Port Geographies: Africa’s Infrastructure Boom and the Reconfiguration of Power and Authority

Jana Hönke

Extractive Industries and Changing State Dynamics in Africa. Beyond the Resource Curse
Editors: Jon Schubert, Ulf Engel, Elisio Macamo
Publisher: Routledge, Routledge Studies in African Development
State:  Accepted/In press 10-Jul-2018

INFRASTRUCTURE, EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRIES, Reconfiguration of the state, political geography, AFRICA

This chapter analyses the geographies of power and authority that new large-scale infrastructure projects in Africa reveal. Against the expectation that much of Africa’s current infrastructure boom is driven by resource extraction, it looks at its broader political reconfigurations and argues that more attention is required to the ever more diverse set of external actors involved in infrastructure, increasingly also actors from the Global South. The chapter thus explores some of the ‘state effects’ of new port projects, but is also an exploration of ports’ complex transboundary topologies made up of a multiplicity of actors, standards and technologies. The analysis is build around major port refurbishment and construction projects along the East African coast, in particular the port of Dar es Salaam and the new megaport at Bagamoyo (both in Tanzania), based on fieldwork and desk research. After a discussion of perspectives on infrastructure hubs and the African state, the chapter turns to state politics around the port of Dar es Salaam. This is followed by an exploration of Dar port as a transnational project, and, finally, a discussion of powerful new imaginaries of development and modernity – from a Dubai to a Shenzen ‘model’ – that drive new gate projects.

Beyond the Gatekeeper State: African Infrastructure Hubs as Sites of Experimentation

Jana Hönke

Third World Thematics. Published online: 18 Apr 2018



political geography, china, Dubai model, Africa, state reconfiguration, ports, infrastructure

While Africa has often been portrayed as peripheral to major global economic flows, the copper mines in the South of the DRC as much as the port of Dar es Salaam are hubs of extraction and trade at the heart of the global economy. This article departs from the notion of the gatekeeper state that locates the production of islands of effective state territoriality around gates (e.g. ports, mines) in the colonial encounter, producing postcolonial states that effectively control only enclaves and corridors of their territory. These form the basis for an outward and extraction-oriented political economy. This paper proposes to reconceptualise gatekeeping as a set of practices performed by a range of actors, including but not limited to governments. I argue that this brings into view how the political geography of gates is being transformed by a multitude of actors. It is also shaped by powerful transnational technical systems and logistics. Empirically, this will be explored through a study of Dar and Bagamoyo port in Tanzania. The conclusion highlights how studying gatekeeping (and –gaining) practices around ports diversifies our understanding of political transformations around gates and helps to go beyond theories based on more often studied extractive industries.

Environmental and resources governance

Ralph Hamann, Jana Hönke & Tim O’Riordan

Oxford Handbook of Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood
Editors: Thomas Risse, Anke Draude, Tanja Börzel
Publisher: Oxford University Press
State:  Accepted/In press - 2018

Governance, resources, international relations

Intermediation, Brokerage and Translation

Jana Hönke & Markus-Michael Müller

 Oxford Handbook of Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood
Editors: Thomas Risse, Anke Draude, Tanja Börzel
Publisher: Oxford University Press
State:  Accepted/In press - 2018

TRANSLATION, INTERMEDIARIES, Brokers , GOVERNANCE, International Relations, state formation, INTERVENTIONS

Brokerage, a term prominent in the 1960s and 1970s, has returned. A huge literature analyses how brokers and intermediators— such as government officials, heads of non-governmental organization (NGOs), translators, neo-traditional authorities— strategically negotiate flows of resources and political support between the local, national, and/ or international level. The phenomenon seems especially prominent in areas of limited statehood (ALS). Governments may be unwilling or unable to exercise authority throughout their territory. Thus, other mediators step in. Several contentious debates have ensued around this. One debate concerns the scope and historical origins of brokerage, often portraying brokers as a thing of the past and a pathology of the non-Western world. Such perspectives, however, do not consider the crucial role and long-term effects of colonialism and closely related distinct trajecto-ries of state formation, for understanding brokerage as a key mode of governance in ALS, past and present (see also Chapter 12 Förster/ Koechlin, this volume). Indirect gov-ernance via brokerage and intermediation has, in addition, become a widespread phenomenon in many parts of the world including Europe and North America. The liberal (global) governance agenda of the last decades, by promoting community governance, empowered 'new' brokers, such as NGOs, experts, and corporate actors (Duffield 2001). Another point of contention concerns the limitations of an individualist, rationalist perspective , in which most of the literature on brokerage is rooted (Lewis and Mosse 2005). In order to offer a comprehensive understanding of brokerage that avoids historical pathologization and goes beyond overly rationalist perspectives, this chapter pursues a broader, integrative agenda. We bring studies on brokerage, intermediation, and translation together, thereby offering a synthesis that by combining the strengths of these approaches on the topic, will help to understand and explain the role of brokerage as a mode of governance.

Mobilising security and logistics through an African port. A controversies approach to infrastructure

Jana Hönke & Iván Cuesta-Fernández

Mobilities. Online first.


CONTROVERSIES, LOGISTICS, critical security studies, INFRASTRUCTURE, political economy, MOBILITY

Ports form part of the logistical infrastructure of the global economy. This article argues that both recent security and mobilities literatures are placing too much emphasis on supposedly all-encompassing global technologies to govern them. It uses a controversies approach to develop a greater sensitivity to the diversity in the global makings of mobility and security. By looking at the port of Dar es Salaam, it reveals how controversies result from variegated understandings of situated political economies and offer a unique window to reveal more diverse and contested landscapes than is suggested by the literature. Three controversies are analysed: 1) cargo security; 2) delays in dwell time; and 3) enhancing Dar port versus building a new port in Bagamoyo.

Transnational Clientelism, Global (Resource) Governance and the Disciplining of Dissent

Jana Hönke

International Political Sociology. State: Accepted/In press - 2018


transnational clientelism, RESISTANCE, global governance, disciplining dissent, multinational companies

Schemes for more responsible global governance have often come with new ways of thwarting meaningful voice, participation and dissent of those they are claimed to be beneficial for. This article argues that these processes extend beyond the more often criticized disciplinary effects of civil society promotion and community participation, which, despite a rhetoric of empowerment and emancipation, also contribute to containing protest within narrow confines of technocratic management. Using the case of transnational resource governance and examples from multinational mining companies in Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Africa, the article demonstrates that alongside the ‘air-conditioned’ politics of participatory development and corporate social responsibility operate the ‘veranda’ politics of transnational governance: practices of stabilizing order and containing dissent through transnational clientelist practices. These do not operate despite or outside liberal global governance but are an inherent part of it. The article contributes to understanding the manifold ways in which dissent is disciplined in global governance, pushing critical engagement with indirect technologies of government further and beyond the liberal self-image. 

A Topolographical Approach to Infrastructure. Political topography, topology and the port of Dar es Salaam

Jana Hönke & Iván Cuesta-Fernández

Environment and Planning : Society and Space online first. See for an open access copy here.

Economic infrastructure hubs, such as ports, are crucial sites for exploring new political geographies. In such environments, mobilities are enabled and rigidly channelled premised on the stasis of the port-as-checkpoint. Such nodes are part of an ever-growing political geography of zones that requires more attention. This article proposes a ‘topolographical’ approach – a combined heuristic drawing from political topography and topology – to comprehend more fully the transformations in the political geographies of large-scale infrastructures. The cardinal nature of the port of Dar es Salaam makes it a crucial site through which to illustrate the purchase of this framework. The topographical analysis puts forward the port of Dar as ‘archipelago of global territories’, within which heterogeneous actors claim graduated authority. Drawing on topology, the article shows what is folded into the port, constantly shaping not only who governs but, more importantly, how power and authority are exercised. It will be shown how imaginaries of the port - as gateway, seamless space, and modernity ‘from scratch’ - as much as new technological devices work to produce historically and geographically distinct political geographies, and indeed bring new ones into being.

Special Issue "New Political Geographies of Conflict and Resistance"

This new special issue presents the results of a one year research seminar conducted with excellent students of the MA Peace and Conflict Studies run by the Conflict Research Centre, University of Marburg in Germany. It isavailable open access from the IReflect website.

The governance of transnational supply chains and large economic projects put traditional ideas about political space into question, as does the movement of refugees and migrants. Among the crucial issues are who governs where, who should be governing, and how is inclusion in political communities and access to rights decided. Despite a comprehensive discourse of global responsibility for fighting violent crime and human rights abuses, the practice of such responsibility is a different matter. And virtual mobility enabled through the internet and social media shape conflict and resistance across state boundaries in new ways.

The special issue therefore addresses three core questions. First, how can shifting political geographies, for which binary categorisations such as local/global, inside/outside and online/offline have proven unhelpful, be described and conceptualized? And how can critical political geography, Together, the articles contribute to better understand and rethink new political geographies of conflict and resistance. ethnographic and practice-theoretical approaches, contentious politics, and peace and conflict studies offer alternatives? Second, what are the violent contradictions of multifaceted political geographies today, in particular with regards to the coexistence of a state-based international order with too often ineffective, selective and Eurocentric global governance institutions? Third, what are alternative, emancipatory spaces and practices that emerge in everyday practice?

The introduction reviews the literature on political geography in International Relations, conceptualises how to think political spatialities as process and practice, and introduces the methodological building blocks of the special issue. The research papers are based on original theoretical and empirical work. They deal with the production of stateless people in Myanmar and their ‚expulsion‘ into physical and social margins (Valeria Hänsel); the broken promises of an international responsibility to protect in the case of the political economy of human trafficking, torture and extortion of Eritrean refugees on the Sinai, and the alternative structures of support and protection that have emerged in the diaspora (Lucia Heisterkamp); the spatial imaginaries and experiences of refugees along the Balkan route, exploring the potential of participatory counter-mapping (David Scheuing); the ‘in-between-space‘ of on- and offline resistance, investigated through the case of a resistance movement against mineral extraction in Wirikuta, Mexico (Alexandra Engelsdorfer), and the making of autonomous spaces and emancipatory politics in El Alto, Bolivia (Matthias Krams).

Hönke, Jana 2013. Transnational Companies and Security Goverance. Hybrid Practices in a Postcolonial World, Routledge.

This book investigates governance practiced by non-state actors. It analyses how multinational mining companies protect their sites in fragile contexts and what that tells us about political ordering 'beyond' the state.

Based on extensive primary research in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Europe and North America, the book compares companies' political role in the 19th and 21st centuries. The book discloses hybrid security practices with highly ambiguous effects around the sites of contemporary companies that have committed to norms of corporate social and security responsibility. Companies invest in local communities, and offer human rights training to security forces alongside coercive techniques of fortress protection, and stability-oriented clientele practice and arrangements of indirect rule. The book traces this hybridity back to contradictory collective meaning systems that cross borders and structure the perceptions and choices of company managers, private security officers, NGO collaborators and others practitioners. The book argues that hybrid security practices are not the result of an encounter between a supposed ‘local’ with the liberal ‘global’. Instead, this hybridity is inherent in the transnational and part and parcel of liberal transnational governance. Therefore, more critical reflection of global governance in practice is required.


Related articles

Hönke, Jana 2014. Business for Peace? The ambiguous role of 'ethical' mining companies, Peacebuilding 2 (2), 172-187.

Multinational companies are increasingly promoted as peacebuilders. Major arguments in support of such a position emphasise both interest-based and norm/socialisation-based factors. This article uses research on large mining MNCs in eastern DRC – those that, arguably, should be most likely to build peace according to the above positions – to engage critically with the business for peace agenda. First it demonstrates the limited peacemaking, as well as active peacebuilding, activities in broader society that companies undertake. Second, it finds that even those companies deemed most likely to build peace continue relying on hybrid (in)security practice. Third, this article calls for more reflexivity concerning the implications of the business for peace research agenda. While the latter might contribute to socialising businesses into contributions to peacebuilding, it also produces companies as legitimate authorities, despite their limitations as peacebuilders. As a result, new conflict and insecurity are produced, especially for/with those displaced from land and artisanal mining pits and left with no alternative livelihood options.

Hönke, Jana 2012. Multinationals and Security Governance in the Community. Participation, discipline and indirect rule, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 6: 1, 89-105.

This article traces multinational extraction companies' social and security policies in the ‘community belt’ next to their operations. A comparison between mining companies in the DRC in the early twentieth century and in the period post-2000 shows remarkable continuities in corporate community interventions. It demonstrates how contemporary participatory practices have partly replaced techniques of discipline and coercion seen in the colonial past. However, the discourse of ownership and participation runs alongside exclusionary forms of exercising power that have an old history. The liberal claim of self-determination is compromised by the recourse to indirect rule in order to secure stable working conditions.

Hönke, Jana 2010. New Political Topographies. Mining companies and indirect discharge in Southern Katanga (DRC), Politique Africaine N° 120, 105-127.

For analysing current reconfigurations of political order in Africa in a new way, this article suggests a focus on particular socio-economic spaces. It analyses how multinational companies govern security in the copper and cobalt mining region of Southern Katanga (DRC). The article argues that the extended role of companies in managing political order in Southern Katanga can be understood as a new form of indirect discharge by the host and the home states of multinational companies in such a way as to quasi-outsource local governance. It engenders political topographies different from those of corporate security governance in the xixth-xxthcenturies.