Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

A Topolographical Approach to Infrastructure: Political Topography, Topology and the Port of Dar Es Salaam

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

A Topolographical Approach to Infrastructure: Political Topography, Topology and the Port of Dar Es Salaam

Article excerpt

Introduction

In February 2013, the President of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete unveiled the Big Results Now (BRN) initiative. In addition to articulating a vision of Tanzania in 2025 professedly chiselled according to the 'Malaysian Model of Development', (1) BRN defined transport as one of six key result areas. A roadmap for the transport sector followed, which largely reproduced the now dominant parlance amidst the Dar es Salaam port community and international donors. The roadmap considered efficiency and redrawing traffic flows as almost exact synonyms. Superposed to maps of the existing layout, red and orange-coloured arrows and lines heralded a new 'single-flow system' purportedly capable of reducing truck turnaround time from six to two hours, and shattering current barriers to freight flows (GoT, 2013). In line with the World Bank funded 'Maritime Gateway' project for Dar es Salaam, (2) these visions also aspire to overturn how security checks and weighbridge procedures were performed across far-reaching development corridors, thus making the presence of the port immediately 'felt' in operations carried out in distant places. Fresh topological imaginaries were thus projected into public discussion, which aspired to reformulate the purview of port operations. Embedded in the maps, also travelled topographical claims to spatial authority broadcast by the port bureaucracy.

Such large-scale plans for infrastructure projects have proliferated in Africa and elsewhere in recent years. A massive 'respacing' (Engel and Nugent, 2010) is under way that however remains little understood. In order to address this, the article examines the port of Dar es Salaam, following Chalfin's lead in the need to conduct research 'wherever power in late-modernity is concentrated and renewed yet works to hide itself (2010a: 4; Ferguson, 1990; Mitchell, 2002). The article interrogates the port as space that dispersed networks of production and consumption bring into being. Such nodes of infrastructure serve as pertinent empirical sites through which to learn more about new political geographies: as argued by Easterling (2014: 15), in the contemporary world, 'some of the most radical changes to the globalizing world are being written, not in the language of law and diplomacy, but rather in the spatial formation of infrastructure'. These become particularly visible, and visible in new ways, in ex-centric sites in Africa, in which the Western narrative of modernity is but one amongst others informing people's ways of imagining and constructing the world (Comaroff and Comaroff, 2012).

This article suggests a combined methodology that draws from political topography and political topology to comprehend the transformation of political geographies of infrastructure hubs. To reinvigorate how we think about space, it has been disassociated from ideas of stasis and boundedness, and come to be understood as fluid, embracing relationality, heterogeneity and change (Massey, 2005: 13). Yet while spatialities are 'stories so far' (2005: 9), venturing to the other extreme--in Massey's words an 'extravaganza of non-Euclidian, black-holey [..] previously topologically improbable evocations' (2005: 13)--must be avoided. A productive approach, we suggest, is somewhere in between.

The article illustrates the purchase of a combined, topolographical methodology with regard to the political geography of the port of Dar es Salaam. Our topographical analysis puts forward the port as archipelago of global territories within which heterogeneous actors claim authority. Drawing on topology, the article shows what is folded into the port and shapes who governs, but also how power and authority are exercised, and from where, and the ways in which this has been made possible. Imaginaries--of the port as gateways and seamless space, and of modernity 'from scratch'--as much as new technological devices--international standards and electronic devices--work to produce historically and geographically distinct political geographies, and indeed bring new ones into being. …

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