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Accepted Paper:

Global spatial governance and the future of African cities: the case of the Un-Habitat  
Emmanuel Ofori-Sarpong (School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This study interrogates how the UN-Habitat discursively constructs African urban futures. It demonstrates that proposals by the organisation represent a unique strand of urban future-making that is complicated, ambiguous and defies easy categorisation.

Paper long abstract:

Current scholarship on new African cities has failed to distinguish adequately between different types of actors and the varying outcomes of their operations. Most studies rightly point to multinational conglomerates – searching for alternative avenues for investment – accompanied by superstar architects and planners. Yet, there is more to this story. The international design and policy arena is complicated and composed of other actors with unique political identities, which impinge upon their modes of urban future-making. In the absence of such a critical lens, certain actors have received very little scholarly attention. The United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat), which has been instrumental in shaping current global norms around 'good' urbanism, exemplifies this. Through a visual/discourse analysis of its reports published between 1976 and 2016, this study interrogates how the organisation constructs African urban futures discursively. It draws on these to explicate the modes of future city visions that it is pursuing on the continent, vis-à-vis its political positionality. The paper demonstrates how, relative to interventions – real and imagined – by other actors, proposals by the UN-Habitat represent a unique strand of urban future-making that is complicated, ambiguous and defies easy categorisation or rationalisation. The study contributes to our understanding of how multilateral institutions construct and represent Africa's urban future(s) and provides a launch pad for further discourse around how these ideas percolate and shape policy decisions and quotidian urban realities.

Panel Urba16
Africa's urban futures and positionalities towards Global Urban Policies
  Session 1 Friday 2 June, 2023, -