Toponymic Inscription as an Instrument of Power in Africa: The Case of Colonial and Post Colonial Dakar and Nairobi

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British colonial Africa, Colonial urbanism, Dakar, French colonial Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, Senegal, toponymic inscription, power in built space

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This study analyses toponymic inscription, the exercise of street/place naming, as a tool for articulating power in Anglophone and Francophone Africa. The focus is on Dakar, Senegal and Nairobi, Kenya, which were respectively indispensable for the colonial projects of France and Britain in Africa. Dakar was for France’s West African Federation what Nairobi was for Britain’s colonial East Africa. It is shown that toponymic inscription was used with equal zeal by French and British colonial authorities to express power in built space. Thus, both authorities used the occasion to christen streets and places as an opportunity to project Western power in Africa. With the demise of colonialism, indigenous authorities in Kenya inherited the Western vocabulary of spatiality but speedily moved to supplant Eurocentric with Afrocentric street/place-names. In contrast, post-colonial authorities in Senegal remain wedded to the colonial tradition of drawing most important street- and place-names from the Eurocentric cultural lexicon. Consequently, although the vocabulary of spatiality in Nairobi projects African nationalism and power, that of Dakar continues to express mainly Western power.

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Journal of Asian and African Studies, v. 52, issue 8, p. 1174-1192