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

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AFRIGOS (African Governance and Space: Transport Corridors, Border Towns and Port Cities in Transition)

Reporting period: 2017-07-01 to 2018-12-31

The issue: AFRIGOS investigates the process of 'respacing' Africa, a political drive towards regional and continental integration, on the one hand, and the re-casting of Africa's engagement with the global economy, on the other. This is reflected in unprecedented levels of investment in physical and communications infrastructure, and the partial outsourcing of key functions of Customs, Immigration and security agencies. AFRIGOS poses the question of how far these developments are forging institutions and practices that are facilitating or obstructing the movement of people and goods; that are enabling or preventing urban and border spaces from being more effectively and responsively governed; and that take into account the needs of African populations whose livelihoods are rooted in mobility and informality.

The importance for society: These are issues that speak to the effectiveness of governance interventions in Africa, which are routinely justified on the basis of removing the obstacles to the free flow of people and goods. This has been the particular concern of African governments and Regional Economic Communities (RECs), but also the World Bank, the European Union (EU) and a range of other international actors. The project seeks to understand under what conditions these interventions achieve their stated objectives, and when they lead to other - often unintended - outcomes. This has lessons for those who make and implement policy in Africa and beyond.

The overall objectives:

The principal research questions are approached through a comparative study of the dynamics of port cities, border towns and other hubs, and traces the movement of people and goods along the busiest transport corridors in East, Central, West and Southern Africa. The corridors represent sites of dynamism and cosmopolitanism, which includes connecting African urban centres to each other and to other global cities. AFRIGOS seeks to understand processes of respacing, but as experienced from below: this includes a wide range of actors, including merchants, truckers and petty traders, but also Customs and Immigration officials. The project is pursued through five cross-cutting thematic streams:

Stream 1, Agenda-Setting is concerned mostly with tracing the roots, trajectories and the degree of mutual reinforcement between policies formulated at the international, regional and national levels pertaining to the interface between regional integration and infrastructural development. The project seeks to understand how orthodoxies travel, clash and cancel each other out. It also seeks to understand competition to set the agenda (e.g. as between the EU and China).

Stream 2, Peripheral Urbanism: Some of Africa’s fastest growing urban centres are located on or very close to borders, or serve as hubs along the transport corridors. The project seeks to make sense of emergent forms of peripheral urbanism, in the shape of border towns and port cities, and to better understand the particular governance challenges that arise there.

Stream 3, Border Workers sets out to understand the relationship between very different modes of work carried out by the denizens of the border and how these have changed as a consequence of the introduction of new infrastructure, information technologies and spatial arrangements such as the One-Stop Border Post (OSBP). The project considers how border workers seek to increase their margin for manoeuvre both individually and through collective action.

Stream 4, Connective Infrastructure looks more closely at the construction and operation of infrastructure, such as new and upgraded port, road and rail facilities along each of the corridors. It probes the logics according to which investment decisions are made. It is concerned not merely with the effortless flows that are posited in policy documents, but also with the blockages, stoppages and breakdowns and how these affect day-to-day governance.

Stream 5, People and Goods in Mot
Much of the first year of the project, when two of the postdoctoral researchers and the PhD student were not in place, involved work to refine the project design, to synchronize the equipment needs of the project, to respond to the ERC ethics requirements and to engage in desk-based research on each of the regions and Streams. Initial periods of exploratory fieldwork were scheduled in each of the sub-regions.

Once the team was fully operational by December 2016, it became possible to begin the field research in earnest. Research was conducted on all five of the Streams and in all of the regions, although less work was conducted in West Africa than the others for reasons of sequencing. Stream 1, whose function is look for links between the regions and to establish the overall policy framework, has witnessed considerable progress. Sidy Cissokho (post-doctoral researcher) concentrated on the puzzle of why there was a sudden shift within the World Bank towards financing ‘big infrastructure’ after decades of deep scepticism. He and other members of the team were also able to look more closely at the RECs and the role of semi-private organizations with a role in corridor management, in order to better understand the ways in which certain orthodoxies have gained wider traction. By studying infrastructural investments across the regions, it has also been possible to identify quite distinct patterns and to relate these to the different ways in which regional integration initiatives have played out.

The research in Stream 2 has involved some work by Paul Nugent (PI) and Isabella Soi (affiliated researcher) on tracing the demographic trajectories in border towns in East (Uganda/Kenya) and West Africa (Ghana/Togo) while Wolfgang Zeller (senior researcher) has done similar work for towns on the Namibia/Zambia and Zambia/DRC borders. The researchers have set out to explain why some border towns and cities have grown very rapidly, whereas in others there is no strong correlation between trade and demographic growth. Some research has been also conducted on port cities, such as Walvis Bay by Wolfgang Zeller and Douala/Kribi José-Maria Munoz (senior researcher), and a number of transport hubs. In the case of Stream 3, the project team has investigated the changing nature of Customs work in West-Central, West, East and Southern Africa. This has involved a closer investigation of the implementation of ‘Single-Window’ to enable the sharing of records between governmental agencies and the harmonization of Customs systems. Some research has been conducted on smaller traders and local border transporters, with the bulk of the research to follow. The really big questions about investments in infrastructure and their effects in Stream 4 have been tackled for each of the regions to some degree. The team has tracked the patterns of infrastructural investment in terms of the range of actors present in the various regions. The impression that China is the largest single external investor in infrastructure is confirmed, but it is also clear that its main focus has been on East Africa and that there are multiple other actors involved in financing, planning and construction – often collaborating in consortia. In many cases, it is the operation and continued maintenance of the infrastructure is the main point at issue. When it comes to seaports, the same international companies have tended to run at least a part of the operation, although Port Authorities have retained a measure of oversight. When it comes to roads, the range of actors is far more diverse. Across the field of infrastructure expansion and maintenance there is ample evidence of questionable practices and rent-extraction by a wide range of players from the highest to the lowest level of state and corporate actors. The AFRIGOS project has revealed some of the ways in which donor funding, especially those of the EU, are increasingly channelled through third parties.

Stream 5 has p
The project speaks to larger debates that are generally framed within the distinct disciplinary subfields of borderlands studies, multilevel governance, the anthropology of the state (or ‘the everyday state’) and the fast-growing field of infrastructure studies in the social sciences. The AFRIGOS project is distinctive because it is 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 at a higher level of abstraction, and between corridors, border towns and port cities at an intermediate level. Zooming in still further, the project compares the experience of driving a consignment of goods from Douala in Cameroun to Ndjaména in Chad and a similar consignment from Mombasa in Kenya to Kigali in Rwanda. It also involves comparing what it means to work as a Customs official at a border post where electricity is erratic with work at a fully computerized One-Stop Border Post. What is already apparent is that the new technologies do not simply replace the old ones: paper continues to proliferate alongside electronic documents. In a similar vain, project research has revealed that despite increasing computerization and mobile telecommunication, truck drivers on cross-border corridor routes and their managers rely heavily on close-knit personal networks and their ability to improvise and navigate around administrative and actual pot-holes, in order to keep the wheels rolling.

In concrete situations, we can see the ways in which directives and information 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 – in that sense mirroring the movements of people and goods along the corridors – affords the project a unique optic on what we might call governance-in-motion. It is the ambition of the project to develop new theoretical and methodological insights along these lines, whilst at the same time offering a series of robust comparative conclusions about regional integration and infrastructural development that are grounded in detailed empirical fieldwork.

The project aims to speak to an academic audience that is interested in cognate processes in other regions of the world, but also to engage with those who formulate policy interventions and seek to implement them in practice. The outputs will therefore include a monograph and edited collections, but also others that are better geared to engaging with those who have a more applied interest. The aim is also to enable some of the work to feed back to the people whose lives we seek to elucidate (e.g. through social media). At the end of the first 18-month period, we are now at a point where the research is beginning to generate meaningful comparisons, and in the coming period greater attention will be paid to dissemination and public engagement.