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Centre of African Studies: Research


African Governance and Space (AFRIGOS)

AFRIGOS is a five-year project examining transport corridors, border towns and port cities in four regions of Africa.

A more detailed description of AFRIGOS is available here.

The project intranet website is here. Access only for project staff.

Wenela border convoy

AFRIGOS - Basic Facts

The project is based at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for African Studies and led by Prof. Paul Nugent. The AFRIGOS team also includes Senior Research Fellows Dr. Wolfgang Zeller and Dr. Jose-Maria Munoz, as well as postdoctoral Research Fellows Dr. Sidy Cissokho and Dr. Hugh LamarqueDr. Isabella Soi from the University of Cagliari is an affiliated researcher to the project, contributing to the East Africa research. Elisa Gambino joined the AFRIGOS project in September 2017 as Doctoral Researcher working on Chinese infrastructure investment in East Africa and Africa's role in the Belt and Road Initiative.

AFRIGOS builds on Paul's and Wolfgang's previous work, respectively as Chairman and Coordinator of the African Borderlands Research Network (ABORNE). Starting in January 2016, the project is funded with 2.5 million Euros by the European Research Council’s Advanced Grant scheme. 

AFRIGOS receives critical feedback and guidance from a 4-person Advisory Board comprised of Prof. Karine Bennafla, Prof. Gregor Dobler, Dr. Mohamadou Abdoul and Dr. Olivier Walther.

Walvis Bay new container port 2015

AFRIGOS - Empirical Context

Long-distance transport routes linking resource hubs and overseas ports have existed in Africa since pre-colonial times and were systematically expanded by the European colonial powers to suit their interest in extracting wealth from the continent. The past decade of largely high commodity pric- driven economic growth in some parts of Africa has been accompanied by significant upgrades to old and the building of new road, rail, port and border checkpoint infrastructure across the continent. Large-scale investments in cross-border transport corridors have become an overriding priority of national governments, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the African Union. These involve funding by the European Union, the United States and China, the World Bank and African Development Bank among many other players. Transport corridors are managed by an assemblage of governmental institutions, private companies, and public-private partnerships. Concurrent to this development, however, is the securitization of movement of goods and people across national borders, leading to increased controls and surveillance not just at border checkpoints and infrastructure nodes.



AFRIGOS - Scientific Agenda

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 outsourcing of key functions of customs, immigration and security agencies.

AFRIGOS asks how far respacing is genuinely forging institutions 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 principal research questions are approached through a comparative study of port cities, border towns and other strategic nodes situated along some of the busiest transport corridors in East, Central, West and Southern Africa. These represent sites of remarkable dynamism and cosmopolitanism, which reflects their role in connecting African urban centres to each other and to other global cities.

AFRIGOS considers how governance 'assemblages' are forged at different scales and is explicitly comparative. It works through 5 connected Streams that address specific questions:

1. AGENDA-SETTING is concerned with policy (re-)formulation.

2. PERIPHERAL URBANISM examines governance in border towns and port cities.

3. BORDER WORKERS addresses everyday governance emerging through the interaction of officials, traders and others who make their livelihoods from the border.

4. CONNECTIVE INFRASTRUCTURE looks at the transformative effects of new technologies in e.g. customs management, satellite tracking, and social media use by truck drivers and border officials. 

5. PEOPLE & GOODS IN MOTION traces the passage of people and goods along transport corridors, the regimes of regulation to which they are subjected, and how they force these regimes to adapt. 

AFRIGOS contributes to interdisciplinary research on borderland studies, multi-level governance and the everyday state.The project will draw on a range of research methods to explore corridor spaces and their modes of governance both ‘from above’ and ‘below’. 

All project members will contribute work on all of the five project streams and conduct substantial field work in Africa, as well as among decision-making and corporate actors overseas. The multidisciplinary composition of the research team will be reflected in the range of qualitative and quantitative data collection methods, from desk-based research, geo-coded data and decision-maker interviews to archival and extended ethnographic field work.

Road maintenance Namibia

AFRIGOS - Key Outputs

In addition to high-quality academic publications and presentations at international conferences, AFRIGOS will involve Knowledge Exchange work through policy briefs and press releases with a wide range of governmental, non-governmental and corporate actors and media outlets. A dedicated project website and Twitter account will be established and continuously updated throughout the project lifetime and beyond.