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Culture and Safety in Africa

Literature Review and Research Gap

Urban Safety
African cities were the first beneficiary of the un-Habitat Safer Cities Programme launched in 1996. The programme was demanded by African mayors and it was mainly focused on networking and prevention strategies. In 2007 un-Habitat publication on enhancing urban safety and security presented case studies from all over the world. Urban violence and crime are increasing worldwide and they are not specific phenomena of developing countries (United Nations Settlements Programme 2007). If safety is a priority everywhere, it is extremely difficult to reach it through recognisable patterns or experiences.

Public Art and Cultural Events
More and more governments, international organisations and grant-makers are looking at culture as a tool for development (United Nations Settlements Programme 2008). In the last decades European politics and cultural institutions experienced the positive impact on lives of individuals and communities provided by bringing culture to the social dimension. Community arts in the United Kingdom, animation socio-culturelle in France, Soziokultur in Germany, are all examples of “diffused heritage” represented by interventions of public art, aimed at reaching social improvement and cohesion (Walker & Walker 1997; Urban Task-Force 1999).
Inclusive cultural politics help in reaching social cohesion, intended as “the capacity of society to grant welfare to their members, reducing their disparity and avoiding polarization”(Council of Europe 2004). The recent approach, known as “crowd out crime”, purports the decreasing of crime rates with the presence of people in public spaces, which also increase the perception of safety, as a side effect of mutual surveillance and conflict mediation (Shaftoe 2008). Public
art has also proved effective in order to develop the sense of community and to face social exclusion (Hall & Robertson 2001).

Impact of Public Art and Events in Africa
Invisibility, social precariousness and instability are features of many African cities. Hence, actions are needed aiming at improving safety. Public art proved in many ways to be an effective tool with strict spatial implications. Its use as a tool for qualification of urban spaces was employed in sub-Saharan Africa. Urban design in Africa has a specific yet contradictory tradition: colonial, modernist, Western-style buildings and neighborhoods are mixed with the so-called informal settlements. Simple connections between buildings and social groups are impossible to define.
The impact of public art in urban contexts also depends on the character of architectures and modernist buildings. On the other hand, many ephemeral operations are carried out yet with positive effects on the urban context. Even though these kind of public art installations are unstable and hard to map as physical objects, their precariousness and flexibility is connected to the nature of informal settlements. Understanding, mapping, and trying to include in the urban plan this kind of installations is a challenge for current urban design. Compared to other public interventions (streets, lights, sanitation, wells), artworks produced in African cities and slums have two main features: they generate unexpected side effects, and they allow people to talk freely. Women and young people, usually excluded
from public debates and meetings, express their opinion and participate in discussions.

In Africa the impact of cultural events and public art were studied in South Africa but mainly ignored elsewhere (Edjabe & Pieterse 2010). Many Public Art Policies were enacted: the trend in the late years has been focusing public administrations’ efforts in several critical spots of the city, in order to promote public aggregation and meeting areas, improving actual and perceived safety. Many interventions of public art proved effective on urban requalification and social
safety, such as Constitution Hill, a large symbolic space, or the traditional Faraday Muti Market, which both underwent urban renewal through public artworks. Examples at a smaller scale include large sculptures for public spaces. These interventions can be easily described through maps and assessed concerning their impact on the city, while temporary or “immaterial” events are extremely important but difficult to map.

Since 1992, doual’art produced artworks with the active involvement of local communities (Babina & Douala Bell 2007). In Douala some of the side effects were already studied (Simone 1998; Malaquais 2006) and informally analysed by the cultural organisation doual’art. One of the unexpected results was that the local communities lobbied to force the government to renovate the areas where the artworks where located.

Fernando Alvim is the curator and organizer of the Luanda Triennale, which transformed abandoned industrial buildings into exhibitions hall by creating partnerships with local companies, with the precise goal of reaching communities and reducing conflicts in a city devastated by the war (Siegert & Vierke 2008; Pensa 2011).