Situated political ecology of electricity in Maputo — Idalina Baptista. And seminar by Ananya Roy.

There are number of interesting seminars at the African Centre for Cities, UCT, always. But now in May they are really exciting. Here are two—one from Idalina Baptista on electricity from Maputo and prepaid meters, and one on the war of poverty by Ananya Roy.

The first one seems to really speak to some the conversations that we have been having at ACC with Mary Lawhon (now at University of Pretoria) and John Silver (Durham University). How to rethink how we think about urban political ecologies? How to take the the particular cities seriously to speak back too "strong explanations" like neoliberalism and governmentality? We write about this in a paper in review—"Provincializing Urban Political Ecology: Towards a situated UPE through African urbanism". Together we are also edited a special issue on politicizing african urban environments. Idalina's works seems to bring something important to our discussions so I am looking forward in listening to her.

As for Anaya Roy, I have heard her speak at an LSE seminar through YouTube and recently at the AAG 2013 conference in LA—she is a good speaker. Clear and provocative!

Speaker: Idalina Baptista
Date: May 13, 2013
Time: 15:00 - 16:30
Venue: Rm 2.27, Davies Room, Engeo Building, Upper Campus, UCT, Cape Town
Unlike popular cases of contestation and resistance against prepayment of utility services in neighboring South Africa, Mozambique is calmly taking on prepaid electricity in urban areas. In Maputo alone, where an estimated 75% of the households are serviced with electricity, 90% of them have a prepaid meter installed. On the face of it, prepayment seems to be widely accepted and welcomed by Mozambicans, as there are virtually no reports of public contestations against it.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork recently conducted in Maputo's peri-urban areas, this paper excavates how electricity scarcity and urban poverty are inscribed in the seeming acceptance of prepaid electricity in Mozambique. By looking at the everyday governance of electricity in a relatively under-theorized city with site-specific processes of urbanization and post-colonial context, this paper makes a contribution to theorizing the diversity of African urbanism(s). In particular, the paper seeks to scope for significant drivers of urban energy commodification other than those provided by analyses of 'neoliberalism' and 'governmentality', so as to reveal alternative imaginations of African urban livelihoods beyond those enabled by dominant theorizations of urbanism.
The paper begins by setting the deployment of prepayment in Mozambique in the context of the country's recent energy boom and the energy geopolitics that ties it to South Africa since civil war times. More than just an instrument to liberalize electricity provision and to secure cost-recovery from non-paying costumers, prepayment emerges in Mozambique in response to a perceived sense of chronic electricity scarcity in a complex postcolonial politics of poverty alleviation and development.
The paper then traces the everyday dynamics of electricity provision and consumption through the lens of the prepaid meter. More than a technological device that depoliticizes energy consumption and forces users into an unwanted constant metrological scrutiny, the prepaid meter reveals the micro-dynamics of Mozambique's pervasive 'pirate' administrative structures amidst attempts to order energy consumption. It also reveals how urban dwellers in poorly resourced areas negotiate – and seek to seize up – some sense of dignity and empowerment through the divisibility of prepaid electricity purchases, in a context where urban dwellers themselves perceive electricity as a 'scarce' but essential 'modern' resource.
The paper concludes with a discussion of how the case of prepaid electricity in Maputo, Mozambique compares to cases of prepayment elsewhere in the examination of the African urban condition in scholarly debates.
About the Speaker: Idalina Baptista is the Sir Nigel Mobbs Research Fellow on the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities, University of Oxford. She holds a PhD in City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley. Her main research interests focus on the theoretical and practical challenges of contemporary urbanization and urban livelihoods in cities that have remained largely under-theorized and unexamined – that is, the cities in the borderlands of urban scholarship. Idalina is particularly interested in the urban experiences of Portuguese-speaking cities, in Africa and Europe, where site specific processes of urbanization and post-colonial contexts pose many challenges to dominant theorizations of urbanism. Drawing on critical, historical, comparative and ethnographic strategies of inquiry, Idalina's work seeks to rephrase questions of urban governance and development in ways that are less formal and legalistic, and more attuned to the relational nature of urbanization and urban life. 
Idalina is currently working on a new research project, Electric Urbanism: the Governance of Electricity in Urban Africa. The project uses the case study of the prepaid electricity system in Maputo, Mozambique, to investigate the challenges of accessing utility services in poorly resourced and highly informalized urban areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. Her past research focused on practices and spaces of exception in situations of environmental and health crisis in Tanzania and Mexico, and in the implementation of urban redevelopment projects in Portugal.
image from JackE1

And here is the other on 20 May

Speaker: Ananya Roy 
When: May 20, 2013 (3pm)
Where: Seminar Room 1, Chemical Engineering, UCT Upper Campus, Cape Town
In the lexicon of American urban policy, community development is a prominent force. This talk, based on an essay co-authored with Stuart Schrader and Emma Shaw Crane, provides a global history of community development.  It shows how, in the 1960s, an impending sense of urban crisis, what was perceived to be an "apartheid" of race and income, conjoined with American geopolitical concerns about wars of insurgency in the global South to produce a field of ideas and practices focused on pacification, participation, and poverty. Such programs reveal how the management of poverty is articulated with pacification and punitive regulation, not just at a moment of neoliberalism but also in liberal government and its struggles with racial difference.  Community development though was more than a bureaucracy of poverty. Multiple mobilizations and movements sought to challenge racial subjugation.  From Alinsky-style direct action to the anti-colonial imaginary of the Black Panther Party, poor people's movements also reshaped urban policy and community development in the turbulent American 1960s. (full paper is available on request, please email
About the Speaker: Ananya Roy is Professor of City and Regional Planning and Distinguished Chair of Global Poverty and Practice at the University of California, Berkeley.  Her research, teaching, and public scholarship is concerned with global urbanism, territories of poverty, the politics of postcolonial development. Roy's most recent books include "Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development" and "Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global."


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