DPIR’s Biruk Terrefe publishes paper on infrastructure and sovereignty in the Horn of Africa

DPIR’s Departmental Lecturer in African Politics Dr Biruk Terrefe has co-authored a new paper with Departmental Associate Dr Harry Verhoeven focusing on infrastructure and sovereignty in the Horn of Africa.

The paper’s publication – in Political Geography - coincides with Ethiopia’s signing of an MOU with Somaliland on New Year’s Day and offers the analytical and historical backdrop to understand the role of infrastructure in shaping the political order of the region.

The paper – ‘The road (not) taken: The contingencies of infrastructure and sovereignty in the Horn of Africa’ – explores the interrelationship between infrastructure and sovereignty in the region, emphasising their co-production as a key characteristic of regional politics in the past 150 years.

Using Ethiopia's imperial transport corridors, the political economy of Djibouti's Red Sea ports, the Greater Nile Oil Pipeline between South Sudan and Sudan as case studies, they argue that while infrastructures have historically reinforced and strengthened the sovereignty of some polities, they have also suppressed alternative visions of political and economic order. 

In doing so, they shed light on the ‘roads not taken' and the potential implications for how these alternative infrastructural visions might have changed and might still reconfigure political relations and economic dependencies in the Horn.

At a time in which the fragile political order in the Horn is being reconfigured, our analysis tries to grapple with the complex relationship between infrastructure and sovereignty. Infrastructures materially hardwire certain political and economic relations. 

What we wanted to emphasise here was that the choice to pursue one infrastructural path was more often than not a choice against alternatives. The paper is about what these alternative infrastructural paths allow us to see about the vulnerability of the current political order."

Dr Biruk Terrefe, Departmental Lecturer in African Politics