P136 – New Political Topographies? Economic Infrastructures and the Transnational Politics of Scale
9 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Hoenke Jana / University of Edinburgh
Chalfin Brenda H. / University of Florida


This panel investigates the political topographies of large-scale economic infrastructures, such as oil and mining installations, free trade and transit zones, such as ports and communication hubs, as well as private security networks in Africa. Around the ports of Luanda and Djibouti, or oil and mining operations in the Niger Delta and Katanga, multifaceted transnational assemblages of governance and resistance have emerged. Similarly, special economic zones decentralize command and control of rules, revenue and commodities, and inscribe these new relations in space, such as at Chambishi or Mombasa. Across the continent, satellite and digital relays foster commerce as well as surveillance. Such political topographies are at once physical and virtual, backed by force and cultural codes. Exploring them, the panel addresses what we gain from studying political order, sovereignty, and transnational regulatory reconfigurations through looking at their inscription in specific economic infrastructures. Our propositions are that economic infrastructures allow us to better understand political orders beyond the state. Second, these specific material installations catalyze transnational constellations of governance that simultaneously transcend and prop-up national regimes. Third, they also inspire forms of resistance and critique that complicate their expansion and shape political topographies. The papers approach this topic from various (inter)disciplinary angles.

Nouvelles topographies politiques? Infrastructures économiques et politiques transnationales d’échelle
Ce panel examine les topographies politiques des infrastructures économiques à grande échelle telles que les installations pétrolières et minières, les zones de transits tels que les ports ainsi que les centres de communication et les réseaux de sécurité privée en Afrique. Autour des ports de Luanda ou Djibouti, ou des installations pétrolières et minières dans le delta du Niger et du Katanga, ont émergé des assemblages transnationaux de gouvernance mais aussi de résistance. De même, les zones économiques spéciales sont des lieux dans lesquels le contrôle des règles et l’accès aux produits et recettes sont décentralisés, tout en les inscrivant dans l’espace, comme à Chambishi ou Mombasa. Partout sur le continent, satellite et relais numériques favorisent le commerce ainsi que la surveillance. A la fois physiques et virtuelles, de telles topographies politiques sont appuyées par la force et les codes culturels. En les explorant, le panel met en évidence l’intérêt à étudier l’ordre politique, la souveraineté et les re-configurations régulatrices transnationales au regard de leur inscription dans les infrastructures économiques spécifiques. D’une part, les infrastructures économiques permettent de mieux comprendre les ordres politiques au-delà de l’Etat. D’autre part, ces installations matérielles spécifiques catalysent des constellations transnationales de pouvoir/gouvernance qui transcendent mais aussi soutiennent simultanément les régimes nationaux. Enfin elles inspirent aussi des formes de résistance et de critique qui compliquent et façonnent de nouvelles topographies politiques. Le panel rassemble des contributions (inter) disciplinaires variées.

Paper 1

Chalfin Brenda / University of Florida

Mapping States, Mapping Seas: Maritime Surveillance and Commodity Flows in the Western Gulf of Guinea

This paper traces the emergence of new modalities of maritime surveillance in the western Gulf of Guinea focused on the tracking and regulation of resource and commercial flows and the wider maritime domain. Extending the reach of the state into uncharted territories, these surveillance networks move beyond strict national jurisdictions into the high seas. A space not exclusive to any state, it is one that all are deemed responsible for due to the official laws of the sea and moral injunctions of seafaring. Focused on the roll-out of the International Maritime Organization-sponsored Vessel Tracking and Monitoring Information System (VTMIS) by Ghana’s Maritime Authority the paper unpacks the shifting constitution of state sovereignty as it “intra-acts” with new technologies, knowledge forms, locations, and resource flows. State oversight in the maritime domain depends less on co-presence than the reading of remote satellite and radio signals, silences, convergences and disappearances. Though fluid, remote, and unbounded, this political economic field nevertheless has concrete material foundations and manifestations. Thus, examined alongside maritime surveillance technologies and practices in the western Gulf of Guinea is their reliance on international financial and technical assistance and their claims on terrestrial space through the installation of transponders, receivers and listening posts.

Paper 2

Dua Jatin / University of Michigan Ann Arbor

After Piracy? Mapping Itineraries from Piracy to Infrastructure in the Western Indian Ocean

By 2014, the golden age of Somali piracy had ended. From its heyday between 2007- 2011—a period where over 150 ships and some 3,741 crewmembers were held hostage— incidents, successful or otherwise, of maritime piracy plummeted over 80 percent in 2013. At the same time, a transnational security apparatus established in the wake of piracy continues to transform the Western Indian Ocean into a space of security and surveillance. Through private security contractors onboard commercial ships, coastguard initiatives on land in Somalia and manned and unmanned aerial surveillance, the Western Indian Ocean is constructed as a site of threat, danger, and profit. Through an ethnographic focus on private security contractors in Somalia and at sea, this paper focuses on this slippage and movement between piracy and counter-piracy, illicit and licit as key to understanding the futures of piracy in this region. Specifically, attempts to transform the Western Indian Ocean into a “sea of security” highlight the deep imbrication between political authority and economy in post-state Somalia where political authority is deeply tied to practices of rent-seeking and protection. The futures of piracy are then a vantage point through which to understand larger projects of state and institution building in this region.

Paper 3

Stenmanns Julian / Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

Engineering Global Territories: On the Political Geographies of Transport Infrastructures

The paper charts the ways in which transport infrastructures recast the political geographies of West African states in an era of Supply Chain Capitalism. In recent years, the prospect of many Sub-Saharan African states is increasingly being negotiated through the prism of logistics and transport infrastructures. “African logistics”, as a recent PwC report indicated, stands for the chance “to build tomorrow’s markets”. Building on ethnographic fieldwork on “African logistics” on the docks of Freetown (Sierra Leone) and Tema (Ghana), I ask in this paper how the practical art of building up transportation and governing transnational supply is recalibrating the spaces of states. Drawing on Chandra Mukerji’s notion of “territorial engineering” and James Scott’s analysis of a statecraft that operates through territorial grids, I discuss newly crafted transport infrastructures as political technologies of transnational governmentality. Mobilising the notion of global territories I trace how these standardised yet diverse arterial corridors, hubs and zones reconfigure national territories.

Paper 4

Hoenke Jana / University of Edinburgh & Phillips-Universität Marburg

Of ports, mines and pipelines. Thinking new political geographies through large-scale economic infrastructures

While Africa has often been portrait as peripheral to major global economic flows, many sites are neatly integrated into networks of global production and trade. When it comes to large-scale economic activity, gold mines in South Kivu and central Guinea are at the heart of the global economy. They are linked to infrastructures through which goods, people, and ideas move. These economic sites are ‘frontier zones’ in which new forms of power and authority emerge and become visible. They decentralize but also recentralise command and control of rules, revenue and commodities (e.g. through indirect discharge). Such political geographies are at once physical and virtual, backed by force, social relations and discourses. This paper will use empirical work on industrial mining projects in DRC, Tanzania and Guinea in order to review conceptual tools available for thinking and mapping political geographies emerging around the governance and contestation of large-scale economic infrastructures. Rules and sanctions operational in everyday practices diverge from regulatory spaces mapped out on (policy) paper to begin with. As ordering requires constant work, it is further useful to think in terms of permanent ‘political situations’ (Barry) characterised by uncertainty, ambiguity and contestation. Examining connections, the materiality of security technologies, and everyday practices of how space is lived and imagined provide key entry points for mapping contested political geographies.

Paper 5

Schritt Jannik / Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Oil Zones The Entanglement of Western and Chinese Petro-Assemblages in Niger

This paper explores oil’s large-scale economic, political, legal and socio-technical infrastructures in Niger. Economists have described the infrastructure of oil as an enclave industrialization that builds only a few or hardly any linkages with the rest of the country’s economy and therefore does not promote economic development. Political scientists have emphasized the political effects of enclave economies and oil rents on corruption and authoritarianism. Social scientists described the oil enclave as an attempt to disentangle economics from its wider surroundings in which they are deeply enmeshed in order for (neoliberal) capitalism to propel forward. This paper adds three important dimensions to these studies: First, oil enclaves are seen as multifaceted transnational assemblages of heterogeneous political, legal, economic and socio-technical elements that I call ‘oil zones’. The concept of oil zones is able to combine perspectives of different academic disciplines that otherwise often compete against each other. Second, instead of generalizing global oil infrastructures, this paper distinguishes between a Western and a Chinese oil zone with quite different heterogeneous elements and thus particular qualities. Third, this paper empirically studies the (dis)entanglement of Western and Chinese petro-assemblages for the particular local of Niger with which the elements of the assemblages associate and the effects they produce.

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