Panel 6 Chair, Edgar Pieterse

Infrastructure Otherwise

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

Abstract ︎︎︎

Since 1936, Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, has been shaped by more than seven proposed and revised master plans drafted by Italian, British, and Hungarian urban planners and inflected by the dominant political ideologies of their time. Today, Addis Ababa is under renovation following the personal visions of Dr. Abiy Ahmed, recent Nobel Peace Prize winner and Prime Minister of Ethiopia. While infrastructural debates in Ethiopia often center on highways (Driessen 2019), railroads (Tarrosy & Varros 2018; 2019), and dams (Mains 2019), this presentation is concerned with the historical legacies, lived present and imagined futures of “urban natures”. Culled from 18 months of fieldwork within riverside slums and construction sites, municipal offices, and archives, design studios, and social media platforms, this presentation asks: how has the rise of new political ideologies influenced the construction of urban natures and ecologies? At the heart of my discussion are “Unity Park” and “Beautifying Sheger”—Dr. Abiy’s personal initiatives to renovate the historic palace, rehabilitate rivers and stimulate river basin economies that speak as much to issues of managing urban growth and urban natures as they do the political project of state building. Moreover, these linked projects are crucibles of his guiding political philososphy medemer—literally meaning to “add up” or to “add to”. By examining the textures of erasure, restoration, rehabilitation, and renewal in the city’s landscapes, I consider how urban nature relations regenerate and are representative of ongoing negotiations between citizen and state, Ethiopia and the West on the one hand, and Ethiopia and China on the other.
Bio ︎︎︎
Cady Gonzalez is a PhD candidate of anthropology and African studies at University of Florida. As a Fulbright Hays-DDRA Fellow (2019-20), she carried out research in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, investigating public displays of hospitality; materiality and aesthetics of urban natures and hinterlands; the production of urban public goods and services; entrepreneurship and microfinance; and the social life of coffee. Her research and academic training have also been supported by Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships and research grants from University of Florida’s International Center, Department of Anthropology, Center for African Studies, and Tropical Conservation and Development Program.

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

Abstract ︎︎︎

From the perspective of Kisumu in Western Kenya, this paper explores the history of its infrastructural evolution in the context of urban development and city governance. Kisumu, one of Kenya’s mid-size secondary cities, was first founded in 1902 as part of a geopolitical project. The Lunatic Line, a railroad project which linked British and German controlled Lake Victoria to the Mombasa coast, facilitated exports and trade and placed the city at the epicenter of flows of people and goods. With the rerouting of the rail line in 1927 and the relocation of the international airport in the late 1950s, Kisumu’s regional significance shifted, becoming a provincial hub, rather than a global one. Through independence in the 1960s, structural adjustment in the 1990s, and the rise of new infrastructural investors in the 2000s, Kisumu’s infrastructure network has predominantly been developed by national and international actors, with the local municipality playing only a small role. These actors have tended to perpetuate the practice of investing in large scale regional infrastructures, developing Kisumu city ‘by default’ rather than design. The most recent large-scale investments as part of the Trans-African Highway project, reflect this continuity and orientation. The continuous and selective investment in large-scale infrastructure has hitherto left ample room for the rise of alternative modes of service delivery. ‘Boda boda’ motorcycle taxis, septic tanks, solar panels, and trash burning (among others) form part of everyday provision configurations. In relationship to one and other, this paper explores the history of colonial and post-colonial investment, the everyday technologies and practices suturing the city, and the evolving governance apparatus which is responsible for making sense of these heterogenous and multi-scalar infrastructural processes. 

Bio ︎︎︎
Dr. Liza Rose Cirolia is a Senior Researcher at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. Her work focusses on how material infrastructure arrangements are governed and financed. She is particularly interested in emergent experiments in service delivery provision which break the conventional infrastructural models and prefigure city futures. Her current research projects explore the fiscal drivers of Cape Town’s development (GCRF PEAK-Urban), decentralized sanitation technologies in Addis Ababa (GCRF- Governing Infrastructure Interfaces), local government finance in Kisumu and Nairobi (Mistra Urban Futures), and experiments in mixed infrastructure delivery in vulnerable communities in Kampala and Freetown (ESRC-Off Grid Cities).

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

Abstract ︎︎︎

Discussions around colonial infrastructure in Africa frequently revolve around large scale industrial structures and transportation systems. Perhaps less recognisable as sites of imperialism and colonial interference are areas such as parks and greenhouses, where silent conflicts and negotiations now play out between local communities, new flora, and the last vestiges of colonial architecture and botanical can be traced. The Joubert Park Greenhouse, once a marker of British ‘civilization’ in the dusty mining town of early 20th century-Johannesburg, now exists in spite of itself—sitting almost unnoticeably off the busy commuter street of King George in the old Johannesburg CBD. Broken windowpanes, scavenged planting containers, and a seemingly chaotic mix of plants in various stages of flowering and seeding bely what is in fact a complex subversion of both the imperial and apartheid intent. Botany continues to shape not only entire cityscapes and the ways in which people interact with these spaces, but steadily alters food behaviour and even cultural practices. In examining the concept of a Eurafrican present and indeed iterations of migration, plants and their associated infrastructure—hothouses or conservatories in particular—are fascinating microcosms. Using the Joubert Park Greenhouse as a primary research site, this paper will examine how European ‘ruins’ in the context of Africa in particular are frequently productive, living sites of imagination and transformation. New botanical negotiations in the old hothouse are evidence of the potential that ruins hold for repurposing and reimagining. Post-1994, projects at the Joubert Park Greenhouse challenge notions of preservation as laid out by both colonial and Apartheid governments. These projects champion the preservation of knowledge systems and strategies of climate change resilience over the preservation of both exotic and indigenous flora and fauna. Pragmatic engagements such as these present poetic and unusual opportunities for exploring relationships between Africa and Europe— both historical and current through a post-colonial lens.

Bio ︎︎︎ Tara Weber currently works as a registrar at the Johannesburg Art Gallery and has curated a number of exhibitions from this collection. She completed a BA at the University of Cape Town with majors in Art History and English Literature in 2012 and completed her Honours at the Centre for Curating the Archive (UCT) in 2013. She is currently operating as part of the collective Johannesburg Lasts, whose practice lies in creative responses to ‘the last, lasts, lasting and losts’ that make up Johannesburg. Her personal research interests are with ruins, the shifting ideologies of museums and the preservation of diversity of food culture through plants.
International Conference 12-15 Jan 2021, Time zone WAT/CET