The busiest airport in Lagos is offering free WiFi. Sort of

Murtala Mohammed International Airport in 2005. Image: Getty.

Brilliant. As of Monday, Lagos' main airport finally has free WiFi.

Murtala Muhammed International Airport will be the first public airport to have it in Nigeria. The departing Minister for Aviation announced it via twitter last Wednesday morning.

But then, he back-tracked slightly. Obviously when someone says “free”, they mean, "for a bit".

Nonetheless, the development is a welcome one in a country where 27 per cent of the population own a smart phone, and only 1 per cent own a home landline. The duality of lagging development but rapidly increasing use of technology has made the house-phone a non-existent phenomenon in West African cities.


The Lagos State Government recently announced its plans to create WiFi hubs in three public parks, too. But the announcement gave no clue as to when this would happen; neither was it clear whether it would be free in the 20 minute sense of the word or some other.

Whilst it is not exactly a WiFi blitz on Africa's largest city, it reflects a belated impetus on the part of government policy to catch-up with the modern realities of increasingly tech-savy Nigerians. Public WiFi availability in the city is scarce, but its potential to help grow Lagos' economy is huge. According to the World Bank, for every 10 per cent of broadband penetration, a country’s GDP grows by 1.28 per cent. Or, in less technical termsL the more WiFi, the more capacity to make money.

It is yet to be seen whether the new government in Lagos, which will kick off on Friday, will quicken or even continue the current plans. But the surge in smart phone usage in Lagos will hopefully be persuasive.

 

Incidentally, Murtala Muhammad International Airport is the ninth of the ten busiest airports in Africa. Here are the rest:

AIRPORT

CITY

COUNTRY

IS THERE WIFI?

OR Tambo International

Johannesburg

South Africa

Free wifi

Cairo International  

Cairo

Egypt

Free wifi

Cape Town International

Cape Town

South Africa

Free wifi

Mohammed V International

Casablanca

Morocco

Of course. But it'll cost you

Murtala Muhammed International

Lagos

Nigeria

Free? For 20 minutes? Sure, knock yourself out

Hurghada International

Hurghada

Egypt

No wifi

Jomo Kenyatta International

Nairobi

Kenya

Sorry, it'll cost you here too

Sharm el-Sheikh International

Sharm el-Sheikh

Egypt

FREE WIFI!

Bole International

Addis Ababa

Ethiopia

SURF SURF SURF!   FREE FREE FREE

 

 
 
 
 

On Walter Benjamin, and the “Arcades Project”

Passage Verdue, Paris. Image: LPLT/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1940 a small group of refugees were turned away at the French-Spanish border. Having fled the Nazi invasion of France, they hoped to find safety in Spain. One of their number, a German-Jewish philosopher and writer, intended to have travelled onwards to America, where he would certainly be safe. So distraught was he by the refusal he met at the border that he took his own life.

The writer in question was Walter Benjamin, the prominent critical theorist who has contributed so much to our understanding of urban society, and he died with a manuscript close at hand. When asked previously if the briefcase of notes was really necessary to a man fleeing for his life he had replied, “I cannot risk losing it. It must be saved. It is more important than I am.”

The work that Benjamin died protecting was the Arcades Project. It was to be his magnus opus, intended by the author to illuminate the contradictions of modern city life. But it was never finished.

To Benjamin, the subject of the work, the arcades of Paris, were relics of a past social order, where consumerism ruled. The arcades were a precursor to the modern mall, lined with all sorts of shops, cafes and other establishments where visitors could buy into the good life. The area between these two lines of businesses was covered with glass and metal roofs, much like a conservatory: it gave visitors the high street feel in an intimate, sheltered and well-lit setting. You can still find examples of such places in modern London in the Burlington and Piccadilly arcades, both off Piccadilly.

Such arcades proved hugely popular, spreading across Europe’s capitals as the 19th century progressed. By Benjamin’s time, though, his type of shopping area was losing custom to the fancy department stores, and in Paris many of them had been obliterated in Haussmann’s city reforms of the 1850s and ‘60s. Whereas Parisians could once visit 300 arcades, now only 30 remain.

Through his research Benjamin started to see the arcades as representative of a pivotal moment in social history: the point when society became focused on consumption over production. Buying the latest fad product was just an opium, he thought, dulling senses to the true nature of the world. By bringing light to this, he hoped to wake people up from the consumerism of the 19th Century and bring forth some kind of socialist utopia.


He also warned that this shiny veneer of progress was hiding the true state of things. Instead, he revered crusty old cities like contemporary Marseilles and Moscow, where social life was more honest. In this way, Benjamin contributed to the intellectual movement focused on stripping away the excess of revivalism, standing alongside architects such as Le Corbusier. 

Through his newspaper essays throughout the first half of the 20th Century, Benjamin also became one of the first thinkers to focus on urban isolation. His suggestion that we can be most alone when among such a dense mass of other people is something many in modern cities would sympathise with. His work wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as he saw cities as our salvation, too: laboratories from where society’s problems can be worked out.

It was 2000 before an English translation of the unfinished the Arcades Project was published, but by then the work had already had a significant impact. Just as he stood on the shoulders of giants such as Baudelaire and the Surrealists, modern thinkers have drawn on his work. Benjamin's concerns about common architectural forms can be seen to inspire modern architects such as Laurie Hawkinson, Steven Holl, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

The city of Paris itself was as much a part of the Arcade Project’s inspiration for Benjamin as was his intellectual predecessors. In his letters he repeats that it felt “more like home” than Berlin, and his days were spent marvelling at how the old and the modern exist together on the Parisian streets.

How groundbreaking the Arcades Project really was is hard to say. The fact it wasn’t finished certainly scuppered Benjamin’s plans to wake society up from its consumerist slumber, but that doesn’t make the work inconsequential. His fairytale of steel and glass is as much about the relationship between its author and Paris as it is a theoretical work. By putting the city as the main subject in human’s social history he laid the groundwork for future generations of thinkers.

Benjamin was lost to the tragic tide of the 20th century history, and his death marked the end of the project which could have changed the way we think of the urban landscape. Even if you shy away from the grandiose or don’t buy into his promises of socialist utopia, reading the work can still offer some eclectic factoids about 19th century France. At any rate, it must be acknowledged that the man gave his life to the betterment of society and the cities in which we live.