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Building on the ruins of empire: the Uganda Railway and the LAPSSET corridor in Kenya

Journal article
Authors Johannes Theodor Aalders
Published in Third World Quarterly
ISSN 0143-6597
Publication year 2020
Published at School of Global Studies, Human Ecology
Language en
Keywords colonialism, development, infrastructure, new mobilities paradigm, politics of scale
Subject categories Human Geography, Social Anthropology, Human ecology, History of Technology


This article explores colonial (dis-)continuities between the planned Lamu Port–South Sudan–Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) development corridor and the Uganda Railway (UR). The historical approach to infrastructure studies highlights the effects of large-scale infrastructures beyond their immediate material impact, and reveals their potential power to structure mobilities, historicities and politics of scale. With reference to relational theories, it is argued that the two projects gain their respective significance not only through their ability to connect distant places, but also by blocking and severing other competing ways of being mobile. Particularly, both infrastructure projects create technologies enabling easier and faster flow of capital and commodities but limit previously prevalent mobilities practised by caravans and semi-nomadic people in the region. Both projects, furthermore, produce particular ways of remembering the past and anticipating the future. The article identifies a major discontinuity in the politics of scale they respectively imply: while the UR aimed at producing a clear scalar hierarchy between empire and colony, the LAPSSET alleges to dissolve hard boundaries between scalar instances. This article is based on qualitative data collected during fieldwork along the proposed route of the LAPSSET corridor, as well as archive work regarding the UR.

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