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African Governance and Space: Transport Corridors, Border Towns and Port Cities in Transition

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - AFRIGOS (African Governance and Space: Transport Corridors, Border Towns and Port Cities in Transition)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-30

AFRIGOS investigates the 'respacing' of Africa associated with a drive towards regional and continental integration, on one hand, and the re-casting of Africa's engagement with the global economy, on the other. This has been accompanied by unprecedented levels of investment in infrastructure along designated transport corridors. AFRIGOS poses the question of how far these initiatives create institutions and practices that facilitate or obstruct the movement of people and goods; that enable or prevent urban and border spaces from being more effectively and responsively governed; and that take into account the needs of populations whose livelihoods are rooted in mobility and informality.
The project speaks to the effectiveness of governance interventions in Africa. Eradicating the obstacles to the free flow of people and goods is the stated priority of a range of bodies: African governments, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the World Bank, the EU, China, and non-state actors. AFRIGOS seeks to understand the conditions under which such interventions achieve their stated objectives, and the reasons for the often unintended outcomes.
The first objective is to understand the provenance and reproduction of orthodoxies concerning infrastructural development, trade, mobility and border management that converge on the busiest transport corridors in East, West, West-Central and Southern Africa. By examining the interplay between the competing agendas of actors operating at different scales, we can make sense of the slippage between planning and implementation, as well as issues of sustainability. The second objective is to understand how everyday users of the corridors encounter and influence ‘respacing’ in practice. AFRIGOS is concerned not merely with the effortless flows that are posited in policy documents, but with the reality of blockages and stoppages. The third objective is to understand the implications for the vitality of port cities, border towns and hubs.
The project is pursued through five cross-cutting thematic streams.
Stream 1, Agenda-Setting, is concerned with the first objective
Stream 2, Peripheral Urbanism, explains why so many of Africa’s fastest growing urban centres are located on or very close to borders, and to understand dynamics within port cities. This relates to the third objective.
Stream 3, Border Workers, investigates how livelihoods and work patterns have been reshaped by new infrastructure, information technologies and spatial configurations such as One-Stop Border Posts (OSBP). Addressing the second objective, AFRIGOS considers how border workers seek to increase their margin for manoeuvre both individually and through collective action.
Stream 4, Connective Infrastructure, is concerned with the first and the third objectives, investigates the financing, construction and operation of corridor infrastructure, notably ports, roads and railways.
Stream 5, People and Goods in Motion, captures the nuances of mobility and stoppage. It targets the truckers and transport companies that ply the long-distance routes, the petty traders who shuttle across the border, and passengers. It speaks to the regional integration agenda in the first objective, as well as to the second objective more broadly.
Under Stream 1, research focused on the lineage of the corridor concept within the World Bank and the reasons for the renewed interest in financing ‘big infrastructure’. Subsequently, there has been a greater concentration on the EU, China, RECs and global logistics companies. Attention has also been directed to associations that lobby for the removal of barriers to freedom of movement of people and goods.

Initial research in Stream 2 involved tracing the demographic patterns of border and hub towns in East (Uganda/Kenya) and West Africa (Ghana/Togo). Subsequent research has focused more closely on urban dynamics at Lomé/Aflao and Garoua-Boulai, a Camerounian hub located at the border with Central African Republic (CAR). Research has also concentrated on the port cities of Kribi, Mombasa and Lamu.

In Stream 3, members of the team have investigated the ways in which small-scale traders and local transporters make use of infrastructure, including OSBPS, in East and West Africa. The team have also addressed how the implementation of ‘Single-Window’ and the harmonization of Customs systems has affected the work of border agencies in Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Cameroun.

In Stream 4, the team has looked in detail at how large infrastructure projects are financed, planned and executed, as well as the constellation of interests that underpin them. It has involved studies of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Kenya, and bridge projects across the Zambezi river in Southern Africa and in Cameroun. Research has also followed port developments at Kribi, Mombasa and Lamu. Much of the emphasis has fallen on Chinese financing and construction.

Stream 5, research has paid attention to transport companies and truckers that ply the corridors. Research has centred on corridors between Cameroun and Chad/CAR; Namibia and Zambia; and between the port of Mombasa and Kigali. The research has investigated the measures which transporter owners have adopted to minimize risks and the ways in which all the actors involved share information. In West Africa, we have looked at the ways in which small-scale traders adjust to disincentives to crossing borders by exploiting the corridors in segments.
The project speaks to debates within border studies, multi-level governance and the anthropology of the state and infrastructure. AFRIGOS is distinctive in creating an integrated field of vision within which it is possible to link cognate processes across extended spaces and at very different scales. The comparisons are between continental and regional integration processes, while at an intermediate level it concerns corridors, border towns and port cities. Zooming in still further, the project compares the experience of driving a consignment of goods from a port across hundreds of kilometres to the final destination. The project has revealed how truck drivers and transport managers continue to rely on personal networks and their ability to navigate their way around administrative, and actual, pot-holes. AFRIGOS also involves comparisons between Customs work at border crossings, including One-Stop Border Posts (OSBPs). What is apparent is that the new technologies do not simply replace the old ones: paper continues to proliferate alongside electronic documents.

In concrete situations, we can see the ways in which agendas and directives that emanate from very different places – from Washington DC to a district capital – come together and play off one another to shape real-time governance. Tracking how interventions mutate as they themselves travel across time and space affords a unique optic on what we might call governance-in-motion.

We aim to speak to an audience that is interested in cognate processes in other regions of the world, but also to engage with those who formulate policy interventions and implement them. The outputs therefore include work that is geared to engaging with those who have an applied interest in corridors – through podcasts, blogs and briefings. We are now at a point where the research is generating meaningful comparative findings, and in the final phase greater attention will be paid to dissemination and public engagement.