While much of African Studies has focussed on the national scale, the past twenty years has seen mounting interest in the continent’s rapidly growing cities. Undeniably, pervasive global processes, such as industrialisation, digitisation, climate adaptation and others, have had unique manifestations and implications in the African urban context. Unfortunately, much of the work on African urban change is coming from global north scholars, deploying research and analytical methodologies which are insufficient when faced with empirical realities. There is a clear need to develop a richer dialogue among African scholars which can challenge existing knowledge and funding asymmetries, strengthen perspectives and voices from the continent, and contribute – alongside northern partners – to these debates.
The intervention: UTA- Do
The UTA-Do African Cities Workshop builds on the brash, daring, dynamic ‘uta-do’ mentality of Nairobi. Loosely translated as ‘what are you going to do about it?’ (rendered with a mischievous smirk), a sheng word, the UTA-Do workshop aims to create a space where young scholars theorise the various praxes that emerge through and with dynamic African urban spaces. We will intentionally encourage scholars to engage with those who are doing – art and activism and (non) academia – in Nairobi and other African cities in innovative ways. We hope that starting in 2022, UTA-Do will establish itself as an attractive yearly venue for critical African urban scholarship development and collaboration, and prompt looking in, outwards and together when thinking about African cities. When it comes to theory, support and doing, we hope it will consistently prompt the question: UTA-Do?
The format: 2022 Workshop
The first workshop, hosted in Nairobi, Kenya from 23-27 May 2022, intends to bring together between 10 and 20 young researchers and urban thought leaders from Nairobi and local surrounds. The workshop is targeted at doctoral, post-doctoral, and early career researchers. The team will spend five days together at the British Institute for Eastern Africa (BIEA) and Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) in Nairobi.
The first workshop will be oriented around three structures:
Theorise: to locate ourselves in critical urban theory and respond to it from our various African nodes
Support: to improve our skills in terms of how we do research, write-up and present our findings
Do: to build synergies between art, activism and (non) academia happening in Nairobi, and other African cities to enrich our discourses
The first three days will focus on theorising and supporting, while the final two days will emphasise doing. We are still in the process of designing the structure, and a tentative programme is presented below:
Day 1: Introductions to each other + Keynote + Laying the groundwork for subsequent days.
Day 2: A journey through key theories and debates in urban studies and related fields.
Day 3: Continuing the journey through key debates and theories in urban studies and related fields.
Day 4: Student presentations + Visit to MSJC.
Day 5: Artistic interventions + Reflections on the workshop + Plan for future papers, collaborations and related support.
Contribution to urban studies
The workshop will have a strong theoretical orientation. In terms of theory, we will share and interrogate critical urban theory from across the globe, and think together about its application to our contexts. We will also respond to it, while thinking about what a variety of local orators, rumours, writings and artistic interventions can contribute to this scholarship. The motivation for doing this is to make sure East African students are engaging with current theories, since many of them don’t have access to journals or fora where they can engage with these. In addition, we want to highlight that they can and should, from their own place, think through, contribute, innovate on and critique these approaches. We also want to emphasize that Africa is not just the site for empirical research that then needs to travel to EU/America via researchers to be developed into theory. Theory is happening here everyday.
Project support for emerging researchers
Prompted by the recognition that many young African scholars are unable to do research because of a lack of financial support, this workshop will provide $1000 to five research projects – three academic (two doctoral and one early career), one artist and one activist – that theorise, support and do innovative urban research in Africa. After short presentations on the fourth day of the workshop by participants, the five grant recipients will be selected by a committee composed of supportive scholars and student, activist and artist representatives.
Leadership and core team
The team is driven by two Nairobi-based scholars. The process is supported by the African Centre for Cites, University of Cape Town.
Dr Wangui Kimari: Wangui is an urban scholar based at the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape Town. She is also the participatory action research coordinator at the MSJC in Nairobi, and is a former USF International Fellow.
Dr Prince Guma: Prince is an urban imaginer and research scientist. His research work is situated at the intersection of Science and Technology Studies (STS), Urban Studies, and Postcolonial Studies. He is also the Assistant Country Director at the BIEA.
Dr Liza Rose Cirolia: Liza is a senior researcher at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. Her work focusses on infrastructure, human settlements, and urban governance. She has been conducting research in Kenyan cities since 2010.