Gabriella Körling, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

The promise of infrastructure: preparing for the railway in a Nigerien town

Infrastructures such as roads and railways often come to signify modernity and economic development. In 2014 the construction of Niger’s first railway was announced. The railway was billed as a ‘lifeline and corridor of hope’ was presented as a longstanding dream that had finally come true and as a key investment for the country’s future economic development. In this paper I focus on anticipations of the arrival of the railway and related infrastructure in Dosso, a town located alongside the future railway tracks. In Dosso imaginaries surrounding the railway centered less on mobility and circulation, usually associated with transport infrastructure, and more on turning Dosso, a slumbering regional capital, into a ‘destination’. Despite being situated in the Cotonou-Niamey transport corridor which channels important quantities of imports and exports, and at the crossroads of two important national highways, commercial activities in Dosso had never really taken off and the town had remained economically marginalized. In this context, the construction of the railway together with a dry port were seen as a means of tapping into formerly elusive flows of goods and economic capital. Flows that would now, or so it was imagined, stop in Dosso. The case of Dosso illustrates the importance of paying attention to the ways in which national infrastructure projects and related promises of economic development are filtered through local perceptions, experiences and histories that together shape the kinds of desires and hopes that people invest in infrastructure. In Dosso these future oriented imaginaries of economic prosperity were also accompanied by important investments, altering land ownership and changing the urban landscape. Infrastructure, even when as in the case of the railway it is still under construction, produces important political and economic effects as imaginaries of future prosperity are entangled with individual and collective investments.

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