Accepted paper:

Techno-politics of infrastructural connection


Jon Phillips (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

State-centric analysis of infrastructure investment neglects how dependence is created through networks of relations between firms and between firms and the state. Poor project outcomes and limited structural change in the Ghanaian energy sector are explained as a product of these relations

Paper long abstract:

What do infrastructure projects do, politically and economically? For some Ghanaian policy makers, Chinese-financed energy infrastructure offered a political and economic alternative to the World Bank and the prospect of capturing greater value from hydrocarbon production within the domestic economy. In this paper, I account for unmet expectations of the infrastructural promise in Ghana, offering a spatial and material analysis of Chinese and US investments in natural gas and electricity infrastructure, 2007-2015. First, the combined effect of domestic factional struggles and the conditions of development finance have produced poor outcomes within the project boundary: inflated costs, poor quality of construction, minimal local participation and technological capability building, and restricted local value capture. Second, financing energy infrastructure that reshapes unequal global exchange in primary resources involves striking new bargains with fractions of capital and foreign states/multilateral agencies. Infrastructural connection has incorporated the Ghanaian energy sector into transnational relationships that have intensified pressure from investors and donors to restructure the energy industry. A series of techno-political interventions from Chinese, US and multilateral partners have targeted the securitization of contracts necessary to forge a new domestic production network for natural gas. These technical and financial processes are imbued with power, shaping the distribution of resources, risk and value of infrastructural development. In concluding, I argue that dominant state-centric frameworks for understanding infrastructural investment in Africa fail to capture how states are important in creating and maintaining relations of dependency and dominance produced through networks of inter-firm relations.

panel Econ28
Building and connecting Africa: Infrastructure construction and economic development in the XXIst century