"Africa’s Urban Futures" International Conference, 15-16 September 2022

Africa’s Urban Futures

International Conference co-organized by the University of Geneva and the
Swiss Society for African Studies

University of Geneva, 15-16 September 2022

Organising committee: Armelle Choplin, Stéphanie Perazzone & Didier Péclard

Urban violence. Transnational financial flows. Political crisis. Informal settlements. Smart cities. What happens to city life, urban planning or government, when urbanscapes sprawl and change beyond recognition? When new (material or digital) infrastructure emerge? When poverty strikes? When crisis comes?  What happens to our definitions of a ‘city’ when these events and attendant transformations are driven from and by the Global South? These are the interrogations this two-day international conference seeks to critically assess.
Indeed, while Africa is projected to have the highest urban growth rate in the world by 2050, nearly one in two African citizens – that’s over 500 million people – already lives in cities. Long seen as ‘ungovernable’, ‘fragile’ or ‘anarchic’, due in part, to the proliferation of slums, uncontrolled urbanization, poor governance and criminal activity, African metropolises however, are also celebrated as places of cultural, infrastructural, political and social creation. African urban formations simultaneously emerge as spaces of social transformation, circulation of ideas and innovation, and the loci for potential covetousness and (societal) conflict. This international conference focuses therefore on a variety of urban-related issues emerging on the African continent in order to generate fresh insight on our urban world ‘yet to come’ (to paraphrase Abdoumaliq Simone) from a Southern urbanisms perspective that sees African cities as sites from which we can learn globally.

With the goal of making significant contributions to current debates that address the fast-changing nature of urban settings in Africa, this event is further structured around three interrelated broad themes and will feature two public side events including film screenings and discussions with the producers.

  1. The government of urban spaces
    Research on state formation and urban centres in Africa has long been dominated by normative perspectives. Both tended to be analysed not for what they are or have become, but for what they purportedly “fail” to be in comparison to their counterparts in the Global North. These perspectives, which focus on states and cities in Africa as “weak”, “disorderly”, “fragile” or “chaotic” have come under increasing criticism thanks to a focus on day-to-day governance practices, relations and structures. Cities are indeed critical spaces for processes of state formation, where state and non-state actors contribute to the government of everyday lives, providing thereof new insight on alternative forms of social organization, government and resistance.
  2. Urban (Afri)capitalisms
    One of the most spectacular changes in African cities over the past 20 years has been the influx of new investments. This trend, which has been sustained by two decades of rapid economic growth, is especially manifest in the creation of new satellite cities built on the outskirts of capital cities. These new urban centres are generally presented as the continent’s urban future: Think of Eko Atlantic City in Lagos, Diaminadio in Dakar, Luanda-Sul in Angola. In this panel we will look at different elements of these investments: their origin, what they mean in terms of urban development, how they are perceived and appropriated on the ground, how the emergence of new urban centres changes the value of land and the dynamics of land ownership in and around them.
  3. Imagining Africa’s urban futures
    The material transformations of African cities are also the expression of new globalised or globalising imaginaries (Afropolitanism, Afrofuturism, Blackness) that should be questioned, as they suggest that the African city can also be a space for dreaming and reinventing other futures. This will be addressed in the last panel, which will concentrate on cities as spaces of imagination, technological innovation and projection to rethink Africa and more broadly our contemporary world.

Africa’s Urban Futures

Venue: University of Geneva, Uni Mail, Room MR 2160

Download the Programme (PDF)

Thursday 15 September 2022    

10h00    Registration, coffee
10h45    Welcome by the organisers | Didier Péclard, Armelle Choplin and Stéphanie Perazzone

11h -12h30    Opening Keynote Speech, Prof. Jennifer Robinson, University College of London

12h30 –14h    Lunch break

14h – 17h    Panel 1: The government of urban spaces

Chair: Didier Péclard (Université de Genève)
Discussant: Dennis Rodgers, (Geneva Graduate Institute)

Karen Büscher (University of Ghent) and Stéphanie Perazzone (Université de Genève)
Laurent Fourchard (CERI-SciencesPo, Paris)
Patrick Belinga (Université de Genève)
Kasper Hoffmann (Copenhagen University)

17h – 17h30    coffee break

17h30 – 19h    Film: Trouble Sleep, by and with Alain Kassanda, followed by Q&A with the film director

19h30     Conference dinner (upon invitation only)

Friday, 16 September 2022    

9h – 12h30    Panel 2: Urban (Afri)capitalisms

Chair: Stéphanie Perazzone (Université de Genève)
Discussant: Jon Schubert, (University of Basel)

Momar Diongue (Université Cheik-Anta Diop, Dakar)
Silvia Croese (University of Johannesburg)
Higor Carvalho (Université de Genève)
Julien Migozzi (Oxford University)
James Christopher Mizes (Université Paris-Dauphine)

12h30 – 14h        Lunch Break

14h – 17h30       Panel 3: Imagining Africa’s Futures

Chair: Armelle Choplin (Université de Genève)
Discussant: tbc
Émilie Guitard (CNRS-PRODIG, Paris)
Chrystel Oloukoï (Harvard University)
Hervé Roquet (Université de Genève)
Dolorès Bertrais (Université de Genève)
Chloé Buire (CNRS-LAM, SciencePo Bordeaux)

18h – 19h30    Concluding Keynote Speech & Film (The Tower): Prof. Filip de Boeck (University of Antwerp) & Samy Baloji, tbc.

19h30     Conference dinner (upon invitation only)


12 juil. 2022