Are These African Cities or Global Heritage Capital Cities?
Despite the fact that the military leaders of Nigeria justified the construction of the capital at Abuja with the idea of providing the center of unity, violence continues to rock the stability of the nation long after it was inaugurated on 12 December 1991. The spate of violence in the country since the inauguration raises a number of questions:
Did Thomas Todd of the firm of Wallace McHarg Roberts and Todd (WMRT), Philadelphia; Kenzo Tange Urtec of Japan; the staff at Milton Keynes Development Corporation, United Kingdom; the firm of Doxiades Associates from Greece; and Albert Speer of Germany, know that they were using architectural and urban design mediums to provide democratic instructions to the Nigerian people in the design of their Federal Capital City (FCC) at Abuja? Did they believe that architectural and urban design could provide a center of unity to prevent the country from disintegrating? Was their intention to utilize tested architectural and urban design symbolism from earlier capital cities to impart a culture of social justice and save the country from future military coups, corrupt politicians, and terrorist attacks when they were preparing the master plans for the new Federal Capital City in the mid-1970s?
The development of Abuja in the 1970s shortly after several African countries received independence in the 1960s suggests it was a postcolonial national modernization endeavor. The end of World War II promoted capital nation and city building in the African continent. According to Michael L. McNulty Abuja was founded when “…Large-scale plans, massive infrastructure projects, and modern technologies were the order of the day,” and “plans were underway for building the new capital cities of Lilongwe (Malawi), Dodoma (Tanzania), and Yamoussoukro (Ivory Coast).” In post-apartheid South Africa, the development of provincial capital seats of governments indicated that post-revolutionary movements are often commemorated by large scale urban developments. The newest national capital city that will be developed in the African continent if the country stays together is Juba, the capital of South Sudan, a country that broke out of the Republic of Sudan in 2013. These developments demonstrate the frequent connection of capital city to nation building projects that followed wars and revolutions.
In this paper, I would like to use the Abuja project and a few examples from Morocco, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Tanzania and South Africa to show how capital city building experiences have been deployed for solving social problems in African countries. Moreover, by looking at the tectonic visual languages in the projects, we will examine whether these are original African heritage projects or another global experience? Finally, we will show how the nebulous concepts of identity are being contested in the visual languages deployed in the design of the edifices.