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Luning and Hein receive LUF grant to carry out research on infrastructure projects in Ghana and Morocco

Infrastructure projects such as ports, highways and railways are intertwined with geopolitics, economic systems, political interests and cultural values that affect citizens. Together with colleagues from the African Studies Centre and NIMAR, Sabine Luning and Carola Hein will do research on the prominent place of infrastructure in the thinking about development in Africa.

This  project entitled 'Sea-ing Africa: Tracing Legacies and Engaging Future Promises of 'Big' Infrastructure Projects in Port City Regions in Ghana and Morocco' is made possible, by the LUF grant they received together with Marleen Dekker and Akinyinka Akinyoade from ASCL and Léon Buskens from NIMAR. The research aims to generate insights that can make infrastructure projects more equitable and sustainable.

Return of ‘Big’ infrastructure

In the colonial era, infrastructure was built mainly to exploit natural resources such as bauxite and gold. Later, much of this infrastructure fell into disrepair, partly due to a lack of maintenance and a shift in development thinking from macro-projects by the state to small-scale projects, that are more directly targeted at citizens and local communities (think e.g. of microcredit). Today, we are seeing a resurgence of  interest in large infrastructure projects in Africa, particularly in regions with ports and mining activities. Luning: "In several places we have seen such a re-enchantentment with infrastructure, almost in line with the earlier  colonial approach. We are trying to understand these developments as a way to look at Africa in  an innovativemanner."

Ghana - Western Railway Project: building new tracks along old tracks

Studying Africa from the sea and without the sub-Saharan divide

The research programme foregrounds two innovative approaches to studying the African continent. First, it aims to move away from the traditional scholarly division between the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. Luning stresses: "It makes no sense to draw such boundaries  when studying large-scale infrastructure projects. We want to break this regional distinction and focus on Ghana and Morocco." In addition, the project is not confined to looking at Africa as just land  , but it also integrates a maritime perspective. "We want to look at infrastructure networks in territories from thesea. Ports are not haphazerdly located in specific places. They need to be understood within broader geopolitical processes and their spatialsetting. This perspective, expressed in the project name Sea-ing Africa, is characteristic for research within the Centre PortCityFutures.

Tanger Med: Gateway to Africa

MA students will be part of the research

Infrastructures are often studied as part of macroeconomic processes, which remain quite abstract. Sea-ing Africa aims to provide an alternative, focusing on the relationship between macro processes and micro terrain. Luning explains: "Together with Masters students in Anthropology and students from the MA African Studies, we will carry out research projects along railway tracks and in ports. This will give us a deeper understanding of what such large-scale processes mean for the people directly affected. The grant will enable the project to prepare students for their research in a 10 day programconsisting of keynote lectures and practical methodological exercises. The students will subsequently carry out their own research in Ghana or Morocco. The project will start fully next academic year, but this year there will already be a smaller edition: in January 2023 there will be a methodological try-out workshop in Takoradi with Ghanaian, Moroccan and Dutch colleagues, including MA students from Anthropology and African Studies."

Sea-ing Africa: Tracing Legacies and Engaging Future Promises of 'Big' Infrastructure Projects in Port City Regions in Ghana and Morocco

The project 'Sea-ing Africa: Tracing Legacies and Engaging Future Promises of 'Big' Infrastructure Projects in Port City Regions in Ghana and Morocco consists of Dr Sabine Luning (Social Sciences, FSW), Prof Carola Hein (FSW, LDE PortCityFutures), Prof Marleen Dekker (African Studies Centre Leiden, ASCL), Dr Akinyinka Akinyoade (ASCL) and Prof Léon Buskens (Humanities, Netherlands Institute Morocco). They team up with universities and societal partners in Ghana and Morocco, including the Institute of African Studies in Accra, the School of Railways and Infrastructure Development in Takoradi (part of UMaT), AYA Engineering Ltd, the Architecture Schools of Rabat and Casablanca, the Tanger Med Port Authority and the National Ports Authority of Morocco.

LUF Impulse grants for interdisciplinary research

The challenges facing our society are often so complex that they are not limited to just one field or specialism. It is important that scientists, in their search for solutions, look beyond the boundaries of their own field. This leads to the emergence of new insights, promotes collaboration and contributes significantly to solving these societal issues. In addition, this approach offers students the opportunity to develop in new fields and explore interesting combinations of fields of science. To support this promotion of interfaculty projects, LUF is awarding two grants with a maximum amount of €150,000 per grant.

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