Accepted paper:

The Electric Scramble in practise: The resurgence of hydropower construction.


Barnaby Dye (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the how of Africa’s energy scramble, the results and practises of pushing for energy generation. Specifically, the resurgence of hydropower, the case of Rwanda and two of its dams are interrogated. They illustrate the scramble’s entanglement with modernist, centralised thinking.

Paper long abstract:

This paper aims to explore the how of Africa's electric scramble. It argues that national, centralised energy development appears to be causing dam resurgence. After growing questioning of the benefits and costs of dams, the last decade has seen the re-emergence of their construction, largely under the guise of hydropower. Rather than soaring rhetoric of total national development futures, present justifications for dams are more typically confined to the prism of electrification and energy generation. Thus, dams' comeback is owed to the scramble for energy across the continent, to its' rationales, practises and vision of a centralised energy sector. The paper uses the case study of Rwanda, and specifically the Nyabarongo and Rusumo dams. It will explore the national-level energy policies of Rwanda, demonstrating how the country's developmental and authoritarian characteristics have shaped a strident centralised infrastructure program that is notable for having achieved substantial increases in electrification and energy generation. The role of electricity infrastructure underpinning the Rwandan regime is critically drawn out. This context is then related to the planning and implementation of the specific Nyabarongo and Rusumo dams, with the extent of local participation, compensation and realised electrification drawn out. The paper uses theoretical ideas around high modernism's ideology and operationalisation to analyse the Rwandan case and its continuity to past era's of high modernism and dam building. It draws on doctoral research including over 100 semi-structured interviews with officials, and more participatory methods in the dam's locales

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