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Capitalism and Urban Africa- dialogue

Dr Jorg Wiegratz is working on two projects exploring how life is changing in rapidly urbanising East Africa.

Capitalism in my city: ‘In August 2019, the Mathare Social Justice Centre in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, held a gathering, “Why don’t Kenyan talk about capitalism?” Mathare Social Justice Centre is a community based organization in Mathare that conducts campaigns on political accountability and social justice and documents cases of extrajudicial killings and police brutality in the low-income areas of Eastlands in Nairobi. The event was co-hosted by the Centre, Africa Is a Country, and the Review of African Political Economy. It drew on the work done in the ROAPE series, Capitalism in Africa, edited by political economist Jörg Wiegratz. Earlier, in December 2018, Jörg Wiegratz had written in Africa Is a Country that many African countries are by now capitalist societies and analytically need to be treated as such when we talk about or write about them. And as the Centre wrote to us, “Kenya is deep in neoliberalism, characterized by high public and private debt, poverty, inequality, unemployment, stress, fraud, corruption, state violence, the criminalization of urban poor etc. In academic debates among scholars in Kenya, there is no analytical writing on the capitalist crisis in the country and on the capitalist political economy in Kenya generally.” Now the Centre has partnered with Africa Is a Country to produce a series—“Capitalism in My City”—of posts and videos to document everyday capitalism in Nairobi. The project is funded via a Fellowship I received from the Shuttleworth Foundation. The aim with “Capitalism in My City” is to “… analyze capitalism in the manner with which we interact and observe it as opposed to a very academic approach of analysis.” For this we are funding them to train eight local activists and other community members as journalists and videographers. The Social Justice Centre will train the activists to do research and reporting to produce eight publication-ready articles and four publication-ready videos. Over the next year they will publish a series of articles and videos to be published on Africa Is a Country. The articles will be published in Swahili and English. The editors of the project are two local activists, Gacheke Gachihi and Lena Anyuolo. Gacheke is a social justice and human rights advocate. Over the last fifteen years he has been involved in community organizing in Kenya. He is a member of Bunge la Mwananchi (the Peoples Parliament) which is an organic grassroots based social movement, and is also the coordinator for Mathare Social Justice Centre. Lena is a writer and social justice activist with Mathare Social Justice Centre and Ukombozi library. The first post is by Gacheke and Lena.’ From host website:


Pressure in the City: This is an interdisciplinary blog series to explore and discuss economic pressure (and financial stress) in an urban context, initially with a focus on urban (Eastern) Africa, then on urban (and non-urban) contexts globally, to discuss scholarship (and later policy) matters, & have a public debate including with practitioners we hope to bring in later. The project starts in September 2020 with Developing Economics as the site partner, no end date yet; revisiting project after about 15 blogs

Draft blog series text: The Covid-19 pandemic and the restructuring of the global economy it has triggered have exacerbated the need to study a topic that has flown under the radar of social scientists for too long: individuals and social groups experiencing economic pressure which manifests in myriad of somatic and psychological ways. Suicides, sleeplessness, ulcers, an atmosphere of hopelessness and social mistrust, gambling as well as a growing concern about a lack of mental health facilities in cities of the Global South. The blog aims at taking a fresh look at these topics through a decisively comparative and interdisciplinary way. We will critically interrogate the role of economic pressure in the lives of both the rich and the poor, the unemployed and the workforce, across class and continents in order to answer, among others, the following questions: How do city dwellers of diverse class backgrounds and professions experience pressure in their professional and private lives? Does economic pressure offer new analytical possibilities vis-à-vis other concepts used to describe similar phenomena (e.g. poverty, uncertainty, precarity etc.)? What is the relation between individually perceived economic pressure and structural changes of the economy or the political field? We welcome contributions from a wide range of scientific disciplines (political economy, anthropology, economics, sociology, development studies, international relations, geography, etc.) as well as other professions (such as practicing psychologists, activists, bankers etc.). As the blog’s organizers are all Africanists, the blog will, however, have an initial focus on sub-Saharan and, especially, Eastern Africa. We are confident that this will be balanced over time.’