For the City Yet to Come

Changing African Life in Four Cities

For the City Yet to Come

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 5 illus. Published: October 2004

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Among government officials, urban planners, and development workers, Africa’s burgeoning metropolises are frequently understood as failed cities, unable to provide even basic services. Whatever resourcefulness does exist is regarded as only temporary compensation for fundamental failure. In For the City Yet to Come, AbdouMaliq Simone argues that by overlooking all that does work in Africa’s cities, this perspective forecloses opportunities to capitalize on existing informal economies and structures in development efforts within Africa and to apply lessons drawn from them to rapidly growing urban areas around the world. Simone contends that Africa’s cities do work on some level and to the extent that they do, they function largely through fluid, makeshift collective actions running parallel to proliferating decentralized local authorities, small-scale enterprises, and community associations.

Drawing on his nearly fifteen years of work in African cities—as an activist, teacher, development worker, researcher, and advisor to ngos and local governments—Simone provides a series of case studies illuminating the provisional networks through which most of Africa’s urban dwellers procure basic goods and services. He examines informal economies and social networks in Pikine, a large suburb of Dakar, Senegal; in Winterveld, a neighborhood on the edge of Pretoria, South Africa; in Douala, Cameroon; and among Africans seeking work in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He contextualizes these particular cases through an analysis of the broad social, economic, and historical conditions that created present-day urban Africa. For the City Yet to Come is a powerful argument that any serious attempt to reinvent African urban centers must acknowledge the particular history of these cities and incorporate the local knowledge reflected in already existing informal urban economic and social systems.


For the City Yet to Come makes a major contribution to understanding cities of the global South in general and of Africa in particular. Through an extremely insightful narrative, this volume weaves together postcolonial literature, development studies, and urban planning to reveal the clash between the lived reality of African cities and the Western fantasies of urban planning and development. . . . What is unique about Simone’s contribution to understanding the changing urban life in Africa is the light it brings to the resistance in the local context.” — Faranak Miraftab, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East

“[For the City Yet to Come] identifies important problems in development, urbanization, association, and the informal economy in the African context. The author’s experience is invaluable, and is reflected effectively in the work. More works should detail the ground level obstacles and opportunities of urbanization in Africa.” — Mario Luis Small , Contemporary Sociology

“One of the most exciting achievements of AbdouMaliq Simone’s major text, For the City Yet to Come, is to place African cities as exemplars of contemporary urbanism. . . . Bringing his incisive theoretical mind to bear on one of these cases, Simone cuts an original path through African scholarship, one which scholars of cities across the continent, as well as policy makers and city managers, would find it useful to follow.” — Jennifer Robinson , African Affairs

“The case studies provide a fascinating account of how people make out in these cities. . . . Overall, this book offers a wealth of empirical detail and subtle interpretations, providing much food for thought for anyone interested in the way cities are changing, not only in Africa but also in other parts of the underdeveloped world.” — David M. Smith , Cultural Geographies

"[I]nnovative . . . . This is a significant and thought-provoking book, potentially a landmark study. The ideas are bold, permeated and substantiated with the author's rich experience." — Phyllis M. Martin, Africa Today

"Parts of this volume contribute to the raw materials of urban African anthropology; parts of the early chapters can contribute to introductory courses on African life. New age scholars . . . will appreciate this work." — Harvey Glickman , Perspectives on Political Science

"Simone interweaves his well-honed knack for storytelling with vivid descriptions of livelihood struggles and planning processes. . . . Simone has . . . provided a standard for creativity in writing and structure to which all cultural geographers can look for inspiration." — Garth Myers , Journal of Cultural Geography

For the City Yet to Come is about much more than the planning and politics of cities in Africa. AbdouMaliq Simone lays out a challenging, intellectually wide-ranging and yet very grounded consideration of present and possible dispensations of social life in Africa, maintaining a delicate balance between attention to the improvisational and creative within African urban spaces and critique of the sufferings and injustices of city life.” — Timothy Burke, author of Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe

“This is by far the best book about African cities as well as a theoretically provocative experiment in urban criticism. Using a combination of both large-scale and focused analyses, Abdoumaliq Simone brings to light the nuances, shades, and imaginative universes of contemporary African urban life that have eluded most analysts. In the process, he profoundly renews our understanding of the politics of everyday life.” — Achille Mbembe, author of On the Postcolony


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

AbdouMaliq Simone is Assistant Director of the Graduate Program in International Affairs at New School University. He is the author of In Whose Image? Political Islam and Urban Practices in Sudan and, with David Hecht, Invisible Governance: The Art of African Micropolitics.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Remaking African Cities 1

1. The Informal: The Projet de Ville in Pikine, Senegal 21

2. The Invisible: Winterveld, South Africa 63

3. The Spectral: Assembling Douala, Cameroon 92

4. Movement: The Zawiyyah as the City 118

5. Reconciling Engagement and Belonging: Some Matters of History 136

6. The Production and Management of Urban Resources 178

7. Cities and Change 213

Notes 245

References 269

Index 291
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3445-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3434-7
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