Accepted paper:

Enforcing the "Smooth Flow" - Challenges of New Mobility Infrastructures at Kenyan Borders


Katrin Sowa (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

Kenya's border posts are major passage points along regional trade routes. This paper focuses on border communities and customs officers making a living from the crossing trucks. The actors are affected by the implementation of new infrastructures, but at times actively disrupt cargo mobility.

Paper long abstract:

Kenya is a transit zone for trade in East Africa. Several infrastructure projects (e.g. LAPSET corridor, One Stop Border Posts) target a "smooth flow of goods" across the region, meaning faster and more efficient mobility of cargo through international borders on the one hand, and more state control on the other. This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork at Kenyan border posts. It focuses on border communities and customs officers making a living from crossing trucks, and asks what effects new infrastructures have on the ground. Many actors are affected, and the new developments do not favour everyone. Truck drivers deliver faster but face new risks because they receive less and often insufficient fuel by their companies. Individual customs officers used to generate "pocket money" during formerly slow manual processes, and now complain about increased state control. Many border communities economically rely on transit roads. But since truck drivers stopped parking in border towns for longer periods, local businesses suffer. Long-time border town residents are cut off from new border structures where mostly non-locals are employed. Mostly, the supply chain continues unaffected by local circumstances. But at times, mobility is disrupted. Custom officers might claim system outages and purposely delay trucks. Moreover, the effect on local businesses has led to protests and roadblocks across the country. In the case of Moyale on the Kenya-Ethiopia border, the new border post remains deserted while trade routes are redirected through alternative passages where goods are taxed by local militia.

pdf download Download the full paper
panel Anth21
Making a living on & off the road - trucking and the politics of movement and stoppage in Africa