Utopia(n) Challenges in Africa? Grinding Practices, Ethical Controversies
Antje Daniel, Universität Wien
Melina C. Kalfelis, Universität Bayreuth
Concepts of utopia give meaning to imaginations in processes of social transformation. While actors claim for alternative futures, they also enact alterative norms and moralities. The panel invites presentations from all disciplines that investigate present utopias and the way social struggles challenge the core of today’s most essential pillars.
Discourses on Africa keep being dominated by reports on corruption, terrorism, social disparities as well as by an ongoing fight against poverty, causing deep disillusionment. Less visible are narratives of people and their capability to aspire and to imagine an alternative future. Utopian studies and concepts of ‘real’, ‘concrete’ or ‘everyday’ utopias reveal that such imaginations and experiments of social transformation become visible in present practices, narratives and spaces. While in some cases social struggles claim for alternative futures, others enact and perform in a way that grant other norms and moralities a right to exist. This is the case once citizens publicly decline political, economic of societal orders by creating a (quasi-)autonomous or alternative space with its own rules of coexistence (e.g. separatist movements, religious communes, eco-villages etc.) or if actors take on government tasks and thereby question the monopoly of the state. In other cases, it is cosmologies or ideas about how life should look like that cause frictions, incomprehension, and condemnation.
In this panel, we understand respective practices, events, ideas, and orders as utopian moments of the present that (in)directly criticize established structures and highlight shared visions about the future. These moments include new ways of living, decision-making and problem-solving procedures as well as new forms of production, which not only make actors move against the current, but also provoke turmoil and ethical conflict.
The panel invites presentations from various disciplines including philosophy, sociology, geography, and anthropology focusing on such utopias as well as the irritations, ambivalences and tensions they create. The concept of the ‘real’ and ‘everyday’ utopia enables a less biased reflection on alternative futures in Africa in which the very core of today’s most essential pillars is being challenged.
01 Hanno Moegenburg: Democratic Infrastructuring and Technopolitical Utopias: Postapartheid, Activism and Ordinary Interventions for Technological Sovereignty
Against the background of infrastructural failure and neglect concurring with what is being termed as a prolonging energy crisis in South Africa, residents in the marginalized parts of the country’s biggest metropole Johannesburg organise themselves to cope with the precarious state of service delivery. Community activist groups and local expert networks formed, addressing the social unrest and circulating and testing knowledge(s), rumours, tools, materials and skills to tamper or extend public infrastructure for water and electricity. By applying a practice theoretical approach, I discuss these practices as interventions into the process of “doing” the national infrastructure (infrastructuring), that are decisively political as they aim to renegotiate the politico-ethical and physical condition for infrastructural connectivity in democratic South Africa after apartheid. Thereby, residents (individually as well as collectively in organised activist associations) involve in a discursive and material battle with the state and its agents, for the authority over service delivery and public infrastructure is crucial to establishing and executing state power. While the Johannesburg’s city administration, the parastatal energy producer Eskom, and other municipal private/public partners constantly upgrade infrastructural protection measurements and create interdepartmental special police units to be sent into the townships to fight what they call a “culture of non-payment”, residents in the affected areas react by develop their means and techniques to “re-appropriate” local infrastructure and eventually create no-go areas for law enforcement and prosecution authorities. I argue, that by producing such zones of temporary infrastructural sovereignty, they openly challenge not only who the state is or represents, in whose interest it should work and its materiality should be designed for, but simultaneously implement what they perceive to be the failed promise of a postaparteid order, which has arguably been the utopia of the anti-apartheid struggle: to be liberated from a racist, sexist, and capitalist regime. Hence, the self-installation of infrastructure for unconditional provision with basic services to all, as it is done in some neighbourhoods, is always supported by invocations of these promises from the struggle.
Yet, I emphasize that these zones of autonomy from access by state, law enforcement and disconnectors from Eskom, are far from being free of domination as well. I will show that this local contention of postapartheid’s sociomateriality that is fought at the grid’s edge is characterised by micro-political battles for power, representation and monetisation between activists, (lay-)technicians, charlatans and local electricity patrons.
Hanno Mögenburg is doctoral student at the Department for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Konstanz.
02 Emrah Yalci: Nicole Amarteifio’s “An African City” as a Postfeminist / Diasporic Utopia in Ghanaian Audio-Visual Culture and an Alternative Narrative of Africa
A Ghanaian screenwriter, Nicole Amarteifio’s contribution to Ghanaian audio-visual culture, “An African City” (2014-) suggests an alternative perception of Africa through the representation of Accra by using postfeminist and diasporic perspectives. The adopted audio-visual framing of the Ghanaian urban space contributes an optimistic discourse to narratives of Africa to imagine an alternative future by challenging the mainstream media dominated by dystopic representations including corruption, terrorism, social disparities and poverty. The plot of the series, which focuses on five young female returnees who have diasporic backgrounds, raises questions about the utopia of returning home, postcolonial identity construction of Ghanaian woman and influences of such postfeminist and diasporic imaginations on this audio-visually constructed utopic urban space. Getting insights from cultural studies, cultural geography and media sciences, these topics will be discussed accompanied by the selected scenes from the series during the presentation.
Emrah Yalcin defended his Ph.D. Thesis in July 2019. Since March 2020, he works in the social project “Empowerment of young Muslims through participatory media” by the Turkish Community in Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel.
03 Amado Kabore: Utopian Security. Self-Defence Groups in Burkina Faso at the Margins of State Norms and Human Rights
Since 2015, Burkina Faso has been facing a rapid deterioration of its national security situation. This circumstance has given rise to a notable number of international military interventions and other security-related programmes. At the same time, there was a movement being born inside the countries’ territories. After the regime change, the self-defence groups of Koglweogo rapidly spread across the country to fight, as they claim, thievery. However, because of their punitive practices, like imprisonments and physical punishments during extra-legal hearings, the groups are being accused of human rights violations. Meanwhile, in communities there is no consensus on their procedures. While the physical punishments are publicly condemned, citizens also praise Koglweogos’ deterrence effect. Until today, the groups’ legal status remains unsettled, albeit many are firmly established in city districts and municipalities.
Beyond public discourses and media coverage, this paper will draw a more nuanced picture of Koglweogos’ agenda and practices. Fieldwork with a unit in Ouagadougou not only reveal regulated, partly bureaucratised forms of extra-legal governance, but also mediation procedures on a surprising variety of matters like drug abuse, menaces, unpaid debts and intra-family conflict. Koglweogo members show strong commitment to these procedures, not least by affording time and resources as well as by putting themselves at risk. They have to justify themselves in front of their families for engaging in such a way and have to invest time and other resources. In the end, they also have to cope with ambiguities connected to their engagement themselves.
Despite the moral greyzone Koglweogo is moving in, citizens from various social and economic backgrounds use the extra-legal negotiations to find resolutions over their disputes. On a daily basis, men and women approach Koglweogo to share their problems and ask for the support the state is not providing. The negotiations between alleged delinquents, defendants, accusers, and relatives show vividly how citizens crave for a point of contact that takes their experiences of injustice serious. They claim to feel more safe since Koglweogos’ appearance, leaving little doubt that the way the groups proceed makes a difference in communities. Yet, at the same time, the groups constantly blur the boundaries between security and insecurity through their actions. It is against this background, that this paper explores the governance as a utopian form of governance in West Africa and how it challenges state norms and international human rights.
Dr. Amado Kabore is a postdoctoral researcher at the "Centre national de la recherche scientifique et technologique" in Ouagadougou.
04 Isaac Osei-Tutu : The Utopia of Hope: Hope as (Underlying) Utopia-Motive in Neo-Pentecostal/Charismatic Economy
Neo-Pentecostal/Charismatics (nPC) build their economies on hope. Believers contribute financially at church hoping to receive rewards both in the here-and-now and in the afterlife. Irrespective of failed and/or still anticipated promises from pastors, believers continuously invest at church believing and hoping that their offerings will someday be surely rewarded. This hope and perpetual anticipation built on positivity contributes to a successful church economy in which the believer constantly contents him/herself with statements like “it is all well with my soul”. In such a belief or mindset, the Christian life becomes utopian, believes hold themselves as living in a world which is already ‘perfect’, a human state which is ‘good’, and a life which is ‘prosperous’ – they aspire these realities, practicing their religious-economic ideals as already achieved and/or to be fully realised in heaven. Is the motive of hope in nPC-economy, therefore, not utopian? My paper addresses this question.
Isaac Osei-Tutu is a doctoral student at the Center for Religion, Economy and Politics (ZRWP/CREP) at the University of Zurich and a Junior Fellow at the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS) of the University of Bayreuth.