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Transnational Corporations and Urban Development

Franklin Obeng†Odoom

American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 2018, vol. 77, issue 2, 447-510

Abstract: Transnational corporations (TNCs) in Africa play significant roles in controlling utilities, privately appropriating common resources, and planning urban space. On the one hand, the extralegal powers of TNCs are legitimized with patronizing discourses about the incompetence of African nations in managing their own affairs and with the specter of a “resource curse†that supposedly immobilizes the self†governing capacities of Africans. On the other hand, TNCs arrogate to themselves statutory municipal power, ignore or manipulate various channels of accountability, and privately appropriate sociallycreated rents. Some critics of TNCs propose a withdrawal from globalization or greater regulation to limit the power of TNCs. But protectionist or isolationist approaches are entirely mistaken and further undermine the social management of the commons in Africa. Instead, Africans should seek directly to break the chains of monopoly and oligopoly, especially over natural resources. They should also strive to use land for the common good and to systematically build social states in Africa to overcome subservience to TNCs. While previous attempts at autonomous development in Africa have sometimes led to military action by former colonizers and current neo†colonial imperialists, recent evidence from Africa suggests that such a strategy might succeed now. This article proposes to extend the politics of urban reform in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era in the United States to contemporary Africa. In doing so, it shows how African cities today are working to create local capacity by municipalizing services that have been privatized, such as distribution of water. Despite many obstacles posed by TNCs and their home governments, Africans are making great strides to overcome the enduring legacies of colonialism.

Date: 2018
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