TU Berlin

Center for Metropolitan StudiesAfenah, Afia

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Pourous Boundaries: Negotiating Space, Power, and Legitimacy in Contemporary Accra

This dissertation is concerned with the complexities of contemporary spatial, social, and political conditions in urban Ghana. I examine how historical trajectories of urban planning, land conflicts, patterns of mobility, and migration intersect to reconfigure social and political relations in Ghana’s capital city. In the context of rapid economic, social, and infrastructural transformation, I seek to understand the diverse practices at play in the making and remaking of Accra through an in-depth ethnographic study of Old Fadama, the city’s largest informal settlement, where residents have been facing the threat of forced eviction since 2002.

The threat of eviction and the subsequent urban contestations make for a microcosm that mirrors the “management of social relations” between a variety of actors, most notably Old Fadama’s residence and Accra’s governance structure. It is from this departure point that we can begin to understand the making and remaking of existence and social relations in Accra that has played and continues to play a significant role in the development of the metropolis.

The project contributes to the growing literature on African cities through an ethnographic understanding of the complex power relations at play within what are often labelled ‘subaltern’ urban spaces. It explores how new forms of diversity in the city both transform existing social orders and are transformed by them. More concretely, the project illustrates how contemporary patterns of mobility and migration and linkages between local and translational actors (such as institutions of international development corporation and global networks of the urban poor) are creating heterogeneous modes of socio-political organization that have ultimately altered the way urban neighbourhoods are governed. I thus show how the world in the city has profound impacts on what were hitherto thought to be entrenched ways of urban social and political organization. 



05/2012 - 05/2015
DFG Fellow at the International Graduate Research Program Berlin - New York - Toronto, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University of Berlin

2007 – 2009
MSc Development and Planning: Urban Economic Development, Development Planning Unit, University College London (UCL)

2002 – 2005
BA Anthropology and Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


Afenah A. (2012) “Engineering a Millennium City in Accra, Ghana: The Old Fadama Intractable Issue”, Urban Forum - Special Issue on “Networked City Life in Africa”, Volume 23, Issue 4

Afenah A. (2011) Review article of Harvey D. (2009) Social Justice and the City - Revised, University of Georgia Press and Fainstein S. (2010) The Just City, Cornell University Press, in Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, Volume 36, Issue 2

Afenah A. (2011) “Conceptualizing the Effects of Neoliberal Urban Policies on Housing Rights: An Analysis of the Attempted Unlawful Forced Eviction of an Informal Settlement in Accra, Ghana”, Development Planning Unit Working Paper 139

Afenah A. (2011) “Towards Increased Rights Protection for Kenya's Urban Slum Dwellers? The Susan Waithera Kariuki Case” in Helsinki Review of Global Governance, Volume 3, Issue 1, Centre of Excellence in Global Governance, Helsinki

Afenah A. (2010) “(Re)claiming Citizenship Rights in Accra: Community Mobilization Against the Illegal Forced Eviction of Residents in the Old Fadama Settlement” in Habitat International Coalition (2010) “Cities for All: Proposals and Experiences Towards the Right to the City”


15th - 18th June 2011, Uppsala, Sweden
Paper presentation: “(Re)claiming Citizenship Rights in Accra: Community Mobilization against the Illegal Forced Eviction of Residents in the Old Fadama Settlement” at the 4th European Conference on African Studies Conference “African Engagements: On Whose Terms?” in the panel “The Politics of Urban Informality” (paper presentation)

11th Oct. – 12th Oct. 2012, Detroit, USA
Paper presentation: “Engineering a Millennium City in Accra, Ghana: The Old Fadama Intractable Issue” at the Space and Flow Conference (paper presentation)

26th - 29th June 2013, Lisbon, Portugal
Paper presentation: “Geographies of power: land, displacement and ‘glocal’ urban contestation in Accra, Ghana” at the 5th European Conference on African Studies Conference “African Dynamics in a Multipolar World?” in the panel “Unspectacular Politics of Land: Actors, Sites, Struggles” (paper presentation)

24th – 28th June 2014, Cagliari, Italy
Participation and presentation at the AEGIS (Africa-Europe Group for Interdisciplinary Studies) Summer School for doctoral researchers 13th – 15th October 2014, Lagos, Nigeria Paper presentation: “Contested Claim Making: On the Politics of Land in Old Fadama, Accra” at the 3rd International Conference on Urban and Regional Planning, University of Lagos


01/2013 – 05/2013 and 11/2013 – 03/2014 and 03/2015
(Ethnographic Fieldwork)

CUNY in New York
(Use of library resources and meetings with various scholars)



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