Anth21
Making a living on & off the road - trucking and the politics of movement and stoppage in Africa

Convenors:
Wolfgang Zeller (University of Edinburgh)
Peer Schouten (Danish Institute for International Studies)
Stream:
Social Anthropology
Location:
Appleton Tower, Lecture Theatre 3
Thursday 13 June, 8:45-10:30
Thursday 13 June, 10:45-12:30

Short abstract:

This panel examines the daily realities of truckers and others making a living from road transport across Africa. We will exchange and theorise on the politics of logistics and infrastructure, movement and stoppage, by entering the world of the African foot soldiers of supply chain capitalism.

Long abstract:

This interdisciplinary double panel will include empirical and conceptual contributions that explore the lived realities and political agency of some of the foot soldiers of supply chain capitalism in Africa: truckers and others who make a living on and off the road. In many parts of Africa road transport is the essential means by which goods circulate within countries, across borders, and in and out of the continent's sea ports. Referring to the crucial role they play in keeping their country's mineral export-driven economy moving, Zambian truckers routinely claim that they are "driving the nation". Increasing volumes of valuable cargo and equipment are shipped down regular roads and designated high-priority 'transport corridors', often cutting across areas of Africa where economic opportunities are scarce. The stakes are high to keep the wheels spinning and truck drivers are often at the frontlines of intense, sometimes violent contestations over the conditions, costs and control of their movement. Out on the road, truckers have to be 'heterogeneous engineers', negotiating physical as well as political friction on a daily basis. They have often long-standing relations and arguments with supervisors and customers, border and checkpoint personnel, fellow drivers, sex workers and mechanics. While some of the men and women on and off the road make their living from keeping things moving, others cash in, extract rents, or force their agendas of collective action in periods of stoppage or through blockades.