THE CITY AS BARRACKS: Freetown, Monrovia, and the Organization of Violence in Postcolonial African Cities



Responding to characterizations of the postcolonial African city as a negative space, theorists of African urban processes have begun to focus on the city's unique modes of production. But what does this emphasis on productive capacity mean if “the city” is not Johannesburg or Nairobi but the West African urban warscape of Freetown or Monrovia? I explore that question by examining how the labor of male urban youth is organized according to the logic of the barracks. I suggest that these West African capitals make labor simultaneously available for use on regional battlefields or mines, logging camps, or rubber plantations. Focusing on the Brookfields Hotel in central Freetown and Monrovia's Duala neighborhood underscores how urban spaces are increasingly configured by the structure and function of the barracks: as spaces for the organization and deployment of violent labor.