Accepted Paper:

Governing l'Afrique Inutile: Unevenness by Design in the Electrification of Northern Ghana, 1989-2012  


Ivan Cuesta-Fernandez

Paper short abstract:

How do states govern unequal spatial orders? This paper underlines one Political Economy driver of spatial inequality: the strategic electrification of long-neglected African peripheries. The analysis traces the co-evolution of access and provision nationwide and in northern Ghana from 1989 to 2012.

Paper long abstract:

How do contemporary states govern unequal spatial orders? This interrogation has haunted Political Geography since long. One plausible answer underlines the strategic and uneven institutional choices by African states. Regrettably, Catherine Boone's exploration of 'unevenness by design' in post-independence Africa has prompted few translations to the present. To redress this neglect, this paper explores the thriving fortunes of peripheral electrification in Africa and, especially, of the National Electrification Scheme in its deployment across Northern Ghana from 1989 through 2012. Peripheral electrification is particularly prone to strategies of purposeful unevenness. Not only is the process spatially selective and commonly delivered by state-owned centralised agencies. Also, the frail economic case inevitably attracts political calculations. The inquiry makes three findings. First, there exists some degree of correlation between uneven access across urban and rural areas and narrow electoral gains in pivotal districts of Northern Ghana. Second, electrification in the region stubbornly remains at odds with the distributional outcomes resulting from the national electric settlement. The analysis, however, also reveals a tightening room for manoeuvre for state rulers induced by policies of full-cost recovery and their implications upon distributional outcomes. Therefore, the conclusion regarding Boone's argument is mixed. Overall, her model holds, yet her black-boxing of central rulers' quintessential motivations and degrees of freedom may be problematic for contemporary African hybrid regimes. Accordingly, this paper advocates a further specification of the contentious dynamics of the national electric settlement and of its intimate connections with politico-geographical strategies toward peripheries.

Panel K01 & K02
Spatial inequalities joint panel