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SNF Eccellenza research project (2022-2027), PI Jon Schubert

With accelerating urbanisation, strategies to address the climate crisis in cities are urgently needed. Yet African cities, scripted as the ‘most vulnerable’ to climate risk, remain largely invisible in current debates about urbanism and climate change. As long as conversations about urban adaptation are based on a generic ‘global city’, the proposed solutions will be capital-intensive and premised on the promise of rapid, smart technological advances. Yet such techno-utopias are out of reach for a majority of the world’s growing urban population.

To bridge this gap, PRECURBICA reverses the perspective and centres African actors on the same analytical plane as the ‘global’ urban planners and policymakers that typically dominate these debates. Rather than seeing urban ‘precariousness’ as an endemic condition that mires African societies in a position of dependency, the project takes it as an invitation to uncover strategies of living and making the city in the face of looming crisis, and learn from these. Cities are spaces of aspiration and possibility. Because of Africa’s history in the world, however, African coastal cities also stand at the sharp edge of global change: in addition to seaborne environmental threats, the tensions between the competing imperatives of growth-based development and climate change mitigation are thrown into stark relief. 

The project will ethnographically investigate the impact of climate risk on social and infrastructural processes in four African coastal cities: Beira, Mozambique; Pointe-Noire, the Republic of Congo; Cotonou, Benin; and Freetown, Sierra Leone. The project is funded for five years from 1 April 2022 onwards, and is part of the Urban Studies division of the University of Basel, in collaboration with the Centre for African Studies Basel.