Emergent Spatialities in Urban Africa: Case Study of Onitsha Markets in Nigeria
Summary Most cities in Africa are urbanizing exponentially, atypically without industrialization, and are confronted with inadequate basic infrastructure, deficient spatial quality, and livability. More than half a century has passed since most countries in Africa gained independence and yet, urban poverty, unsustainable urban growth with dystopian inclinations continue to haunt most cities in the African continent. The current planning policies and approaches in urban Africa have failed to improve this trend, and the living conditions of people. They are mostly structured to benefit the political class, segregationist, non-contextual, obsolete, and in most cases, unimplementable, or simply nonexistent. Onitsha, in Nigeria is one of these cities, and comprises a conglomeration of markets amidst limited conventional urban infrastructure. The market phenomenon in Onitsha is the culmination of urban conditions in the city, and constitutes totalities of contestations, material flows discontinuities, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial energy amidst precarious urban conditions. Onitsha markets on one hand, drive and define the exponential urban growth processes within the city and its periphery. On the other hand, these markets and associated activities contribute to the challenges of limited livability in the city.
Markets in Onitsha are emblematic of urban Africa in constant flux, with complex historical dimensions and provide socio-cultural, socio-economic, and socio-political platforms for the majority of citizens in the city. Markets, as microcosms of the city, provide a window into new readings and conceptualizations of space production in urban Africa. Onitsha city has the highest intensities of the urban market phenomenon in Nigeria, with trading happening in almost every corner of the city, positioning the city both as a market and a city. Recent interpretations of market spatial phenomena in the city often fall into the informality discourse. However, informality as a conceptual framework is inadequate for Onitsha, and to extension, cities in post-colonial Africa. Informality as currently constituted in the discourse, is ontologically embedded in the colonial logic of extreme Otherness, which is manifest in the spatialities of the post-colonial African city. The aim of this PhD research is to understand the mechanisms and forms of space production in Onitsha, and to obtain critical insights of constraints and possibilities on the making, uses, accessibility, and appropriations of urban market spaces in Onitsha, understood as emergent collective infrastructures and part of self-organization processes of urban growth in the city. The research seeks to understand how these markets, and their constituting spatialities are inextricably interwoven with urban transformations, growth, and livability in the city. Case study on two markets, Main-Market and Bridgehead-Market at Onitsha was conducted, using mixed paradigm and mixed methods approaches. These two markets were selected from forty-four markets in the city, under three criteria which are: growth trajectory, territorial organization, and spatial intensities in relation to sizes. Morphological analysis of these market in relation to physical, socio-economic, socio-political, and socio-cultural contextual layers was conducted.
Using analytical frameworks of context, physicality, material flows, and sociality; and reading of spatialities, it appears that the mode of production of space in Onitsha reflects emergent behaviors in various ways, as adaptive responses and survival mechanisms to extreme uncertainties, emanating from the entrenched colonial planning and governance logic of extreme Otherness in post-colonial Nigeria. Space production in Onitsha is inherently political, and demands an urgency for alternative urbanism approaches in the African city. Through critical reflections on findings, arguments are presented for the need to go beyond the current planning concepts and development frameworks in the discourse, while acknowledging the invaluable role markets could play towards sustainable urban futures in post-colonial Africa. Markets in Onitsha are primordial urban elements of productivities, collectivities, material flows exchanges and re-distribution infrastructure. They are nexus of constant oscillations between contestations and co-productions. Markets are also emblematic of local identities and embodied heritage in transition within neighbourhoods in cities undergoing rapid growth and transformations. The study presents an opportunity to develop new tools and framework, and also to address the questions of how to re-read, re-design, re-plan, and re-negotiate the constantly changing and rapidly growing cities in post-colonial African Nation-States. It also contributes to discourses on emergent dynamics and self-organization processes of urban growth in developing contexts, and further suggests potential strategies towards sustainable urban futures.
Keywords Emergent Spatialities, Critique of Informality, Onitsha Markets, Two-publics in Post-Colonial Urban Africa, Extreme Otherness and Uncertainty