Algorithmic Suturing: Platforms, Motorcycles and the ‘Last Mile’ in Urban Africa

Abstract

The ‘last mile’ is not only a powerful metaphor of contemporary life, but also thetangible site of a challenge, whether for governments wanting to reach their citizens orcompanies wanting to reach their customers. In urban Africa this challenge is compoundedby the fragmented material condition of cities. As a result, a growing number of techcompanies have been compelled by the possibility of creating digital platforms thataddress the unique logistical configurations of African cities, often enrolling informalsystems such as motorcycle taxis to address spatial and economic fragmentation. Throughthe perspective of three Nairobi-based startups that incorporate motorcycle taxis intotheir last-mile platforms, this article illustrates how processes of ‘algorithmic suturing’knit together the loose ends of splintered urban networks thanks to platform businessmodels that visualize the last mile as a site of optimization. In parallel with commonunderstandings of suturing within African infrastructure debates which foregroundmakeshift practices of the urban poor, this article argues that algorithmic suturing is aspeculative endeavour through which urban fractures are made legible as sites of value.By stitching together city fragments, these platforms envision large data-driven urbaneconomies which interface with informal mobility networks and the shifting urbandemographic of the lower-middle class

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