- Infrastructure in Africa: Lessons for Future Development ed. by Mthuli Ncube, Charles Leyeka Lufumpa, and: Garbage Citizenship: Vital Infrastructures of Labor in Dakar, Senegal by Rosalind Fredericks
The introduction to Ncube and Lufumpa’s edited volume, Infrastructure in Africa, notes that “a political economy—or anthropological—perspective, provides a stronger basis for understanding how infrastructure and related services come into being” (2017, 2). Fredericks describes her study on Garbage Citizenship as “part of a growing body of ethnographic research examining urban infrastructures as key forums for negotiated processes of political contestation” (2018, 14). Both thus acknowledge the value of deep qualitative analysis for the traditionally mostly technical and/or quantitative field of infrastructure studies; this acknowledgement, however, has led to two fundamentally different publications.
Infrastructure in Africa is an exploration of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) databases and intentions with the Infrastructure Knowledge Program (AIKP), embedded in the bank’s ten-year strategy for 2013–22. As such, it serves as a valuable guide to the bank’s most important statistical and macroeconomic information on infrastructural sectors, such as water and sanitation, energy, transport and ICT, mostly tailored to the bank’s own Infrastructure Development Index. With a focus on the first quarter of the twenty-first century, many of the key data and regional comparisons that are needed but often missing for contextualizing country or local studies can thus be assessed here, such as electricity costs and capacities, transnational road networks and supraregional traffic, and regional internet user numbers.
The volume works out the bank’s main concepts of infrastructural development, targeting “productive and livable cities,” a growing middle class, and an increase in rural productivity. Funding, not surprisingly a major concern, is considered throughout as a major obstacle to the stated development goals: financing needs are put here at US$100–150 billion per year, with only US$10 billion coming from official development finance in 2010 and a US$31 billion gap, even after elimination of all inefficiencies. These considerations ultimately lead to the proposition of innovative financing in form of the African Development Bank’s Africa50 Fund, increased private sector engagement (including PPPs), nonconcessional borrowing (including South–South transfers), regional synergies, and public resource mobilization, all enhanced by higher managerial efficiency.
The resulting resource book introduces a specific institutional perspective and can be considered a mixture of academic literature and what academic literature calls gray literature, studies coming from a specific [End Page 142] operational context. In fact, most of the authors have a background in economics and/or statistics and some present or former link with the African Development Bank. Arguably, disciplinary and maybe also institutional homogeneity ultimately created a vast distance between a political economic approach invoked in the introduction and the conclusion and what authors discuss in their chapters. The volume’s introduction stands out, as it briefly reviews theoretical debates from modernization, growth and dependency theory, and ethnography of infrastructure, next to result-based management and macroeconomic studies. In the rest of the volume, the political mostly remains either an issue of administrative relations, for instance between different levels of government, or an abstract concept of governance that represents either an obstacle or a path to efficiency and developmental resource mobilization, rather than the core dynamic that drives and organizes resource distribution. This suggests that there is a long way between acknowledging political economic approaches to infrastructure and translating the acknowledgment into the operational language of developmental institutions that form a substantial part of what “political economy” describes.
Garbage Citizenship shows a consequent discussion of inequalities in urban infrastructures and the political actions that substantiate or challenge them. Rather weak in macroeconomic analysis, it dives deeply into the events and dynamics around two major trash revolts Dakar experienced, in 1988–89 and 2007, enhanced by fieldwork in...