New Paper: Infrastructure between Statehood and Selfhood: The Trans-African Highway

Infrastructure between Statehood and Selfhood: The Trans-African Highway

Kenny Cupers, Prita Meier

 

Focusing on the 1960s–70s project to build a trans-African highway network, Infrastructure between Statehood and Selfhood: The Trans-African Highway argues for the need to develop a more dialectical understanding of the relationship between people and infrastructure than current architectural and urban scholarship affords. As Kenny Cupers and Prita Meier describe, African leaders imagined infrastructure as a vehicle of Pan-African freedom, unity, and development, but the construction of the Trans-African Highway relied on expertise and funding from former colonial overlords. Based on archival research, visual analysis, and ethnographic fieldwork in Kenya, this article examines the highway’s imaginaries of decolonization to show how infrastructure was both the business of statehood and a means of selfhood.

Map of the Trans-African Highway project, late 1970s (Rolf Hofmeier, “Die Transafrikastraßen: Stand der Planung und Realisierung,” Africa Spectrum 14, no. 1 [1979], 35).

Map of the Trans-African Highway project, late 1970s (Rolf Hofmeier, “Die Transafrikastraßen: Stand der Planung und Realisierung,” Africa Spectrum 14, no. 1 [1979], 35).

From the automobile and the tarmac road to the aesthetics and practices of mobility these fostered, infrastructure was a vehicle for the production of subjectivity in postindependence Kenya. This new selfhood, future oriented and on the move, was both victim and agent of commodification.

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