Metropolitan Africans: Reading Incapacity, the Incapacity of Reading

Essay Excerpt

The African city cannot absorb and maintain its expanding rural population, even though they continue to come. They permanently unsettle any ready solution. Governments may declare that they are in control of the situation, but they cannot assess the population numbers or precisely describe the modes of living. There are neighborhoods that governments do not even know exist.

The point is this: just because Africans have their backs against the wall, do social scientists necessarily have to read the entirety of their behavior as an indication of this position? Dominating Western minds is the image of the poor African-depleted, diminished, nearly destroyed. On one level this is true. Yet, as John Iliffe (1987) points out, what is striking about Africa is not so much the level of economic deterioration but that it has been sustained for so long. What have Africans done while living in this position? Obviously, many are surviving. Anyone who knows African cities knows of the resounding liveliness. How is this liveliness to be read? As an act of desperate collective heroism? A cultural imperative? Or something else? (Simone, 161)

About the Author

Timothy Maliqalim Simone is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of London. He specializes in Urbanism, critical geography, sociologies of religion, social organizations, development processes, African politics, popular urban cultures. 

"I joined the department in 2006. Prior to this I had taught at several universities across Africa and in New York, as well as spending many years working for NGOs and applied research institutions."

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