Panel 33

Serendipitous infrastructures: Intended and unintended outcomes

Panel organisers: Eric Trovalla, Ulrika Trovalla, The Nordic Africa Institute, María José Zapata and Patrik Zapata, University of Gothenburg

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Infrastructures in Africa follow many different dynamics, from rapid development of state-of-the-art communication infrastructures to deteriorating electricity grids, and grasping this multitude of trajectories poses many challenges for researchers, policy makers and practitioners alike. One particularly common fallacy is to be so preoccupied by what infrastructures are supposed to do, that one becomes blind to everything except aberrations and dysfunctions. This panel, however, aspires to move the gaze to what infrastructures actually do, which is significantly more dynamic, unpredictable, and socially productive.

The designs and intentions behind infrastructural expansion, as well as the anticipated consequences of neglect, are often superseded by unintentional, unexpected, or serendipitous outcomes. It is often said that infrastructures tie different social contexts together, but it is also clear that rifts and alienation ensue when some roads are tarred while others aren’t, or when access to water is being facilitated for some but not for others. Motorway flyovers are intended to ease congested traffic, but often serve other purposes as well. In some cases, market places have developed under the bridges with a staggering turnover and a value that can match or exceed that of their intended use.

When infrastructures leak – for instance, when crude oil, water or electricity is being stolen or diverted – they tend to open up parallel networks, which in turn produce new social configurations. Waste management is another prime example: it produces material order by separating pure from impure, or by transforming the useless into commodities that can re-enter the capitalist circulation of value, but at the same time a number of ‘unwanted’ economic logics are plugged in as informal entrepreneurs or organized crime enters the scene.

This panel welcomes contributions on all fields of infrastructure (material as well as immaterial) and particularly, analogue to the theme, it encourages experimental thinking.

Approved abstracts Panel 33

1. Violent conflicts, water shortage and livelihood question on the Jos Plateau (Nigeria)

Author: Victor A.O. Adetula (Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden)

Whereas there is an abundant study on violent conflicts in Nigeria generally, adequate scholarly attention has not been paid to the link between violent conflicts and infrastructures and facilities for service delivery and the overall implications for livelihood and wellbeing especially in the conflict zones. The Jos Plateau area in central Nigeria has recorded several violent conflicts especially since the return of the country to electoral democracy. Disappointedly questions on the effects of violent conflicts on water supply and related service delivery have not received attentions among scholars as well as policy makers. There has been violent clashes that were associated with struggle over political appointment, economic opportunities, and election outcomes in the past in Plateau state. However, today cases of ethno-religious conflicts and conflicts over land and other natural resources including the conflicts between Fulani herdsmen and native farmers over grazing land and water resources have become quite common. Also, the conflict situation in Plateau has been made worst by the widespread displacement of people as a result of the on-going insurgency in the north East and the resultant growing humanitarian crisis. Internally displaced people from the conflict zones in the north East are pouring in on droves to seek refuge among host communities in Plateau State, and which in turn is causing further serious strains on already scarce resources, and also more pressure on water infrastructure and facilities. This paper examines in details the link between conflict and water infrastructure and service delivery on the Jos Plateau. The consequence of neglecting the knowledge of the link between conflict and water supply is that policies and programmes are formulated that can hardly support peace and sustainable development. Given the strong link between conflict and service delivery within sustainable peace process, programme of effective and efficient service delivery should be mainstreamed into peace-building programming and implementation

2. The promise of infrastructure: preparing for the railway in a Nigerian town

Author: Gabriella Körling (Stockholm University, Sweden)

Infrastructures such as roads and railways often come to signify modernity and economic development. In 2014 the construction of Niger’s first railway was announced. The railway was billed as a ‘lifeline and corridor of hope’ was presented as a longstanding dream that had finally come true and as a key investment for the country’s future economic development. In this paper I focus on anticipations of the arrival of the railway and related infrastructure in Dosso, a town located alongside the future railway tracks. In Dosso imaginaries surrounding the railway centered less on mobility and circulation, usually associated with transport infrastructure, and more on turning Dosso, a slumbering regional capital, into a ‘destination’. Despite being situated in the Cotonou-Niamey transport corridor which channels important quantities of imports and exports, and at the crossroads of two important national highways, commercial activities in Dosso had never really taken off and the town had remained economically marginalized. In this context, the construction of the railway together with a dry port were seen as a means of tapping into formerly elusive flows of goods and economic capital. Flows that would now, or so it was imagined, stop in Dosso. The case of Dosso illustrates the importance of paying attention to the ways in which national infrastructure projects and related promises of economic development are filtered through local perceptions, experiences and histories that together shape the kinds of desires and hopes that people invest in infrastructure. In Dosso these future oriented imaginaries of economic prosperity were also accompanied by important investments, altering land ownership and changing the urban landscape. Infrastructure, even when as in the case of the railway it is still under construction, produces important political and economic effects as imaginaries of future prosperity are entangled with individual and collective investments.

3. Infrastructural dreams and materialities in the periphery of Maputo

Author: Ilda Lindell (Stockholm University, Sweden)

Rising “world-class city” ambitions in Africa are materializing through selective investments in large-scale infrastructures that are often represented as symbols of urban progress and modernity. These developments increasingly involve sanitizing the city from other types of infrastructure – those created by the urban majorities –, constructed as signs of urban decay. The paper addresses the effects of large infrastructural investments in the periphery of Maputo, Mozambique, which included the construction of a football stadium (by Chinese capital) and an ‘Olympic Village’. Close to their completion, vendors were evicted from a selfbuilt market by the stadium. Following contestations, the vendors were allowed to re-build their market in a disadvantageous location in the area, with the promise of infrastructural improvements by the authorities which did not materialize. Fenced in and with falling incomes, the vendors resisted relocation and confinement in various ways.

Drawing on recent theorizations that foreground the social and political centrality of infrastructures, the paper examines the socio-political effects of the above infrastructural transformations: the import of the large infrastructures for (re)producing state power, the various technologies of rule deployed to make invisible and discipline the vendors (enclosure, co-option etc.); but also, importantly, the subversive practices of the vendors and the negotiations and claims they enacted. However, the vendors’ subjective experiences of such disjunctive infrastructural changes were more complex than expected. Vendors embraced rather than contested those exclusionary visions of progress that were undermining their own existence. Seduced by the symbolic appeal of the megaconstructions, their politics centred on the deficient material infrastructures in and around their new market. Their fractured subjectivities were shaped by both hope, desire and abjection, despite their increasingly uncertain condition.

4. Urban space and climate citizenship in Lagos and Kinshasa: Sustainability, inequality and the new contours of exclusion in urban Africa

Author: Stephen Marr (Malmö University; Sweden)

The proposed paper seeks to examine dynamics of inequality, sustainability and urban governance via large-scale urban engineering projects underway in Lagos and Kinshasa. The Eko Atlantic development in Lagos, along with Kinshasa’s La Cité du Fleuve, are both intended to resolve problems wrought by failing infrastructure and poor planning, while also serving as an investment against future ravages caused by a changing climate. The pursuit of these goals, in Lagos, Kinshasa and elsewhere however, often comes at the cost of increasing exclusion and inequality within the space of the city. Of particular importance in the coming years then, is the question of to what extent urban inequality and sustainability will come into conflict as cities are divided into neighborhoods occupied by climate haves and have-nots. Understanding the interaction between unequal urbanization in Africa and the changing scope of sustainability politics in an era of climate change is an urgent task for scholars and policymakers. The paper relies on both comparative urban studies literature, along with planning and promotional material related to these projects in order to trace the emerging contours of climate exclusion in contemporary urban Africa.

5. Municipal solid waste infrastructure and policy in Lagos megacity: Embracing green neoliberalism for social sustainability and inclusion

Authors: Thaddeus Chidi Nzeadibe (University of Nigeria, Nigeria)
Peter Oluchukwu Mbah (University of Nigeria, Nigeria)

The Lagos megacity is the cultural capital of Nigeria and the economic hub of the West African sub-region. With an estimated population of 21 million, the megacity is a large market and a major gateway into the sub-region. Consequently, the growth of human population coupled with increased economic activities in Lagos has resulted in high rate of solid waste generation. Hence, municipal solid waste management (MSWM) remains one of the most daunting environmental challenges facing the megacity. The MSWM challenges have also remained intractable over the years. Institutional and policy reforms for MSWM have not been at pace with the dynamic nature of solid waste production while current approaches to MSWM have tended to emphasize infusion of massive investment in infrastructure as panacea to the MSWM conundrum. Unfortunately, these approaches have failed to capture the underlying political economic concerns of policy making and implementation in MSWM. Applying the political economy framework of ‘green neoliberalism’ and using data obtained from interviews with stakeholders in MSWM in Lagos, field observations as well as secondary sources, the paper reviews the state of MSWM infrastructure and policy in the Lagos megacity. It observes that while issues of globalization of wastes and recyclable materials have often been left out of analyses of MSWM, the drivers of MSWM in the megacity appear to have neoliberal underpinnings beyond the megacity scale. While noting the sub-regional material linkages of the informal economy in Lagos, the paper argues that a political economy approach integrating the informal economy in the framing of MSWM and infrastructure policy is a necessary condition for evolving green, socially sustainable and inclusive solution to the solid waste problem in the megacity.

6. Infrastructural ‘Backup Cultures’: Everyday predictions and the future of African Cities

Authors: Eric Trovalla, (the Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden)
Ulrika Trovalla (the Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden)

At the same time that the rapid development of information and communications networks increasingly shapes African urban realities, other large scale infrastructures are crumbling under the weight of population growth and neglect in maintenance and investments. In the gap between increasing demand and irregular output, an alternative infrastructure is growing under the radar of most infrastructural studies. This paper examines what we term ‘backup cultures’: the daily efforts of individuals to get access to services in cities where infrastructures decay, and the extensive amounts of equipment, practical knowledge, conventions, beliefs, expectations, and world views that attach to them. These material and immaterial assemblies are intrinsically shaped by people’s everyday predictions. As infrastructure is brought to the forefront of everyday life as a conundrum to figure out, people struggle to predict the erratic flows of infrastructure, as well as what appliances or practices will be best suited to address immediate and future needs. This entails actively engaging with, and investing in, particular ways of envisioning the future: what one wishes, fears, or expects the city to become. With Pragmatism as its theoretical framework, and through close ethnography from the Nigerian city of Jos where backup cultures have been growing since the 1980’s, this paper illuminates how these predictions have come to form a backbone of city life. Devised and upheld from grass root activities, backup cultures install new practices, material structures and expectations, which in turn generate alternative logics of development that shape the African cities in novel ways.

7. Digging deeper than before. Socio-technical change in an artisanal gold mine in Guinea

Authors: Cristiano Lanzano (Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden) and Luigi Arnaldi di Balme

Following the increase in global prices during the last two decades, gold mining has become a key sector for many West African economies, accelerating their internationalization (through growing investments from foreign large-scale companies) and transforming the livelihoods of millions of people (particularly artisanal miners working in small-scale extraction areas). In this presentation, we draw from our ongoing ethnographic work in artisanal mining areas in West Africa to describe how migrant miners from neighboring countries and technological innovations have contributed to the rapid transformation of work conditions and institutional settings of sanibara (“gold-related work” in Malinke language) around the village of Tonso (Upper Guinea, prefecture of Siguiri). The changes in the infrastructural landscape, with new digging techniques that allow the miners to reach the reef deposits and machines required for treating the ore extracted in depth, is reshaping the logic of gold production and posing a challenge to the control traditionally exerted by local institutions.

8. Where the skip used to be. Informal settlements, the city, and waste management in Kisumu, Kenya

Authors: Michael Oloko (Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology, Kenya), Jutta Gutberlet (University of Victoria, Canada), Jaan-Henrik Kain, (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden) (Corresponding) Patrik Zapata, University of Gothenburg, Sweden) (Corresponding) María José Zapata Campos (University of Gothenburg  Sweden)

The challenges posed by inadequacies, absences and weaknesses within waste management systems as they are often present in informal settlements in cities in the global South generate conflict and mobilize resistance among the local population. Municipal skips, employed as waste transfer points, are frequently the weak links in waste management systems. Without regular evacuation of the accumulating solid waste these transfer points develop into highly hazardous and unhealthy spaces, seriously affecting the quality of live in these communities. These spaces ‘where the skips used to be’ turn into spaces of waste concentration and informal resource separation. Dedicated waste transfer points represent the interfaces between the informal settlements and the formal city; between the informal practices of householders and waste pickers and the formal waste collection services. Diverse practices of bottom up organizations have tried to address some of the waste issues in informal settlements. Individual local entrepreneurs, waste pickers and organized groups of waste collectors or recyclers engage in the collection of household waste for disposal or material recycling. These workers play an active role in improving residents’ health, generating income, and reducing the city’s environmental footprint. This paper applies a situated urban political ecology (UPE) framework to examine the gaps and conflicts in waste management in informal settlements, allowing us to understand the three dimensions of power involved in decision-making and resistance framing. The paper tells an everyday story of transfer points in Kisumu’s informal settlements. Here the waste management system is fragmented to the point that less than 7% of the total household waste is collected. Through an ethnographic and chronological lens we learn about the related conflicts and resolutions connected to one particular transfer point ‘where the skip used to be’. The paper concludes with uncovering and interpreting the power of the (often missing) interfaces between the informal settlements and highlights some of the nascent initiatives rooted in these informal spaces and enacted through community-based groups and local socio-environmental entrepreneurs to bridge the infrastructure and the service deficiencies.

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