African Cities Reader by Edgar Pieterse & Ntone Edjabe

By Edgar Pieterse & Ntone Edjabe

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As part of this New School grant, there has been this project in Douala for the past eighteen months. One piece of that was to have a working group of young, middle-class kids in a middle-class area of Douala, Bonamoussadi. They meet once every two weeks for eighteen months. This notion of invisibility was something that was on their minds as well. It was a word that was used, it was a concern that they had, it was a very particular kind of concern because these are middle-class kids. They come from families that are civil servants or lawyers or teachers, professors, business people, and live in a quarter of Douala that has maybe 300,000 people.

They are largely negative images, images that sensationalise what the photographers represent as unadulterated misery, images that say little or nothing of actual lives lived. In reaction to this ever-so-common practice, some of the Kinois friends with whom I work have developed rich practices aimed at self-representation – at showing Kin through Kinois eyes. Thus Kens Mukendi’s photographs, which document sape competitions, and a series of images by Dicoco Boketshu which go beyond documentation into full-fledged mise-en-scène: the staging of elegant, imaginary scenes that give tangible form to fictions – to dreams – of Mikili.

Few were those who invested it in building, in houses, in plots of land. But some areas of certain neighborhoods in Kinshasa did witness a modest construction boom thanks to that kind of money. But already, when you talk about the capital of Kinshasa, the question immediately is, The capital for whom? or who defined what the capital is, and who has access to it? In Dakar, it was merely a discussion of where should it be. In Congo, the colonial city really emerged as a non-place. It was defined as a “center extra-coutumier,” that is, the city placed itself right from the start outside of all locally existing cultural, social, and political frameworks.

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