Accepted paper:

The state by proxy? Private enterprises and infrastructures in West-Central Africa


Alba Valenciano-Mañé (Leipzig University)

Paper short abstract:

Build upon ethnography in Equatorial Guinea this paper proposes the notion of 'the State by proxy' to address particular forms of private governance in West-Central Africa.

Paper long abstract:

The paper will ethnographically interrogate issues of governance and governmentality in contexts where the State establishes its presence through private or semi-private enterprises. It will look at how infrastructures become the evidence of state presence and how they catalyse sentiments, visions, and experiences that draw upon the islanders' histories. The examined case is that of Corisco island, in the border between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon where during the period comprised between 2008 and 2012 a Guineo-Moroccan owned construction company disembarked to build an international airport and a tourist resort. The fewer than 300 inhabitants were joined by 300 Moroccan male workers. The construction company provided fully catered service to their workers but also to the inhabitants of the island acting as a proxy of the State: providing electricity, transport between the island and the mainland, and a doctor for emergencies. The ethnography focusws on how the islanders make sense of this situation in which they remained marginal. It also accounts for the practices they engineered in order to take advantage of the resources of the company. While for the governmental elite the presence of the company in the island constitutes a claim of sovereignty around disputed international waters, for the inhabitants of the island it generates a series of anxieties and expectations. Who authorises the private company to become the proxy of the Guinean State? I argue that an ethnography of the practices and narratives of ordinary Coriscans tell us about the co-creation of governmentalities in contexts of corporate sovereignty.

panel Anth24
Corporate sovereignty: connections and disruptions of corporate power in Africa