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130  stuck in a commodity-driven export model, rendering them vulnerable to the vagaries of global markets and continuously devoid of investment capital to transition to more diversified economic activities. Thus, as the labour force expands, the formal economy is simply not able to grow fast enough to generate sufficient employment opportunities to absorb a rapidly growing youthful population brimming with globalised consumerist aspirations. Thirdly, due to small tax bases that stem from slight economies, most African cities have by and large failed to invest in critical urban infrastructures for most of the post-colonial era, in turn coupled with inadequate maintenance. This effectively creates a crisis of provision and affordability. Since two-thirds of urban Africans fall below the $4 per day poverty line, there is no viable economic basis to address these deficits at scale. The only (financially) viable infrastructure markets are among the middle classes and business sectors, instantiating an investment regime that worsens spatial and social inequalities. More specifically: almost all new infrastructure investments in African cities go into residential and commercial stock for the middle class, premised on a car-based mobility system. Unsurprisingly there are now a number of speculative bubbles around the concept of new (smart) cities and towns tethered to prodigious highway construction, 10 exacerbating terrible traffic congestion and mobility inefficiencies. Considering the perpetuation of urban sprawl, some time, before the imbrication can shift to another level … As a gesture in this direction, I want to lay down some key statistical markers that provide a sense of the size and shape of the issues, cognisant that one can never really know what is actually the true state of affairs.7 Due to space constraints, and the broader aim of this polemic, a number of stylised “facts” and features will have to do. Africa’s unfolding urbanisation is historically and spatially unique, which points to the importance of generating interpretative frameworks that can do justice to the complexity of these dynamics.8 Firstly, sub-Saharan Africa’s 62% slum prevalence is far higher than any other world region, including Southern Asia. It is safe to assume that as urban areas continue to grow at a considerable pace, the absolute number of people living precariously is likely to increase over the next few decades making an already brutal situation even worse. However, more importantly, amid largescale deficits in formal service delivery, a rich and multivalent system of compensation pulses to support everyday lives and livelihoods. Thus, city-building is predominantly an organic and non-state affair, hinting at vast systems of social organisation, exchange, oversight, regulation, violence, reciprocity and continuous recalibration.9 Secondly, slum conditions go hand-in-hand with predominantly informal economic systems. Most African economies are lopsided. Due to colonial determinations, compounded by an asymmetrical global trading regime, most African economies have remained tem that we are failing to adhere, as we continue to store faith in a global governance architecture out of sync with the scale and complexity of the challenges.4 However, the global economic system is not only problematic because of its environmental impacts. It is also problematic due to the unlimited capacity of the system to produce and tolerate vast social injustices and routinised violence in the form of poverty, hunger, insecurity, precluded access to education and wellbeing and the constant threat of cultural and/or bodily erasure. Overseeing and underwriting the interlinked collapse of natural, cultural and economic systems is a corrosive political one that increasingly exists for its own sake, floating away from ordinary citizens in a soundbite-obsessed bubble devoid of meaning. In response to these unsettling trends, there has been an enthralling emergence of citizen power and claim-making in all corners of the world, pushing the boundaries of so-called normal and rational politics to relish in the possibility of being unreasonable, being contrarian, being utopian, being hopeful, and remaining faithful to an unshakable belief in the human spirit and desire for freedom and becoming.5 To be sure, these movements and cultural spurts are often strategically incoherent and tactically immature, but they reflect a vital appetite for freedom and invention. It is important, however, to keep in mind that the politics of the day is difficult to fathom because the stakes are not simply a question of citizenship or immediacy but rather how to construct a new horizon for the economic and cultural in a world of diminishing resources, growing populations and vastly unequal access to power and wealth. The nature and prospects of the African city could be considered against this larger existential backdrop. Putting it differently, as Africa moves from being predominantly rural to becoming an intensely urban society, it is doing so while the world is aflame, in desperate search for what comes after extractive capitalism and its undertow: chauvinistic modernism. Following the epistemic cue of Ashraf Jamal, there is only one way to engage the African city: inhabit its truncated futures on its own terms and resist moralising, sentimentality or the modernist impulse to improve things.6 On the contrary, one has to grow a soft heart, ice-filled veins and crocodile skin to boot in order to stare the African city in the face, and despite oneself, take it at face value, at least for


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