The African City: A History

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The African City: A History

By Bill Freund
Cambridge University press, 2007
224 pp. $75.00

Africa may be the least urbanized continent, but, as Freund's short book makes clear, cities of tens of thousands of people have existed there for all of recorded history, and the region now includes as many as 40 cities with populations over a million. Two chapters on precolonial cities are followed by chapters on the urban landscape under colonial rule and on the contemporary situation. A final chapter describes individual cities in Senegal, South Africa, and Côte d'Ivoire. The book is written for a broad, nonspecialist audience; it is short on statistics and avoids most of the recent public policy debates on urbanization. Instead, Freund emphasizes the ways in which these cities have evolved to create distinct urban sociopolitical and economic systems. Many observers view African cities today as deeply dysfunctional, unpleasant places. Freund readily admits that their welfare levels are often abysmal, but he argues that cities have historically generated innovation and positive change. African cities, he concludes, exhibit considerable dynamism in fostering economic growth and various civic organizations that can promote the emergence of civil society.

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