Call for papers: Global mobilities, migration and African mega-cities

Deadline: 6 May 2016 - 12:00am

An upcoming special issue of the journal New Diversities will focus on global mobilities and migration and African mega-cities and is seeking submissions.

Abstracts are due May 6, 2016, and can be sent to the co-editors:

Henrietta Nyamnjoh (Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, African Centre for Cities. University of Cape Town):henrietta.nyamnjoh[at]

Rike Sitas (Researcher, Urban Humanities African Centre for Cities. University of Cape Town) : rike.sitas[at]


The African continent has been projected to be an urban continent by 2025. Today, 40% of its population live in the cities and it is estimated this figure will climb to 50% by 2025. The ripple effects are the elevation of most African cities to mega-cities. Megacities are new phenomena of the worldwide rapid urbanization processes associated with accelerating globalization (Kraas, 2007: 80). Lagos is a good case in point of a mega African city. From a total population of about 665, 000 inhabitants in 1963, today Lagos is amongst the world’s biggest cities, and Africa’s largest, with an approximate population of 16 million.

The story about urbanisation and mega- cities in Africa is often that of a bleak future; painted with “rural poverty, environmental disasters and political conflicts that make the ‘urban pastures’ appear ‘greener’” (Kreibich, 2010:1). In other words, mega-cities in Africa are perceived and portrayed not as the urban imprint of a booming economy, but rather as a response to rural hopelessness (Kreibich, 2010). This is largely a pessimistic outlook on Africa’s mega-cities. However, if we dwell on such pessimism, it forecloses our abilities to see the giant innovative strides that are currently happening in these African mega-cities. These include, amongst others, how the inhabitants are taking the lead in innovations, making the everyday life a reality in the margins, and reconfiguring the cities’ inner and outer-spaces through their appropriation of Information and Communications Technologies. And by turning derelict spaces into economic hubs and ethnic enclaves; by bringing redundant spaces alive and driving innovation. In other words, due to their wide range of available human resources and globally linked actors, megacities are thus considered to be potential ‘innovative milieux’ (Kraas, 2007). Reiterating this point, Abdou-Maliq Simone (2004: 215) adroitly notes that “African mega-cities are poor in economic terms, but assimilation, integration, reworking and consolidation of new indigenous ways of thinking and doing things are unfolding in surprising constellations”.

Diversity, mobilities and transnationalism have become the new narratives that redefine mega-cities as hubs of convergence and diversion. As global crossroads, megacities offer a multitude of potentials for global transformation. From these perspectives, megacities, it has been argued, have developed into new socioeconomic and political ‘laboratories of the future’ (Kraas, 2007), as they seem to reflect global development trends compactly, sometimes in anticipatory ways. This suggests that we need to tame the single narrative of homogeneity and move closer to one of heterogeneity and cosmopolitanism. This also means that we need to be more sensitive to the modes of cultural confluence, and the ways individuals in complex mega-cities settings relate to each other from different vantage points.

Mega-cities in Africa should therefore be seen as places of convergence and distribution of people, ideas, goods, things, inter/intra connections that introduces African migration and trans-continental mobilities and transnational life styles. These include additional variables such as “differential immigration statuses and their concomitant entitlements and restrictions of rights, divergent labour market experiences, discrete gender and age profiles, patterns of spatial distribution, and mixed local area responses by service providers and resident” or “super-diversity” (Vertovec, 2007:1025).

Mega-cities in Africa, it could be argued, have emerged as a result of globalization. According to Held et al. (1999: 16) this globalizing process involves “transformation of organizing social relations and transactions measured in terms of their geographical extension, intensity, speed, and impact”. This process generates flows (rural-urban migration, inter-continental/trans-continental mobilities and transnationalism) and networks of activities and interactions as well as forms of exercising power. Mega-cities’ thus offer a thematic focus in which the diverse perspectives mentioned above can be constructively combined. In the same vein, it boosts trans-locality’, as suggested by Smith (2005), to account for social practices that occur simultaneously at different places transnationally. The concept of translocality, according to Krätke et al (2012: 3), is closely related to the emergence of social actors with multilocal ties. These confluences play a significant role in shaping the life of the mega cities.

It is therefore against these backdrops that this journal issue will approach the notion of diversity of mega-cities in Africa and will address the following categories:

Neighborhoods and conviviality

Given the rise in accelerated and unbounded mobilities, the notion of citizenship and freedom are challenged. How do cities deal with that? Is it by not claiming rights and space in absolute terms? This means it would be destructive to look at citizenship in terms of rights or claiming of space by relating it with planning. Planning is all about discipline and control, and by limiting mega-cities to such moralising discourse, we kill the capacity to accommodate Africans and have defied a narrow way of how urban space should be governed. Mega-cities continue to lure rural migrants and migrants from small urban places and the continent because of the real or perceived employment opportunities and superior quality of life and support various scales of informal sector enterprises, particularly in the commercial and trade sectors, which attract migrants. The lived reality of global African migration often most explicitly reveals itself at the everyday and neighbourhood scale. New local and transnational community formations are forged, but tensions and frictions also emerge. These formations and frictions are shaped not only by social networks, but by spatial planning as well. This theme explores the different forms of social, cultural and spatial formations and frictions that emerge in diverse African megacities.

Solidarity and transnational links

Migration results in multiple transnational links and connections between African locales: both urban and rural; in cities and villages across the continent– connectivity to other African cities, villages and hubs. As migrants they are connected to other cities and can receive and accommodate those from the village as well as be received by those in town.These forms of social, cultural, and economic solidarity enable connectivity, as do a variety of infrastructures and technologies. This theme explores the relationship between solidarity and transnational links.

Diversity and consumption

Consumption patterns of migrants tell interesting stories about social, economic and spatial diversity in African mega-cities. In mega-cities consumption is layered – 1st, 2nd and even 3rd hand consumption patterns through charity shops, flea markets and shops. People operate between the formal and the informal economy, where consumption is networked in ways that have not yet been adequately articulated. Who gets to shop where, when and for what? Consumption therefore traces how diverse the city is. This theme explores the relationship between diversity and consumption in African mega-cities.

Policy, political participation and governance

Urban policies fundamentally shape the lived experience and the ways in which citizenship is enabled and enacted by migrants. Mega-city governments are faced with major additional demands brought about by virtue of these cities’ positions and roles within their national urban systems and global urban networks. At the same time, mega-city governments often do not have adequate authority, power, or resources to deal effectively with these demands. Inefficient revenue collection practices and limitations imposed by highly centralized national governments on revenue raising strain the municipal governments’ ability to keep up with urban service needs (Rondinelli, 1988). The result is an ever-widening gap between the supply of and demand for jobs as well as services and utilities, and shortages in urban land and housing, particularly for the urban poor. If urbanisation denotes a process of establishing urban public and common goods, how does the city position itself in the provision of public/common goods to meet the needs of the rising population?In the context of rapidly growing African megacities that are battling to deliver basic services equitably, how policy, political participation and governance manifest has a profound impact on how diversity is managed. Current approaches to urban planning and management have to be realistic about the expectations and potentials of urban development, the limitations on the capacity of the institutions involved, and the need for flexibility in planning and implementation. What policy formulations are there to cater for these needs and how do increase demands give room for innovation by the government, the people in their lived everyday experiences? Or, is the provision of common/public good slowly turning to what Garret Hardin (1968) describes as the ‘tragedy of the urban commons’? This theme explores how urban policy and governance impacts on managing diversity in African cities.


Held, D., McGrew, A., Goldblatt, D. andPerraton, J. 1999.Global transforma- tions: Politics, economics and culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hardin,Garret. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science 162: 1243-124.

Kraas, Frauke. 2007. Megacities and global change: key priorities. The Royal Geographical Society.

Krätke, Stefan., Kathrin Wildner, and Stephan Lanz. 2012. Transnationalism and urbanism. New York: Routledge.

Kreibich,Volker. 2010.Metropolis: Our Common Future in the Urban Age? An Introduction. Unpublished paper presented at conference: Our Common Future, Hannover/Essen, 2-6 November

Rondinelli, D. A. 1988. Giant and secondary city growth in Africa. In: M. Dogan and J. Kasarda, eds., A World of Giant Cities, The Metropolis Era: Volume I. Sage, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Simone, Abdou-Maliq. 2004.For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities. USA: Duke University Press.

Smith, M.P. 2005. Transnational urbanism revisited. Journal of Ethnic and Migra- tion Studies, 31(2), 235–244.

Vertovec, Steven. 2007. ‘Super-diversity and its implications’. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30:6, 1024 – 1054.

Photo: Lagos, Nigeria. credit: flickr user satanoid.

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