P043
'Electric scrambles', past and present: renovating the politics of the kilowatts and the megawatts across African polities

Convenors:
Ivan Cuesta-Fernandez
Format:
Panels
Location:
KH112
Start time:
29 June, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:
1

Short abstract:

This panel invites explorations of how past and present 'electric scrambles' renovate(d) political relations across African geographies; how the spatial grasp of bureaucracies is strengthened, claims to modernization renewed, and state-society relations conveniently re-articulated

Long abstract:

As GDPs keep growing, smart meters, transmission lines and pay-as-you-go solar panels make their presence increasingly felt across African rural and urban areas. State agencies, private utilities and bottom-of-the-pyramid entrepreneurs launch schemes through which grids colonize hitherto unelectrified space; citizens and authorities are drawn into fresh 'politics of the kilowatts'; and political settlements re-arranged according to emerging 'politics of the megawatts'. As a result, the spatial grasp of bureaucracies is strengthened and claims to modernization renewed. This panel espouses the notion of an 'electric scramble' to make sense of new political geographies brought about by substantive electrification drives. Yet the term also conjures up past cycles of heightened infrastructural activity, notably immediately before and after independence. Upcoming universal electrification is recurrently invoked by both past and present regimes, regardless of their orientation. Thereby, the self-asserting public bureaucracies of the sixties and seventies pledged to deliver modernity by carving out the largest man-made lake in the Volta, 'taming' the powerful Great Ruaha River, or attempting to outflank revolting Shaba with the assistance of a 1,700 km-long high voltage line. This panel invites explorations of how past and present electric scrambles re-arrange(d) political relations across African geographies. It also welcomes longitudinal comparisons between electric scrambles throughout 20th century African history. To that end, the panel celebrates contributions about, amongst others, how electric scrambles underpin state infrastructural power, high modernism, and fresh centre-periphery relations; how discursive formations entice (un)served populations and motivate bureaucracies; or how electric scrambles build energy transitions.