By Edgar Pieterse REACHING FOR ADAPTIVE URBANISM For most of the Enlightenment era, Africa was the invisible underpinning of modernisation and western cultural expansionism. This has not been a voluntary role but was ensured through violence, cultural repression and erasure. A crude manifestation of this enduring bloody trail of history is the fact that Africa accounts for only 2.5% of global economic output even though 15% of the global population lives on the continent. Another statistic speaks volumes: In 2009, Africa’s gross domestic expenditure on research and development (R&D) per capita was U$11.8 (PPP$) compared to the world average of U$187, and a Developed Country average of U$756.6.1 R&D is a telling indicator because economic competitiveness and productivity in an information technology era depends on continuous R&D investments and learning. It is projected that by 2060 Africa’s demographic endowment will be impossible to ignore because one in every four people on the planet (of nine billion) will live in Africa, in addition to the substantial African presence in other world regions. Undoubtedly, by 2060, a very large proportion of European inhabitants will be a veritable mélange of African, Asian and Arab populations and cultures, to compensate for the ageing population in the North and to ensure economic vitality in an era of new, predominantly Asian, centralities. America will also be a nation of minorities with a radically different cultural median in comparison with today’s realities. Emerging African cities provide an early indicator of what these future worlds might feel like, which is why the provocation presented by the Africa exhibition is such a timeous intervention. I draw attention in this essay to the unique condition, trajectories and possibilities of African cities in order to situate the content of the Africa exhibition in a running discourse that proliferates across the continent. By demonstrating the stakes of the debates with which we are engaged, the implications of the exhibition will hopefully become clearer for the future of Africa; indeed, its cities are not just a matter for Africans but a vital concern for the world. URBANISATION IN AFRICA A broad spectrum of scholars, artists and activists make a compelling case that the global economic system is terminally broken.2 Resourceintensive, extractive capitalism is a dead-end.3 It generates a variety of profound systemic crises that produce run-away effects we cannot as yet name, let alone understand or manage. In the cultivated language of the global political system of the United Nations, we speak of a system that should not be allowed to exceed our planetary boundaries while every single metric tells the self-same sys- 129 EDGAR PIETERSE holds the DST/NRF Chair in Urban Policy at the University of Cape Town where he is director of the African Centre for Cities.
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