Africa's enchantment with large-scale infrastructure projects - imperial aspirations re- or undone?

Charis Enns (University of Sheffield)
Jan Bachmann (University of Gothenburg)
Economy and Development
50 George Square, G.03
Session slots:
Friday 14 June, 8:45 - 10:30
Friday 14 June, 10:45 - 12:30

Short abstract:

As a growing "re-enchantment" with infrastructure (Nugent 2018) unfolds across much of sub-Saharan Africa, this panel is interested in papers that discuss the historicity of contemporary infrastructural schemes - namely their imperial precursors and colonial overlays.

Long abstract:

New transport corridors comprised of roads, railways, ports, special economic zones and airports are being constructed at a rapid pace across sub-Saharan Africa. This new infrastructure is promised to facilitate transnational circulation and incorporate previously "disconnected" and "isolated" landscapes and peoples into the global economy. While Africa's recent "re-enchantment" with infrastructure (Nugent 2018) is gaining attention across the social sciences, this panel is particularly interested in the historicity of contemporary grand infrastructural schemes - namely their imperial precursors and colonial overlays. This panel takes as its starting point that, historically, large infrastructures were the prime conveyors by which colonial control of the continent was extended. Newly constructed railways, for example, served as the logistical backbone of imperial warfare. As infrastructure facilitated the mobility of colonial troops and settlers, it also drove the dispossession of African populations. Infrastructure was thus linked to the embedding of coloniality and the (re)production of uneven power geometries. This panel welcomes papers that offer historical readings of the various large-scale infrastructure projects unfolding across the African continent today. These papers may be guided by questions such as: In what ways do today's justifications of large-scale infrastructure projects mirror imperial representations of transforming space and livelihoods? How does the trope of the "frontier" figure in today's ascription? How do material and symbolic remnants of colonial projects continue to inform, or contest, approaches to and perceptions about large infrastructure investments today?