The Coloniality of Infrastructure: Eurafrican Legacies

Event, 12-15 January 2021, online

The conference gathers scholars from urban studies, history, political science, postcolonial theory, architecture, border and migration studies, and allied fields. The selected contributions elaborate on new perspectives of our geopolitical and interconnected urban present through its infrastructural pasts are strongly encouraged.

The Coloniality of Infrastructure. Eurafrican Legacies

When Eurafrica emerged in the 1920s as an intellectual and political project to connect Europe with Africa, its goal was to ensure European colonial dominance in a changing world. Key to the proposed continental merger was infrastructure—not surprising at a time when railways, ports, camps, and other large-scale building projects were facilitating the extraction and movement of things for Europe while curtailing the freedom and mobility of Africans on an unprecedented scale. Recent scholarship has emphasized the centrality of Eurafrica and the type of colonialism it mustered in the history of European integration, from the EU’s founding intellectuals to its Cold-War-era realization. But continental infrastructure also played a role in African struggles for independence. Highways, ports, and dams became tools of state-building and even mobilized hopes of Panafrican integration and international solidarity. In practice, however, large-scale infrastructure required technical and financial aid which further entrenched Africa’s asymmetrical relationship to the Global North.

Today, as Africa enters a new age of development increasingly dominated by China, and the EU is in fundamental crisis, is it still possible to speak of a Eurafrican present? From the physical imprint of cities and the configuration of intercontinental airline routes, infrastructure testifies to the enduring legacies of Eurafrica. Infrastructure shapes territories and governs the mobilities within and across them, but also serves to immobilize and externalize bodies and things. The European infrastructure of the Mediterranean border regime, in which African migrants are systematically being detained or left to die, recalls colonial-era policies that valued life and dictated death along racial lines. At the same time, European aid focused on infrastructural development in Africa is increasingly targeted to counter such unwanted migration—without touching the global extraction economies that have roots in European colonial rule and continue to shape African cities and territories today. Because of these specters of Eurafrica, the EU seems structurally incapable to come to terms with its colonial past. This conference proposes to explore historical continuities in Africa’s relationship with Europe through the lens of infrastructure. What are the infrastructural histories that bind the unequal destinies of people together across continents, and how do these legacies shape contemporary lifeworlds and international relations? How does infrastructural violence shape international relations between Africa and Europe, and how is the legacy of Eurafrica manifested in the spaces of everyday life? To answer these questions, we have invited scholars from urban studies, history, political science, postcolonial theory, architecture, border and migration studies, and allied fields. The selected contributions develop new perspectives of our geopolitical and interconnected urban present through its infrastructural pasts. Such studies of material and aesthetics relationships between Africa and Europe can focus on questions of lifeworlds, urban transformation, migration, territory, citizenship, development, or related themes. We are particularly interested in studies that can reveal the differential entanglements between people and places, and locate alternative forms of infrastructure, imaginaries of belonging, ongoing struggles for decolonization, and practices of world-making that decenter colonial ways of seeing, feeling, and knowing.

Keynote Speakers: Siba N’Zatioula Grovogui (Cornell University), Sarah Nuttall (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa), Achille Mbembe (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa).

Scientific Committee: Peo Hansen (Linköping University, Sweden), Edgar Pieterse (University of Cape Town), Muriam Haleh Davis (University of California Santa Cruz), Samia Henni (Cornell University), Charles Heller (Forensic Oceanography, Geneva), Anne-Isabelle Richard (University of Leiden), Bilgin Ayata (University of Basel, Sociology), Julia Tischler (University of Basel, Centre for African Studies), Lorena Rizzo (University of Basel, Centre for African Studies), Madeleine Herren-Oesch (University of Basel, European Global Studies)

The conference is organized by Urban Studies, Department of Social Science at the University of Basel, in collaboration with Sociology, the Centre for African Studies, and the Institute for European Global Studies, as well as the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.


12 January 2021

Panel 1 Chair, Peo Hansen
Eurafrica as infrastructural project

Megan Brown
“Tourism and the Infrastructure of Empire: 1959, 1969”

Giovanni Costenaro
“The Geo-strategy of Eurafrica. France, the ECSC and
the ‘mise en valeur’ of French African iron ores: extractive infrastructures in Gabon and their legacies”

Kilian Doherty
“Liberias’ open-door; enframing the geographical imaginaries of extraction”

Panel 2 Chair, Samia Henni
Infrastructure in the colonial continuum

Idalina Baptista & Joshua Kirshner
“The entanglement of Mozambique’s colonial past and present
in the Maputo, Beira and Nacala corridors”

Cristiana Strava
“Infrastructural citizenship: High-speed Rail and/as Belonging in Postcolonial Morocco”

Dalia Wahdan & Holger Gladys
“Limits of Imitation: Post-colonial Hangover in Everyday Lives of African Cities”

Keynote Lecture
19:00 - 19:40
Siba N'Zatioula Grovogui

13 January 2021

Panel 3 Chair, Anne-Isabelle Richard
Infrastructure between decolonization and dependency

Jessica Pearson
“Eurafrica in the Sky? Air Afrique between Pan-African Solidarity and Franco-African Dependency”

Petros Phokaides

Giulia Scotto
“Postcolonial Logistics: ENI’s Disegno Africano”

Panel 4 Chair, Charles Heller
Infrastructure of Race and Alterity


Zandi Sherman
“Racial Infrastructure: The Circulation of the Closed Compound”

Adesoji Adedipe
“Backyard Housing and Segregation: A colonial legacy in Africa? Nigeria and South Africa in comparative perspective”

Keynote Lecture
19:00 - 19:40
Sarah Nuttall

14 January 2021

Panel 5 Chair, Bilgin Ayata
Black Migration and Infrastructural Violence

Ingy Higazy
“From EurAfrica to EuroMed: Infrastructures of Violence and Containment in the Mediterranean Sea”

Huda Tayob
“Black Infrastructures and Planned Violence”

Irene Peano
“Spectres of Eurafrica in an Italian agroindustrial enclave: (Post)colonial infrastructures of labour and migration containment”

Panel 6 Chair, Edgar Pieterse
Transforming Infrastructure Otherwise

Cady Gonzalez
“Urban Natures: River Rehabilitation and State-building in Addis Ababa Ethiopia”

Liza Cirolia
“Development by default’: the historical trajectory of heterogenous and multi-scalar infrastructure configurations in Kisumu Kenya”

Tara Weber
“Beyond Botany: Reimagining the Colonial Hothouse
for New Notions of Cultivation and Preservation”

15 January 2021

Panel 7 Chair, Muriam Haleh Davis
Infrastructure as Medium of Contestation

Andreas Greiner
“Infrastructure between colonial schemes and local realities: African agency and the limitations of road building in colonial East Africa c. 1900”

Megan Eardley
“After Eurafrica: Fanakalo & the Politics of Creolization in South Africa’s Extractive Industry since the 1950s”

Sophie Toupin
“Eurafrican Communication Infrastructure”

Panel 8 Chair, Lorena Rizzo
Remaking Infrastructural Inheritance

Miriam Maranga-Musonye & Alina Oswald
“The Legacy of Colonial Roads in Central Kenya (1940s to 1960s): A Literary-Historical Perspective”

Senayon Olaoluwo
“Infrastructural Entanglement: Exile and Postcolonial Critique of Empire in Mapanje’s Of Chameleons and Gods”

Chalden Sabab & Raffaele Perniola
“Locomotives and workers. New perspectives on the musealization of railway memory in Namibia”

Keynote Lecture
19:00 - 19:40
Achille Mbembe