Ulrikke Wethal: Building Africa’s infrastructure: Reinstating History in Infrastructure Debates

In Forum for Development Studies, 2019.


Ulrikke Wethal


Infrastructure has gone from being yesterday's news to a focal point of development cooperation, particularly in Africa. While the list of development challenges that infrastructure is assumed to improve keeps expanding, projects are simultaneously criticised for not yielding the expected broader development effects. What is it about infrastructure that holds such high promises of development? Has this changed between the post-independence period of large infrastructure investments in Africa and the investment boom currently underway – and if so, how?

In this article, I examine the differences between how infrastructure investments are understood and implemented in this most recent turn, as compared to some decades ago. I find a similar development focus between the two periods, with a strong concentration around economic growth. Moreover, little has changed in project focus, despite a more diverse set of actors on board with the ‘infrastructure-induced development’ narrative. I use inter-boom processes to explain why the challenges related to weak capacities in domestic construction sectors have continued. The analysis further shows how infrastructure investment has taken centre stage because it manages to satisfy the interests of a range of different actors.

Published May 15, 2019 8:38 AM - Last modified May 15, 2019 8:38 AM