Association pour l’anthropologie du changement social et du développement
Association for the anthropology of social change and development

“Le Printemps des Routes” : Disrupting Circulations on the Dakar-Bamako Corridor

Auteur(s) : Kopf Charline ;

This paper examines the frictions and discrepancies between the new plans for a multimodal logistics project on the Dakar-Bamako corridor and the various claims made by citizens, railway workers and trade unions around the degradation of roads and the still incapacitated railway on the same axis. Whilst the Senegalese and Malian governments are negotiating a new deal with the World Bank to rehabilitate the freight transport on the old Dakar-Bamako railway, residents and railway workers of Kayes, a town in western Mali, set up roadblocks on the city’s main bridge over the Senegal River in August 2019. Hampering the circulation of trucks that have now replaced the railway but partly contribute to the roads’ ruination due to the frequent excess load, the citizens protested against the poor state of transport infrastructure highlighting their ‘enclavement’ and restricted mobility. The railway workers, in turn, objected against the unknown future that they are facing now that the railway company they belonged to was dissolved to make place for the World Bank project that involves finding a new private concessionaire. Initiated by members of two civil society groups, FARK (Front d’action pour la region de Kayes) and SIRAKO (‘about the roads’ in Bambara), the protests soon spread to other localities along the railway line as well as further north, leading to what various local and international newspapers dubbed the Malian ‘printemps des routes’ with reference to the Arab spring. In response, the Malian government was quick to announce future investment into road and rail networks including the creation of a national company that would launch a new passenger train. While the protests stopped, citizens, workers and trade unions are still dubious about whether politicians will hold their promises and their discussions become inseparable from how they make sense of global politics, economic inequalities and the continuously degrading security situation in the Sahel that becomes entangled with conspiracy theories against the former colonial power and the geopolitical calculations behind foreign interventions.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, this paper examines the ways in which protests around material infrastructures, and the notion of ‘désenclavement’ and ‘public good’ shape the debate around the role of the postcolonial state, citizenship and corruption in the transport sector amidst logistical imaginaries of seamless capital flows but also a context of increasing insecurity. Drawing on the anthropology of infrastructure and STS, it also contributes to the recent body of work dealing with the developments of international trade networks that arguably define a new ‘age of logistics’ (Brenner, 2006; see also Cowen, 2014; Neilson, 2014; Tsing, 2009). The paper argues that by emphasising the globalisation and internationalisation of the functioning of these spaces, studies examining logistical transport infrastructure have often overlooked the discrepancy between the images of overarching networks that span the globe like spider webs and the hopes or disillusions that they hold for the local population.


Mot-clé : (dés)enclavement, anthropology of infrastructure, logistical imaginaries, et public good
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