Accepted paper:

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Kenya: Passenger narratives on large scale transport infrastructure, connectivity, and political scandal.


Hugh Lamarque (The University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This article is about how Kenya's SGR railway influences everyday lives and how it is perceived by those who make use of it. Based on over fifty hours interacting with passengers inside the SGR's carriages and terminals, it provides an account of the train from their perspective.

Paper long abstract:

In 2017, passenger and freight services began running on Kenya's US$3.2 billion Standard Gauge Railway. An infrastructural behemoth connecting Nairobi with the port city of Mombasa, the project has been heavily scrutinized in terms of the soundness of the investment, its economic feasibility, its environmental impact, and its political ownership in the context of Kenya's fiercely contested party politics. This article draws on over fifty hours interacting with passengers inside its carriages and terminals to provide an account of the train from their perspective. It exposes certain features of the project that have elsewhere been neglected: narrative accounts of the railway, at times competing, that reveal how it influences everyday lives, how its political, historical, and regional context are understood by those who ride it, and how it reflects broader state society relations in Kenya. The SGR project was motivated by political considerations as much as by the need for transportation, and the way it is reconstructed in the accounts of those who use it has significant, material implications for future infrastructure development throughout the East African region.

panel Pol15
Narratives of technological and infrastructure ruptures