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In an event co-hosted with the African Studies Centre, Naluwembe Binaisa of University College London discusses how mobile telephony operates in the contested urban landscape of Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos is known for the speed of its vibrant business and trade sector, one of the largest economies in Africa and a magnate for continued migration from within Nigeria and beyond. In this fast-moving city the diffusion and ubiquity of mobile telephony could be portrayed as an accelerator for equitable development, yet sharp inequalities persist.

In this presentation, I trace how these technologies facilitate communication and information flows and shift temporalities. These time-space conjunctures abound with contradictions exemplified in a grid-locked highway traversed simultaneously by luxury car owners and the masses hustling for a living in a challenging environment. The ubiquity of the mobile phone reveals ‘new’ ways of enacting agency in the quest for social and spatial mobility. The right to the city is encapsulated within a mantra of ‘self-help’ straddling diverse contemporary realities and future imaginaries.

I draw on ethnographic fieldwork to trace the complexity of these dynamics firstly, through the life story of Mariama, a 24-year-old woman living, working and studying in Lagos. Secondly through social mobilisation efforts to empower precarious slum communities and combat forced evictions. I argue that while we can trace the use of mobile telephony as disrupting and reinforcing power registers that mark boundaries of social difference, much remains in flux within this contested urban landscape.