Communal transport in Bamako, Mali: entangled histories of formal and informal infrastructure
Robert Heinze (University of Berne)
Paper short abstract:
The paper traces the entangled histories of public and informal passenger transport in Bamako. It looks at the different actors involved in communal transport and argues for an analysis that takes into account the interconnectedness between formal and informal infrastructures to assess the importance of both.
Paper long abstract:
There are few symbols of urban modernity stronger than public transportation; what is rarely discussed, however, is that its failures and gaps have been just as common in modern cities all over the world. So-called "informal" transport has been a regular phenomenon of urban economic crises at least since the first "pirate buses" appeared on London streets during the British General Strike of 1926. In Third World countries, it has become a fixture of urban environments in perpetual crisis. Looking at communal transport in Bamako (Mali) from a historical perspective, the paper examines the systems of mobility that developed in this city, coinciding with increased urbanisation since the 1940s. Bamako is an interesting case study in that passenger transport in the city has been marked by curious combinations of informal and public systems. Also, it shows that informal transport systems, far from being unstructured and unregulated, are influenced by many social and political agents. The paper traces the historical development of communal transport in Bamako and the efforts of city administrations and city planners in both colonial and post-colonial times to regulate and improve passenger transport while dealing with exponential urban growth. It argues that informal transport is not a distinctive, autonomous phenomenon, but has established itself alongside public transport systems unable to service demand and is connected and interacts with these in specific was. It takes into account the efforts of city planners to regulate informal transport and the myriad of agents invested in it.
The winding roads: infrastructures and technologies of (im)mobility