Accepted paper:

Elusive Connections: The Precarious Materiality of a Railway Project in Niger

Author:

Gabriella Körling (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the affective and material life of a railway under construction in Niger. It focuses on the anticipations the project created in a town situated alongside the planned railway tracks and on the tensions that emerged when the project suddenly drew to a halt.

Paper long abstract:

The 2014 announcement that construction was [finally] to begin on Niger's first railway marked the revival of the old project to connect Cotonou and its seaport in Benin with Niamey, the capital of landlocked Niger, by rail. In Niger, the railway was presented as a longstanding dream that had finally come true and as a key investment for the country's future economic development. In the town of Dosso expectations were high, the arrival of the railway promised to transform the stagnant local economy. However, following a flurry of activity which included the inauguration of the first 140 kilometers from Niamey to Dosso, the project was suspended. Delays have been identified as a key temporality of large scale infrastructure projects. In this paper, I explore this moment of uncertainty by focusing on the material and affective dimensions of the railway project in the town of Dosso. Despite its prospective state the railway had already had an important impact. Imaginations of future prosperity and anticipations of economic development had been accompanied by important investments in land and different commercial ventures. However, with the halt of the railway project the gradual transformation of the town also came to a stop resulting in a landscape of half-finished constructions. As the unused tracks started to deteriorate, disenchantment set in. For many local inhabitants the railway came to symbolize disconnection and broken promises more than anything else. In the end even the materiality of the railway tracks was called into question.

panel P108
Revisiting railroads: sociality, mobility and infrastructure