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date: 06 December 2023

Popular Infrastructures in West Africalocked

Popular Infrastructures in West Africalocked

  • Brenda ChalfinBrenda ChalfinDepartment of Anthropology, University of Florida


Popular infrastructures in West Africa encompass a broad array of basic utilities enabling access to water, sanitation, power, communication, and transportation networks. Though characterized as “by the people, for the people” formulations, popular infrastructures are rarely stand-alone and intersect with services sponsored by states, international investors, and humanitarian organizations. These amalgams evince a complex politics where self-determination vies with elite accommodation and infrastructural operations command labor and impinge upon public and private life. Most notable across the region is the overwhelming inadequacy of state-based infrastructural orders and the heightened role of corporate capital and commodification to meet and modify basic infrastructural needs and installations. This is evident in the rise of both digital communication networks and high-tech megaports and extractive enterprise across this wide swath of nation-states, the one intensifying social relations and interdependencies, the other promoting de-peopling and alienation. Like the “just-in-time” humanitarian infrastructural aid packages that mark the region’s crisis zones, they each carry their own chimera of promise. Received and reflected on by a diverse populace, these offerings and impositions combine with infrastructural strategies already in place—evident in revitalized tea circles in Niger and Burkina Faso; repair, care, and fabrication networks in Guinea, Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria; public points of gathering in Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Benin; or new conventions of domesticity in Mali, Senegal, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Irreducible to resistance or accommodation, popular infrastructural solutions prioritize opportunity and security in the face of the near inevitable predations of large-scale infrastructural interventions motivated by profit, development, or both.


  • Sociocultural Anthropology

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