Panel 2 Chair, Samia Henni

Infrastructure in the colonial continuum


Idalina Baptista & Joshua Kirshner
12 January 2021
17:10-17:25
“The entanglement of Mozambique’s colonial past and present
in the Maputo, Beira and Nacala corridors”



Abstract ︎︎︎
This paper examines the infrastructural histories and legacies of three contemporary transnational corridors centered on the Mozambican cities of Maputo, Beira and Nacala. Corridors have long played a key role in the production and maintenance of the infrastructural state (Mann 1984). Underpinned by physical infrastructures – e.g. railways, roads, or ports – corridors were key to the extractive European colonial enterprise in Africa. Corridors facilitated the flows of resources, goods and knowledge between metropoles, and cities in Africa as well as their hinterlands. Nowadays, corridors insert African cities and regions into global circuits of capital and commodities that perpetuate past extractive practices and policies. Corridors are also powerful imaginary spaces for advancing particular political projects and developing specific configurations of government. As such, the idea of a corridor can remain useful over time even as claims for their economic necessity and appropriateness ebb. The paper looks at how the three contemporary Mozambican corridors are, in fact, a legacy of older colonial transit ways that connected the three cities to British colonial interests in present-today South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. The paper traces, firstly, the three contemporary corridors since colonial times, emphasizing the nature and direction of investment committed to them in Salazar’s economic development plans (1953-1974). The cities of Maputo and Beira had different positions in the Portuguese colonial enterprise, but they remained central to Salazar’s imaginary of a unitary Portugal – his own brand of a ‘Eurafrican’ nation (Hansen and Jonsson 2014) – an imaginary depicted in the infamous map captioned, ‘Portugal is not a Small Country’. Secondly, the paper examines the recent and contemporary investments in the three corridors. It examines the role played by the corridors in the construction of a ‘new’ Mozambican economic order that is, nonetheless, deeply entangled in the country’s past.

Bios ︎︎︎
Joshua Kirshner is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography in the University of York’s Department of Environment and Geography. Currently, he is co-coordinating a two-year DFID-supported project, ‘A political-economic analysis of electricity grid access histories and futures in Mozambique.’ His research focuses on sustainable energy, political economy of development and urban sustainability transitions. He has carried out research on energy access, off-grid energy systems, extractive industries and urban and community-led development in Mozambique, South Africa, Brazil, Bolivia, Ghana, and USA, with support from British Academy, UKRI, NERC and Fulbright Hays. He is also interested in migration, social inclusion and planning capacities in urbanizing contexts. Idalina Baptista is an Associate Professor in Urban Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Her current research interests focus on the colonial and post-colonial geographies of urban energy infrastructure and urbanisation in African cities, using Maputo, Mozambique as a case study. Idalina’s work adopts a multi-perspective approach, drawing intellectual and methodological insights from a diversity of disciplinary fields, including urban studies/geography, anthropology, and science and technology studies. Through her research, Idalina seeks to deepen our understanding of African urbanization, the governance of urban infrastructures in Africa, and what urban livelihoods emerge as a result.


Cristiana Strava
12 January 2021
17:25-17:40
“Infrastructural citizenship: High-speed Rail and/as Belonging in Postcolonial Morocco”

Abstract ︎︎︎
Spectacular urban infrastructures are being constructed at astounding and unprecedented rates globally. Capitalizing on its comparative political stability in the region, the Moroccan regime inaugurated, after minor delays, Morocco’s (and Africa’s) first high-speed rail line (LGV) in November 2018. As part of a ‘development corridor’ linking Tangiers to Casablanca along the Atlantic coast, this 3-billion-euro project has become vested with political, ideological, and strongly affective meanings related to ideas of mobility and future prosperity. Financially and technically dependent on French credit and expertise, the LGV has not been uncontested by those who view its development as part of enduring colonial dependencies. Following Harvey and Knox, I ask which affective associations and temporal registers do such projects produce, and how can these inform and help us rethink experiences and ideas of citizenship and belonging? Based on ongoing fieldwork (2018-present) with officials and ordinary Moroccans along the new rail, the paper problematizes the assumed break between colonial, nationalist, and neoliberalizing agendas in North Africa in general, and Morocco in particular. I show how the current push for ‘mega-infrastructure’ is deeply rooted in and entangled with the technological and planning practices, as well as political ideas and institutions set in place in the beginning of the twentieth century. I specifically examine how the colonial genealogy of infrastructure development continues to structure spatial relations by overdetermining not only political and technological discourse, but also material realities and mobility practices in the present. I document the affective responses and future imaginaries that the LGV has stoked among users of the existing decaying rail network, and show how this has led to a revitalization of the language of class and debates that reimagine political belonging in postcolonial Morocco through the materiality of infrastructures.

Bio ︎︎︎
Cristiana Strava currently works as University Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in the School of Middle Eastern Studies at Leiden University. Broadly speaking, she is a social anthropologist (Harvard ‘09, SOAS ‘16) interested in how hegemonic discourses and power circulate and are actualized – but also contested – through everyday spaces and practices. Her doctoral research was concerned with the production of socio-spatial marginality in Morocco since colonial times. This work was generously funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, The Foundation for Urban and Regional Research, and a UK ESRC doctoral grant. Publications drawn from this research include “At Home on the Margins” in City and Society (2017), and “A Tramway Called Atonement” in Middle East Topics and Arguments (2018).


Dalia Wahdan & Holger Gladys
12 January 2021
17:40-17:55
“Limits of Imitation: Post-colonial Hangover in Everyday Lives of African Cities”


Abstract ︎︎︎
In a letter to President Nasser from 1963, architect Hassan Fathy raises the issue of self-colonization as a critical continuation of former colonial power structures. He lucidly captures the hegemony of western-imported ideals of architectural and building technologies as it manifests in state decisions over housing in rural Egypt. For Fathy “colonialism lives on, having transformed itself from an overt, undisguised process to a stealthy, self-colonization,” quoting the French-Tunisian sociologist Gaston Bouthoul. “Today, a new fact has changed things completely: the spirit of self-colonization has become widespread and has extended to the mass of the population.” While few would doubt the devastating impact of violent colonial pasts or their present-day indignant dependencies, self-colonization remains evasive and subtle in how it shapes individual subjectivities and spaces of everyday life in African cities. This paper traces patterns and routines of self-colonization within the administrative, engineering and design practices around Cairo and Accra, through the lens of urban interventions and new town developments that exhibit a persistent willingness to transform/modernize the rapidly growing metropoles along western principles and models of democracy, economy and culture. The research underscores manifestations of parallel imaginaries of belonging and dwelling that seek to resist self-coloniality. The paper argues that unlike the post-independence period when processes of self-colonization were carried out by national leaders seeking to impose imitations of the west and combat inertia or fanaticism; today with the neoliberal bent, self-colonization is spreading to subjects, “who are now eager to reject their old way of life and change the color of their skins.” Yet, the dialectic of colonization and its sinister twin self-colonization is not final; it generates insurgent modes of existence and spaces through processes that give nuanced meanings to a “Eurafrica” that might not be dead yet. 

Bios ︎︎︎
Dr. Dalia Wahdan is an anthropologist and associate professor of urban studies at the Architecture and Urban Design Program of the Nile University in Cairo. She previously taught at the American University in Cairo and FLAME University in Pune. Dalia Wahdan works on urbanism in India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia focusing on new town planning, vulnerability in unplanned settlements, urban subjectivities, insurgent citizenship and spatial inequities. Holger Gladys is an architect and associate professor of urban design at the German University in Cairo. Besides having been a practicing architect in the Netherlands, he previously taught at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture and parallel at the Weimar Bauhaus University. His actual teaching activities evolve around design instruction and applied research on the metropolitan conditions of the Greater Cairo Region, most recently also Mumbai and Accra.
International Conference 12-15 Jan 2021, Time zone WAT/CET