Transport Corridors in Africa 

Edited by Hugh Lamarque and Paul Nugent

Welcome to the African Griot! Please can you tell us about your book Transport Corridors in Africa (which is available as open access!).

Thank you! The book is the central output of the European Research Council’s (2016-2022) ‘’AFRIGOS’’ project, standing for African Governance and Space. AFRIGOS was a five-year initiative, with Paul Nugent as principal investigator, looking into the transition of transport corridors, ports and hub cities on the African continent. 

Existing analysis of the “Corridor” tends to be presentist, technical, and conveyed in the language of transport economics. This volume showcases a more varied approach, offering perspectives from academics and policymakers coming from a range of disciplinary backgrounds. They capture the varied forms of the corridor concept (developmental, transport, and trade corridors), the multiplicity of actors (including China and the European Union), as well as the different permutations of the infrastructure itself, in corridors linking coastal states and in others that link coastal states with the hinterland. The breadth of cases allows for a comparative perspective of East, West, and Southern Africa, as well as the basis of comparisons outside of the continent in Europe, South Asia, and elsewhere.

The motivations behind corridor initiatives in Africa range enormously, from resource extraction to urban development and poverty reduction. A lot depends on scale, and this collection places the grand designs thrashed out at continental and regional economic forums alongside the individual concerns of drivers and cross-border traders hauling goods across the continent’s checkpoints. What emerges are a number of central tensions in the study of transport corridors: between short-term optics and long-term durability; between road and rail as modes of transportation; between regional integration and national interest; between the facilitation of trade and the generation of corridor revenue; between different port configurations; and between local dynamics and the dynamics of long-distance transportation.

How do you define a transport corridor in this book?

‘’What is a transport corridor’’ is a deceptively simple question. This is arguably more complex than addressing the question of what is a city, or even what is a pandemic, for the reason that the object of study has been so heavily shaped by a paradigm in flux. At the most basic level, a transport corridor may be defined as an infrastructural assemblage that connects two or more geographical points across international borders and provides a conduit for the movement of people and goods.

Transport corridors do not simply exist in a straightforward empirical sense: there may be cranes, rail tracks and road surfaces to be sure, but even when bundled together these do not a corridor make. It is the level of connectivity that counts, which is why corridors are often described in terms of networks. The problem here is that corridors exist in large part because governments, funders and development experts either believe that they do or that they should exist. The reality is that the should very easily slips into the do, at the same time as what already exists is repeatedly rebranded. This accounts for the often stark contrast between corridors that are described on paper and what actually exists on the ground.

What are the main differences you discovered between regions?

Each corridor has its own unique constellation of stakeholders, road/rail users, infrastructures, histories, and politics. Perhaps what stands out most distinctly about African trade corridors in comparison to elsewhere is how often they have been constructed on top of prior colonial infrastructures of resource extraction. The resulting path dependencies impact contemporary efforts to stimulate intra-regional trade (particularly through the AfCFTA) and raise questions about whether the development of these specific routes is most likely to produce the kinds of poverty-alleviation touted by those who sponsor ‘’corridors of development’’.

A striking inter-regional comparison exists between some of the East and West African cases, in particular the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor and the Northern Corridor from Mombasa through Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. The two roads operate extremely differently, with the East African case — a coast-hinterland route — providing a critical long-distance trading artery into Central Africa, while the West African example — traversing coastal states — is made use of in a much more fragmented fashion, servicing short-distance domestic trade over international travel. Travelling the two routes resulted in starkly different experiences and encounters that are the subject of chapters nine (Nugent) and ten (Lamarque).

How did you choose your contributors for this publication? How did this project come to fruition?

Paul Nugent was the principal investigator for the project hosted at the University of Edinburgh which has, at various times employed Sidy Cissokho, Elisa Gambino, Hugh Lamarque, José-María Muñoz, Wolfgang Zeller and Tim Zajontz, with Isabella Soi from the University of Cagliari participating as a research affiliate. Under the architecture of the project, Cissokho was mandated to research the role of international institutions, while the doctoral project of Gambino was focused on Chinese involvement in corridor development. All the other researchers were mandated to deal with one or more sub-region and a specific corridor within it. 

When it came to compiling a book for the project, we wished to bring out the richness from each of these sets of case studies. But we were also conscious of the fact that we needed to offer a more rounded view and to address some case studies that were not part of the original project design. We are fortunate, therefore, to have been able to enrich the volume by including contributions from Sergio Oliete and Francesc Magrinyà, Bruce Byiers and Sean Woolfrey, Jérôme Lombard, Nina Sylvanus and Yunnan Chen.

For the research itself we put a strong emphasis on original fieldwork, with the core team spending years cumulatively in countries including Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, the DRC, Ghana, Togo, Senegal, Chad, CAR, Cameroon, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, and Burkina Faso. The book represents the key findings of those members – in the fields of anthropology, politics, history, geography, and civil engineering – alongside external contributors from the policy world, including the European Centre for Development Policy Management, the Overseas Development Institute, the French Institute for Development, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and the European Commission.

What are the practical applications of this research and how will the fact that your book is open access aid this?

We hope that this volume pools into one place a fresh range of perspectives, approaches, and examples that will take the discussion of transport corridors outside of its traditional silos. A better exchange between disciplines should go some way towards bridging the gap between the large-scale planning of new infrastructures and the lived experiences of road and railway users. The process of writing this book involved annual workshops in Uganda, Botswana, and Ghana, (from 2017-2019) hosting participants from African institutions including corridor authorities, research institutions, Regional Economic Communities, policy think tanks and private and public stakeholders working to increase trade. With open access we are able to immediately share our findings with all those who helped along the way, in the hope that they share it further, and that it can shape a greater understanding of corridors, and perhaps even the corridors themselves.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only to extend our sincere thanks to James Currey at Boydell and Brewer for their excellent support throughout the whole process.

Transport Corridors in Africa

Edited by Hugh Lamarque and Paul Nugent

£24.95 / $36.95
Paperback & Open Access,
342pp, 6 b/w, 19 line illus.
August 2022

James Currey


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HUGH LAMARQUE was a postdoctoral Research Fellow on the AFRIGOS project and currently holds a Leverhulme Research Fellowship at the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh.

PAUL NUGENT is Professor of Comparative African History (History and Centre of African Studies) at the University of Edinburgh.