Accepted paper:

Roads to the future: infrastructure and development in south-western Uganda


Richard Vokes (University of Western Australia)
Gertrude Atukunda (National Agricultural Research Organisation)

Paper short abstract:

Recently, the Government of Uganda has embarked a major road building programme, as part of its wider economic aspirations. For people living alongside these construction projects, imaginaries of utopian futures must be squared with their experiences of social, political and demographic disruptions.

Paper long abstract:

Recently, the Government of Uganda has embarked on the largest road building programme in the country's history. Among the 8000km of new highways being constructed is the world's most expensive road: the Kampala-Entebbe expressway. For the government, this public works programme is justified in terms of its wider economic aspirations for Uganda to achieve middle-income status by 2020, and to eventually become 'the Dubai of Africa'. Following a major programme of political advertising, such economic aspirationalism has become almost infectious among the population. However, as our multi-year ethnographic study of one of the country's largest highway projects - the Mbarara-Kabale Road (MKR), in South-western Uganda - shows, for people living alongside these construction projects, their experiences are more often characterised by social, political, and demographic disruptions. For these people, official aspirationalism may be also tempered by social memory. After all, it was along the very thoroughfare on which the new MKR sits that in the past: criminal gangs have mobilized; armies have marched and met in battle; and the HIV/AIDS epidemic travelled to the rest of East Africa. The main aim of this paper is to explore how people work out these contradictions. It will show that one response has been for people to form collectives to build their own 'roads'. The practices of these collectives in some ways mirror those of the national highway schemes. Yet in other respects, they organize economic, social and political relations, and engage social memory, on their own terms.

panel P42
Modernization 2.0: new directions in the anthropology of development