Conviviality and negotiations with belonging in urban Africa

Authored by: Francis B. Nyamnjoh , Ingrid Brudvig

Routledge Handbook of Global Citizenship Studies

Print publication date:  June  2014
Online publication date:  June  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415519724
eBook ISBN: 9780203102015
Adobe ISBN: 9781136237966


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Urban life in Africa depends on the extent to which Africans circulate or are circulated. In a context characterized by accelerated and flexible mobility in many regards, limiting citizenship and belonging to bounded and legal indicators is problematic (Gupta and Ferguson 1992, 1997; Nyamnjoh 2007a; Geschiere 2009; Manby 2009; Isin 2012). The city, urban transport most especially, offers us a privileged site to fathom how Africans in their flexible mobility negotiate their citizenship through relationships (Holston 1998). As Edgar Pieterse (2008, 2009, 2010) argues, understanding the sense of belonging that citizens feel, display, mobilize, invest in, and invariably ambiguate is essential to the challenge of exploring and theorizing ‘African cityness’. This chapter thus illustrates how forms of citizenship manifest and interplay in urban Africa in the context of public negotiations with belonging, being, and becoming. It draws insight from the experience of transit – and using public transport, in particular – to demonstrate the nature of social relations and conviviality in urban places characterized by mobilities. An analytical focus on conviviality in the everyday narrative of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ and their relationships as ‘intimate strangers’ demonstrates the thorny paradoxes of intimacy and mutuality, representative of contestations with belonging taking place in urban African crucibles of becoming (Nyamnjoh 2006a, 2011, 2012a; Pieterse and Simone 2013). Conviviality rests on the nuances inscribed and imbibed in everyday relations – the micro-trends of socialization. The nature of a study about conviviality involves an investigation into styles of relating, of sociability, and of how communality emerges from a negotiation of the constructive and the destructive. Conviviality may emerge from a resolution of frictions which, when turned into meaningful relationships, may actually facilitate mutual interests and mutual trust. Like Arthur Schopenhauer’s porcupines compelled to keep their quills in check in the interest of huddling together for warmth in winter (Farmer 1998: 422), conviviality makes possible interdependence amongst humans whose tendency is to seek autonomy even at the risk of dependencies. This chapter further demonstrates the implications of notions of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ on the study of belonging in and around urban Africa where the reality of identities is composite, arguing that the complex nuances and nuanced complexities of everyday lives of African citizens and mobile Africans are best addressed through a complementarity between formal academic accounts and other perspectives; approaches and genres such as, but not exclusive to narrative fiction (Nyamnjoh 2011, 2012a, 2013). We point to how such alternative narrative techniques create enlightening prospects for reflecting upon the complex and nuanced dynamics of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ and their manifestations in the everyday frontier lives of intimate strangers in urban Africa.

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