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”
Abstract ︎︎︎

In recent years research on road infrastructure and mobilities in Kenya has received increased attention y scholars (Mutongi 2017, Melnick 2016, Wa-Mungai 2013), yet colonial road infrastructure still remains under-researched. The few studies that examine the Eurafrican road network start only from the 1960s onwards. Scholarly attempts to examine the history of colonial road infrastructure in the 1940s and 1950s have struggled to represent local experiences with road-building, (im)mobilities, and the subsequent role of roads in post-independence Kenya. While documents of the colonial administration and settlers’ accounts can be read “against the grain”, the general absence of African voices in archives remains a challenge. Our paper proposes complementing archival sources to unearth local memories, experiences, and ideas about Eurafrican road infrastructure through creative literature. We argue that novels can reveal colonial subjects’ experiences with road infrastructure in 1940s to 1960s central Kenya. We ask which memories are conveyed through specific literary works and what is the legacy of the Eurafrican projects? What is the role of the author in framing specific memories of colonial roads? And more generally, what are the pitfalls of teasing out the intersections of literature and history to gauge the effect of built infrastructure? We attempt to answer these questions by interrogating Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat (1967), Petals of Blood (1977), and Dreams in a Time of War (2010) as examples to explore creative literature as a site of African memories of colonial infrastructure in central Kenya.

Bio ︎︎︎
Miriam Maranga-Musonye holds a PhD in Literature from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, where she is currently teaching and researching in the Department of Literature. Her research interests include narrative studies focusing on urban realities, children and refugees. She has conducted research among refugee children both in Nairobi and Kakuma Refugee Camp. She is also particularly interested in urban realities as expressed through art and popular culture. She has researched and published on mchongoano, a Kenyan verbal dueling sub-genre, as a form of literary insurgency in Kenyan urban spaces. She also researches on matatu, the Kenyan public transport system, focusing on the artistic forms and performances and the cultural expressions and aspirations embedded in this transport sub-sector. She enjoys storytelling and believes in the intrinsic beauty of literary art and its ability to illuminate social issues. She is also a published author of children’s stories.  Alina Oswald is a PhD student in African History at the Institute of Asian and African Studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin. Her dissertation project seeks to write a history of automobility in twentieth century-Kenya by focusing on the establishment and changes in motorised transportation in Mombasa and Kisumu from colonial rule up until the 1990s. Apart from analysing how residents used the technology of motorised transportation, she engages with issues and effects surrounding the colonial road construction and maintenance (forced labour and strategic infrastructure planning). She is working predominantly with archival and literary sources, interviews and observations.

Senayon Olaoluwo15 January 2021
“Infrastructural Entanglement: Exile and Postcolonial Critique of Empire in Mapanje’s Of Chameleons and Gods”

Abstract ︎︎︎

This paper is a critical reading of Jack Mapanje’s Of Chameleons and Gods(1981) from the perspective of the evolution of infrastructural modernity in Malawi as a direct rupture from British colonial modernity. It offers a postcolonial scrutiny of the colonial legacy and argues that formal higher education assumes agency that facilitates the interface between postcolonial African infrastructure and the British infrastructure that is represented in the poetry collection in London and other cities in the United Kingdom. Using the trope of migrancy as a reading strategy, I explore the theme of exile in the volume and illustrate the infrastructural entanglement between postindependent urban Malawi and the Britain metropole. The paper argues further that the infrastructural interface provides grounds for a reading that explores the implications of the entanglement between both spaces. On the one hand, the collection ascertains the wonderments and pleasures that colonial infrastructure afforded in Malawi, Africa broadly. On the other, it examines the various ways in which postcolonial infrastructural decay in Malawi resonates with infrastructural challenges in Britain. Inevitably, the paper argues that postcolonial African literature remains a responsive counterweight to the erstwhile internalized conception of modernity through the agency of colonialism. It underscores the liberatory value of exile as consisting of comparative privilege for postcolonial writers to draw parallels between Britain and its former colonies.  The paper concludes that the transgression of postcolonial national boundaries to the metropolitan cities enables a circumvention of grand narratives by which empire previously dominated the colonies and pinpoints similarities between the postcolony and empire in relation to the ubiquity of infrastructural neglect.
Bio ︎︎︎
Senayon Olaoluwa obtained his PhD in the Humanities from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. He currently heads a postgraduate programme in Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the Institute of African Studies in the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. His reviews and essays have appeared in African Affairs, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, English Studies, Journal of African Cultural Studies, Journal of Borderlands Studies, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, among others.  He has read his papers at international meetings in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.

Chalden Sabab & Raffaele Perniola15 January 2021
“Locomotives and workers. New perspectives on the musealization of railway memory in Namibia”

Abstract ︎︎︎

The colonial railway project in Namibia was initiated under German-rule in the early 20th century, and continued by the South African regime from 1915 onwards, has left behind multitude narratives about the meaning of this massive infrastructural undertaking. Like other imperial railway projects, narratives about the Namibian railway have sometimes been deeply connected to romanticised settler histories underpinned by Eurocentric ideas of ‘civilizing’ and ‘modernizing’, which informed the oppression of large tracts of the local population. However, narratives about the railway in Namibia go beyond notions of railway imperialism. Literature by railway enthusiasts, or that highlight postal stamps, and mostly, monuments in the form of relics reveal some of the materiality of railway memory presently in Namibia. Museum displays have crucially played a role in disseminating and strengthening settler-colonial ideas about railway history. Parallel to these forms of memorializing this version of colonial infrastructural history, there are the complex memories of the former railway workers. These memories often question clear-cut notions of racial divisions established by Apartheid, accessible through oral traditions that reveal instances whereby workers across racial boundaries strongly identify with their former occupation. This paper focuses on the small town of Usakos, a former hub of the South African Railways in Namibia, and forms part of an ongoing community museum project. The authors explore oral interviews with railway workers to get a closer understanding of the lasting meaning of the colonial railway for those who helped build and maintain it. This project (and a resultant planned exhibition at Usakos) is conceived as a post-colonial intervention to counter dominant colonial narratives within Namibia’s museum scene. In this paper, thus, we aim at showcasing the varied narratives surrounding the Namibian railway, the lasting imprints of this massive infrastructural project and the potential for new, post-colonial readings in the context of the Namibian museology.

Bio ︎︎︎
Chalden Sabab is a resident of Usakos and activist in the Usakos Museum Council since 2015, which is tasked with creating a community museum in the small central-Namibian town. He has presented the Usakos Museum project and the first exhibition created for it, the wellreceived Usakos – Photographs Beyond Ruins, throughout Namibia as well as in South Africa and, most recently, China.

Raffaele Perniola is currently a history student at the Department of History of the University of Basel, specializing in Namibian History. Since 2015 he has been involved in the Usakos Museum-project and has participated in workshops and conferences about Namibian museology. He is currently working on his master’s degree and is due to graduate in 2020.
International Conference 12-15 Jan 2021, Time zone WAT/CET