of Foreigners’ Feelings: on Socio-Spatial Navigation Through Interactional, Transactional, and Affectual Strategies in Tanzania’s Tourism Flows

Based on fieldwork done in 2016 in Arusha, Tanzania, I will explore a particular set of socio-spatial strategies embodied by street sellers, so-called ‘flycatchers’ in the tourist industry. I argue that the different types of affective strategies found among street sellers or café baristas are partly in competition to produce urban spaces (formal, informal, open, bureaucratic, and policed) through the valuation of tourists’ and foreigners’ experiences. Drawing off exciting new thinking about spaces as iterations of genres (à la Mikhail Bakhtin) and studying the types of interactional forms of relationship-building with foreigners we see in those spaces, we access how such everyday practices produce these urban spaces. I thus place socio-spatial navigation in the centre of my work as those practices that are associated with certain types of spaces (cafés, open street, sidewalk, ATM zones, offices, dancefloor) also have generative capacities to produce them through their focus on foreigners’ experiences. Thus, rather than placing rural-urban movements as the core of what ‘makes urban Africa’, I draw off of practice theory and notions of everyday life (key authors here are Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certau, and Nigel Thrift) to understand why the affective dimensions of these practices are so key to the production of different spaces, and why formal, informal, governmental, and private actors should have such as stake in how foreigners feel. With detailed data on interactions and their affectual aspects, I explore how the flow of tourists can powerfully influence what people can access Arusha in the future.

Silke Oldenburg
Laughter in the City: Social Space, Urbanity, and Practices of Humour in Goma, Dr Congo

Making sense of urban space, interpreting its visible material, spatial, economic, and socio-political sides but also its ‘underneath of things’ (Ferme) demands from urban dwellers particular skills, forms of knowledge, and social practices in order to get along. Making sense of an urban space which has been shaped for more than 20 years by protracted armed conflict, the eruption of a volcano and which as a consequence has experienced the mushrooming of its urban landscape requires even more attentiveness and social routines in order to confront urban uncertainties on an everyday basis. Based on ethnographic research in Goma, the capital of Eastern Congo’s North Kivu province, since 2008, I will refer to laughter in order to explore how urbanites make their city in uncertain times. Building on urban anthropological theory and a phenomenological perspective, laughter in the city offers a glimpse into the concrete ways how social space, material infrastructure, and urban sociality emerge, are negotiated, and dealt with. By different case studies (highlighting a local comedian, a popular radio show, and, in contrast, subtler forms of humour as ironic talk, puns, and bodily routines), I argue that humour and laughter as social practices provide an alternative lens through which to perceive urban realities and explore the manifold ways urban dwellers make their city.

Matthew Sabbi
Councillors on Edge: Local Politicians at the Interface between Wards and Municipal Deals in Ghana

Urban local councillors in Ghana strive at once to represent their wards and support the socio-spatial programmes of their municipality. Particularly, they mediate tensions between electorates and municipal programmes while maintaining a good standing on the council. At the same time, councillors, as urban residents, have similar aspirations and pressures as other residents. Meanwhile, affluent councillors enjoy success in negotiations with the municipality and electorates. This study examines empirical data and on-the-spot observation from six municipalities and shows how councillors craftily navigate the municipality through organized actors (e.g., traders’ associations, drivers’ unions, landlords’ associations ,and fan clubs) and personal connections in their wards. Without ‘fair’ incentive for councillors, such tactics assure them a good standing on the council and curry favour from electorates. This strategy is not always certain thus councillors must navigate the dilemmas all the time. The difficult balance that councillors have to strike between the municipality and electorates finds expression in their selective alliances with elite politicians, bureaucrats, and electorates. They also reflect the strain of municipal politics which councillors could hardly escape.

Michael Stasik
‘Je suis seul’: Navigating Migratory Solitude in Urban Ghana

In West Africa’s current migration circuit, Ghana’s urban centres emerged as novel destinations for migrants from the region’s francophone countries. Many of these neophyte urban migrants stand outside established chain migrations and co-ethnic solidarity networks. Seeking work, education, security, and/or adventure, they have to shift for themselves after coming to town. Whereas shared traits of (West African) ‘francophoness’ provide a latent sense of group belonging and identity, the perceived dearth of meaningful relationships and the sheer amount of time spent on their own routinely translate into sentiments of solitude. In this paper, I examine the relationship between urban lifeworlds and solitude by focusing on the bearings of two ‘francophone’ migrants in Ghana’s capital Accra. Expanding on a phenomenological approach, I relate their respective strategies and skills for navigating the city to the plurality of experiences and expressions of migratory solitude. Emblematic of the experiences of these migrant-strangers, I suggest, is their expression ‘je suis seul’, which simultaneously foregrounds individual struggles with the isolating and segregating effects of city life as well as affirmative states of self-reliance, self-cultivation, and individualism. The focus on solitude, I contend, provides a corrective to common assumptions about African urban migration as an inherently collective practice, and it allows a detailed reflection on the affective dimensions of ‘doing the city’.

Mats Utas
Skating the City

Skating in the tropical city Freetown, Sierra Leone, might appear weird, to say the least. The origin of the expression ‘skating the city’ is also unknown to the very people who use it. But skating, a very local colloquial expression, to the guys in the downtown street corner Pentagon implies moving around the city looking for income, if not bare survival, in various informal, not seldom illicit ways. With a focus on street dwellers, where many are ex-combatants, this paper aims at understanding urban space as a place for emergency income generation whilst being on hold, waiting for something more permanent to appear. Skating is thus like social navigation an activity with a rather hazy idea of what shore one will arrive at. In this paper, I reinterpret material from the early post-war years that I collected during two years fieldwork between 2004 and 2006.

David O. Yawson
The Ghanapostgps: a Digital Mess or Digital Address System for Spatial Navigation in Urban Ghana?

The National Digital Property Address System (or the GhanaPostGPS) aims to provide unique digital addresses to properties and individuals in Ghana based on a 5 x 5 metre grid system covering the country to enable spatial navigation. Individuals are expected to generate and register their own addresses using the GhanaPostGPS app. This paper used the experiences and perspectives of people around the University of Cape Coast to assess the utility and adoption of the GhanaPostGPS for urban spatial navigation. The assessment was based on knowledge of the system, practical usefulness to urban navigation, ease of use, transaction cost, substitutability, and consistency with embodied spatial knowledge of users. The results show that, generally, the respondents were excited about the prospects of having residential addresses to ease mobility or navigation in the urban space and help address some social challenges. Most of the 122 respondents heard about the system in the news but less than 30% were confident in using the sys tem. Many did not find the system practically useful for their daily navigation of the urban space and the reliance on smartphones increased transaction cost. About 70% found the system complex or cumbersome to use as the numbers were difficult to remember and did not make sense immediately. Some respondents preferred Google Maps or traditional spatial knowledge. It was generally agreed that the system would be useful to the security and public service agencies but taxi drivers required extra or new skills to use the system effectively. Those who do not use smartphones or cannot read felt excluded from the system. It is concluded that the GhanaPostGPS may not entirely be a digital mess if substantial improvements are done to make it a fit-for-purpose, widely used address system.