The Coloniality
of Infrastructure

Eurafrican Legacies


Image provided by Andrea Greiner
© Koloniales Bildarchiv, Frankfurt/Main

When Eurafrica emerged in the 1920s as an intellectual and political project to connect Europe with Africa, its goal was to ensure European colonial dominance in a changing world. Key to the proposed continental merger was infrastructure—not surprising at a time when railways, ports, camps, and other large-scale building projects were facilitating the extraction and movement of things for Europe while curtailing the freedom and mobility of Africans on an unprecedented scale. Recent scholarship has emphasized the centrality of Eurafrica and the type of colonialism it mustered in the history of European integration, from the EU’s founding intellectuals to its Cold-War-era realization. But continental infrastructure also played a role in African struggles for independence. Highways, ports, and dams became tools of state-building and even mobilized hopes of Panafrican integration and international solidarity. In practice, however, large-scale infrastructure required technical and financial aid which further entrenched Africa’s asymmetrical relationship to the Global North.

Today, as Africa enters a new age of development increasingly dominated by China, and the EU is in crisis, is it still possible to speak of a Eurafrican present? From the physical imprint of cities and the configuration of intercontinental airline routes, infrastructure testifies to the enduring legacies of Eurafrica. Infrastructure shapes territories and governs the mobilities within and across them, but also serves to immobilize and externalize bodies and things. The European infrastructure of the Mediterranean border regime, in which African migrants are systematically being detained or left to die, recalls colonial-era policies that valued life and dictated death along racial lines. At the same time, European aid focused on infrastructural development in Africa is increasingly targeted to counter such unwanted migration—without touching the global extraction economies that have roots in European colonial rule and continue to shape African cities and territories today. Because of these specters of Eurafrica, the EU seems structurally incapable to come to terms with its colonial past.  This conference proposes to explore historical continuities in Africa’s relationship with Europe through the lens of infrastructure. What are the infrastructural histories that bind the unequal destinies of people together across continents, and how do these legacies shape contemporary lifeworlds and international relations? How does infrastructural violence shape international relations between Africa and Europe, and how is the legacy of Eurafrica manifested in the spaces of everyday life? To answer these questions, the conference invites scholars from urban studies, history, political science, postcolonial theory, architecture, border and migration studies, and allied fields. We invite contributions that develop new perspectives of our geopolitical and interconnected urban present through its infrastructural pasts. Such studies of material and aesthetics relationships between Africa and Europe can focus on questions of lifeworlds, urban transformation, migration, territory, citizenship, development, or related themes. We are particularly interested in studies that can reveal the differential entanglements between people and places, and locate alternative forms of infrastructure, imaginaries of belonging, ongoing struggles for decolonization, and practices of world-making that decenter colonial ways of seeing, feeling, and knowing.

Image provided by Jess Pearson

Conference Program

12 January 2021 Panel 1, 2
13 January 2021 Panel 3, 4
14 January 2021 Panel 5, 6
15 January 2021 Panel 7, 8


Keynote Speakers

Sarah Nuttall

The Infrastructural Turn: Some Conceptual Considerations
from Southern Africa
13 January 2021
18:55 - 19:40
Sarah Nuttall is Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies and Director of WiSER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research) in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the author of Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Postapartheid, editor of Beautiful/Ugly: African and Diaspora Aesthetics, and co-editor of many books including Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa; Senses of Culture; Johannesburg: The Elusive Metropolis and Loadshedding: Writing On and Over the Edge of South Africa. Her most recent published and forthcoming work is on the redistributed university, on urban infrastructures and African city forms and on pluvial time, rethinking the literary ecologies of rain and flooding in an era of catastrophic climate change. She has given more than thirty keynote addresses around the world, and published more than sixty journal articles and book chapters. Her work is widely cited across many disciplines. In 2016 she was an Oppenheimer Fellow at the DuBois Institute at Harvard University and in 2020 she gave the Nelson Mandela Chair in Human Rights Lecture on ‘The Earth as a Prison?’ at UNAM in Mexico City. For eight years she has directed WiSER, the largest and most established Humanities Institute across the Global South.

Image provided by Killian Doherty 
NIMBA Building a railroad from scratch in Liberia
© Herron Rail Video

Siba N'Zatioula Grovogui

Infrastructural Pretense: Supplying Power and Authority
through the Chad Pipeline Project
14 January 2021
18:55 - 19:40

Grovogui is a professor of international relations theory and law. His focus remains on African reflections on the purpose of ethical life and moral existence associated with the African past and present, most certainly modernity and its political, moral, and material economies. He is confined to themes in international and global politics that either highlight dimensions applicable to Africa (including their modes of differentiation, hierarchies, and the racial and regional axes along which they can be erected); or African contributions and elucidation on the central themes of global politics: international community, sovereign rights, global justice, and moral subjectivity.

Image provided by Megan Brown

Achille Mbembe

Notes on Techno-Molecular Colonialism
15 January 2021
18:45 - 19:30

Achille Mbembe (b. 1957) is a philosopher, political scientist, and public intellectual. He obtained his doctoral degree at the Université Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne) in 1989 and subsequently obtained the D.E.A. in Political Science at the Institut d’études politiques, Paris. During his time in France, Jean-Marc Ela, Jean Leca and Jean-François Bayart had a profound influence on him. Mbembe is a Research Professor of History and Politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research in Johannesburg, South Africa and a Visiting Professor in the Department of Romance Studies at the Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke University. He has also held appointments at Columbia University, Berkeley, Yale University, and the University of California.  In the spring of 2016, he will be a visiting professor at Harvard University.
Achille Mbembe’s research interests lie in the social sciences and African history and politics. More precisely, Mbembe investigates the “postcolony” that comes after decolonization. He is especially interested in the emergence of “Afro-cosmopolitan culture,” together with the artistic practices that are associated with it.

Image provided by Giulia Scotto
Tema’s Oil Refinery Inauguration, Ghana, 1963
© ENI Historical Archive

Panel 1 Chair, Peo Hansen

Eurafrica as infrastructural project

15:00 - 15:15
Welcome and Introduction by

Kenny Cupers

Megan Brown
12 January 2021
“Tourism and the Infrastructure of Empire: 1959, 1969”

Giovanni Costenaro
12 January 2021
“The Geo-strategy of Eurafrica. France, the ECSC and
the ‘mise en valeur’ of French African iron ores: extractive infrastructures
in Gabon and their legacies”

Killian Doherty
12 January 2021
“Liberias’ open-door; enframing the geographical imaginaries of extraction”

︎Speakers Abstracts and Bios Panel 1

Panel 2 Chair, Samia Henni

Infrastructure in the colonial continuum

Idalina Baptista & Joshua Kirshner
12 January 2021
“The entanglement of Mozambique’s colonial past and present
in the Maputo, Beira and Nacala corridors”

Cristiana Strava
12 January 2021
“Infrastructural citizenship: High-speed Rail and/as Belonging in Postcolonial Morocco”

Dalia Wahdan & Holger Gladys
12 January 2021
“Limits of Imitation: Post-colonial Hangover in Everyday Lives of African Cities”

︎Speakers Abstracts and Bios Panel 2

Panel 3 Chair, Anne-Isabelle Richard

Infrastructure between decolonization and dependency

Jessica Pearson
13 January 2021

“Eurafrica in the Sky? Air Afrique between Pan-African Solidarity and Franco-African Dependency”

Petros Phokaides
13 January 2021

Giulia Scotto
13 January 2021
“Postcolonial Logistics: ENI’s Disegno Africano”

︎Speakers Abstracts and Bios Panel 3

Panel 4 Chair, Charles Heller

Infrastructure of Race and


Omar Jabary Salamanca
13 January 2021
“But I also know a silence: Ruminations on film, labor and infrastructure”

Zandi Sherman
13 January 2021
“Racial Infrastructure: The Circulation of the Closed Compound”

Adesoji Adedipe
13 January 2021
“Backyard Housing and Segregation: A colonial legacy in Africa? Nigeria and South Africa in comparative perspective”

︎Speakers Abstracts and Bios Panel 4

Panel 5 Chair, Bilgin Ayata

Black Migration and Infrastructural Violence

Ingy Higazy
14 January 2021

“From EurAfrica to EuroMed: Infrastructures of Violence and Containment in the Mediterranean Sea”

Huda Tayob
14 January 2021
“Black Infrastructures and Planned Violence”

Irene Peano14 January 2021
“Spectres of Eurafrica in an Italian agroindustrial enclave: (Post)colonial infrastructures of labour and migration containment”

︎Speakers Abstracts and Bios Panel 5

Panel 6 Chair, Edgar Pieterse

Infrastructure Otherwise

Cady Gonzalez
14 January 2021
“Urban Natures: River Rehabilitation and State-building in Addis Ababa Ethiopia”

Liza Cirolia14 January 2021
“Development by default’: the historical trajectory of heterogenous and multi-scalar infrastructure configurations in Kisumu Kenya”

Tara Weber
14 January 2021
“Beyond Botany: Reimagining the Colonial Hothouse
for New Notions of Cultivation and Preservation”

︎Speakers Abstracts and Bios Panel 6

Panel 7 Chair, Muriam Haleh Davis

Infrastructure as Medium of Contestation

Andreas Greiner
15 January 2021
“Infrastructure between colonial schemes and local realities: African agency and the limitations of road building in colonial East Africa c. 1900”

Megan Eardley
15 January 2021

“After Eurafrica: Fanakalo & the Politics of Creolization in South Africa’s Extractive Industry since the 1950s”

Sophie Toupin
15 January 2021
“Eurafrican Communication Infrastructure”

︎Speakers Abstracts and Bios Panel 7

Panel 8 Chair, Lorena Rizzo

Remaking Infrastructural Inheritance

Miriam Maranga-Musonye & Alina Oswald
15 January 2021

“A Literary-Historical Perspective of Colonial Roads: Reading Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o”

Senayon Olaoluwo
15 January 2021
“Infrastructural Entanglement: Exile and Postcolonial Critique of Empire in Mapanje’s Of Chameleons and Gods”

Chalden Sabab & Raffaele Perniola 15 January 2021
“Locomotives and workers. New perspectives on the musealization of railway memory in Namibia”

︎Speakers Abstracts and Bios Panel 8

Scientific Committee

Bilgin Ayata University of Graz, Austria
Kenny Cupers University of Basel, Switzerland
Peo Hansen Linköping University, Sweden
Charles Heller Forensic Oceanography, Geneva, Switzerland
Samia Henni Cornell University, New York, USA
Edgar Pieterse University of Cape Town, South Africa
Anne-Isabelle Richard University of Leiden, Netherlands
Lorena Rizzo University of Basel, Centre for African Studies, Switzerland
Julia Tischler University of Basel, Centre for African Studies, Switzerland

© Raffaele Perniola
International Conference 12-15 Jan 2021, Time zone WAT/CET