KA’SSA: COMMITTED TO URBANIZATION IN AFRICA
Ka’ssa is formed of a group of urban professionals in London committed to bringing the African voice to ongoing global discussions. Their interest lies in promoting a gaze on African urbanism through a variety of channels and projects. Ka’ssa is interested in the urban issues that confront most cultures today, and aims to provoke new ways of thinking and seeing that can in turn engender novel aesthetic responses. It is shaped as a platform that provides an avenue for sharing a cross-disciplinary discussion on the diverse contents of contemporary urban and cultural life, both with a view on and outside Africa. Along with their interest in written works, they also have other projects, amongst these are: w.w.wollywood, which is a forum designed to give architects and other relevant contributors an opportunity to showcase their work and ideas through visual media (no longer than 7 minute presentations) to the participating audience. Chop ‘n Quench is a project intended to highlight African spaces in the global city of London, exploring the ways the Diaspora influences cities abroad through food culture.
The genius behind Ka’ssa is shared between five creative individuals. Rachel Stella Jenkins has engaged in several projects concerned with how cities are evolving and how citizens interact with cities. She is the founder of genuinefake.net, a multidisciplinary platform working together with design and architecture offices, magazines, web-based platforms, institutions and companies to offer solutions from concept phase to realization.
Aminat Lawal Agoro is an independent researcher interested in African and African Diaspora themes. Her current research project is a confluence of history, memory, ritual and urban spaces in Lagos, Nigeria.
Mia Prahm Eskemose is an urban sociologist with a particular interest in urban informality and city transformations.
Arome Agamah has a background in architecture and planning with an interest in the economic and social development of urban communities and the means of improving public participation in planning, policymaking and design.
Jeffrey Adjei is an architect and urban planner with an interest in socially conscious design and the processes by which users of space and buildings interact with their environments.
Together, the minds behind Ka’ssa continue to venture into unchartered areas and to forge a more nuanced framework.
How did you all meet?
We came together through our common interest in African urbanism, and by virtue of location. Rachel, Mia and Jeffrey had collaborated previously on other projects, both on the continent and in London. However the event ‘Stori Plenti: Meeting Lagos through Literature’, hosted in London (with Bukka), represents a genesis of sorts for Ka’ssa. The event offered a literary platform for exploring and developing an understanding of a city widely spoken about and publicized in the global media. It brought together writers from varying backgrounds including architecture, travel writing and history. Ultimately, it brought us together professionally and as a collective, as it encapsulated our collective vision, and inspired us to initiate our own start-up.
You speak passionately about redefining cities the African way. In your opinion, what is the ‘African way’, considering that Africa is made up of several countries, each consisting of separate and markedly different ethnic groups?
It would be remiss to claim a singular African way –indeed we’ve all been reminded of the dangers of the single story. However, nuances in narrative do not preclude broadly shared ideals, shared interests, a shared history, a shared struggle… that to some degree inform a way of doing, of thinking, of expression, which could contribute to global development. Just as we might understand there to be a European way that broadly captures the sense of a shared European identity, a European way of doing (epitomized in the formation of the EU), while being cognizant that there are very distinct European identities and voices, with their nuanced fusions and fissures.
The idea of an African way is for us an on-going exploration, which we engage curiously and critically to understand what the term means and can mean in different realms, from design to architecture to placemaking. Clearly the African way cannot be just one way. At Ka’ssa’s core is a desire to bring those individual voices and cultural differences to the fore, contributing to the global dialogue on how urban spaces are shaped.
What in your view is responsible for the scale and rapid urbanization in African cities and large parts of the global South, and what is the underlying philosophy, as well as the cultural and spatial factors?
In a historical sense, world affairs–the political and socio-economic are determining the fate of most people, from the city to the village. These meta-forces are necessitating the move to cities for many, far and wide, as reflected in unprecedented rural-urban migration that, coupled with Africa’s natural population growth rates in cities, accounts for the major causes in the increasing rate of urban growth.
On a micro level, these global forces manifest in some of the following ways …The technological advances particularly in network and communications technology has not only become a big part of shaping the ‘presentation’ of urban cultures and its appeals (grips of the capitalist economy), but has also in turn made it possible for some developing countries to tap into the networked economy much faster than was previously possible. As such they replicate the trends where high-value economic activity tends to be biased towards urban centres. People, especially the young–as history bares witness, simply move towards places where economic and socio-cultural activity appears to be most vibrant and where there are likely to be more opportunities. This is true whether you’re in Holland, Korea, Brazil, or wherever. From a cultural standpoint, the notion of the city is not a new phenomenon, and the draw to the city is a human fascination, it is not specifically African. The notion of the city as spectacle, as ‘the pinnacle of human development’, which stands as a beacon and engine for our aspirational society–the city is where we’re supposed to go to ‘make it’ in the world–this has been an on-going narrative that is manifested in the contemporary on a grander scale with hyper-globalization (as described above; facilitated by technology) reinforcing this human drive.
Why Africa in London and not Lagos, Cairo, Johannesburg or any other emerging African cities, where your platforms may be more impactful?
What it means to be impactful is open to discussion. London, as a global centre, is a place where many of those who are giving shape to cities (be it in decision, policy-making or design) come to learn and further develop. This includes Africans meeting Africans. We have yet to identify a location on the continent where such convergence takes place at a comparable scale and diversity. We must remember that the urbanization of societies is not only taking place in the South, it is a global phenomenon. London is a space where global minds, from across the spectrum come and are sent to ruminate with contemporaries, fine-tune their ideas, and set the agenda for where we should be headed. As an organization we wish to engage with that thought leadership, and inject the (myriad) African perspectives and ways of doing into a milieu that is all too often dominated by a Eurocentric worldview.
Though the genesis of Ka’ssa is rooted in London, this in no way precludes our ambition to establish connections in emerging cities of the South, including those you mention. Indeed our practice depends on this. Our vantage point means we can readily create that bridge connecting different global experiences. Ultimately being headquartered in London is not to say that one location is more impactful than the other. Rather, we must start somewhere to refine and make our practice more robust, and as we are in London, we aim to leverage those opportunities for global dialogue, influence, and collaboration that the city opens to us.
Full article published in Omenka volume 2 issue 2.
March 25, 2021