The following article by Dr Muriel Cote is one of the last posts in the New Political Topographies series, which was the theme of the 2015 CAS conference and attended by all contributors. The conference examined how the proliferation of new political actors and new modes of political action have affected political order in Africa. Muriel is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zürich and undertook her phD at Edinburgh on land tenure in Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso became 4th African producer of gold in 2012, at the time of a global mining rush. Since then, gold production has become the main engine of the Burkinabè economy, largely driven by industrial projects undertaken by foreign mining companies.  The rush reminisces Ferguson’s extractive enclave economy, where foreign capital ‘hops from useful area to useful area, overlooking all places and peoples in between’ (Ferguson 2005). But what happens after the gold rush? In many places it is hard to tell yet because many projects are still ongoing. But in North Burkina where I have conducted most of my fieldwork, artisanal miners have reinvested the open pits left behind after an industrial project ended. The British company AMARA completed a project in a couple of years, and after reaching its extraction goals in 2014, the company hoped to a different place, developing new projects in neighbouring Ivory Coast and in Sierra Leone. When the company staff left, artisanal miners moved back in, they even found again the entrance accesses to the 100 meters deep shafts they had been digging since the 1980s, before AMARA evicted them.

Rather than a case of ‘failed enclave’ this story better fits what Watts (2012) has described for the oil complex as a permanent frontier of exploration and abandonment. Wondering about what happens after the gold rush took me back, somewhat counter intuitively, to exploration again, to artisanal exploration. Enclave extraction is not the end of the road, and in fact the process of ‘discovering’ ‘useful areas’ is part and parcel of securing enclaves, of making them investible. This is why here, and through the case of a particular enclave project in North Burkina, I want to reflect briefly on, and draw attention to, the territorialities of exploration.


AMARA’s pit reinvested by artisanal miners in Bakou, January 2016 (photo: Arne Gillis)

AMARA’s pit reinvested by artisanal miners in Bakou, January 2016 (photo: Arne Gillis)


Exploration appears benign at first sight because it is less physically intrusive, and less politically explosive than extraction, but it is in fact a fundamental moment of enclave-making. As Rubbers (2013, 9) notes, ‘’mining investments do not colonise a terra nullius; they are taken into a social space already structured by various fields of struggle and agency logics’. Exploration is one such ‘social space’ – and it is expanding. In 2001 only two exploration permits were granted in Burkina, while in 2012, 660 were held (ITIE 2014).


Map of exploration permits in Burkina Faso in 2014 (ITIE 2014)

Map of exploration permits in Burkina Faso in 2014 (ITIE 2014)


A first ‘field of struggle’ that structures the social space of exploration is the global virtual market place (Megret 2011). Mining companies are registered on specialised markets such as the Toronto Stock exchange (TSX) and TSX Venture Exchange in Canada, which facilitate the generation of liquidities necessary for large-scale mining investments. In order for large-scale mining projects to become investible, liquidities must be made available. The process typically stages relations between Juniors and Majors, a mining jargon to refer to companies that specialize respectively in exploration and extraction. Exploration reports provide geological promises represented as facts that, within a favourable conjuncture, become attractive to a Major. In the words of the chief executive of Kinross Gold’s, considered one of the largest Major companies, Juniors are like fishing lines in the sea, and “the more lines you have in the water, the more chance you have of catching a fish’.[1] In North Burkina, the Major AMARA was able to undertake an extraction project as a result of several years of exploration and web-based marketing by the Junior OREZONE. In 2012 OREZONE exchanged its 124 km2 permit to the Major CLUFF GOLD (later rebranded AMARA Mining) for the equivalent of 26.5 million dollars. The sale provided OREZONE with liquidities to further advance its extraction projects in Bomboré and Bondi a few hundred kilometres further south. Virtual information and asset exchange is key to the exploration playing field (Luning 2012). More specifically it could be argued that the virtual territoriality of exploration is precisely what makes enclaves investible.


Exploration concessions included in Orezone's SEGA project zone (Orezone 2010)
Exploration concessions included in Orezone’s SEGA project zone (Orezone 2010)



But gold also gets discovered from the ground, and who does actually discover gold? A Second ‘field of struggle’ that structures the social space of exploration is the concession, both as a site and a relation. Mining exploration concessions are sites populated by small-scale miners and Juniors where typically, the first tip off the latter. In the case of the same AMARA project, the Canadian Junior OREZONE that acquired an exploration permit in 2001 did not repress illegal small-scale mining on its exploration permit. When I discussed this situation in 2011 with a chief geologist working for OREZONE, I was told that (political) concessions must be made to small-scale miners: ‘you cannot put a policemen behind every small-scale shaft, and anyway, the presence of small-scale miners is a good sign for us, it means there is gold, they show us where to dig’. Small-scale miners I conducted research with on this same permit in 2011 and 2012 indeed complained that the Canadians were ‘following them’, systematically closing down their shafts soon after they proved promising. Below is a map drawn by these small-scale miners, where each green sticker represents an artisanal shaft covered up by the Canadian company to undertake exploratory drillings in the same spots. For extractive enclaves to be built, ‘useful areas’ must be discovered, and Juniors must know where to dig. For Juniors to know where to dig, exploration concessions cannot be cordoned off, but instead strategic forms of engagement must take place. The politics of underground access within porous exploration concessions makes these sites another key piece of the territoriality of exploration.


A map of shafts in Bakou indicating those closed by OREZONE, April 2011 (photo: Muriel Côte)

A map of shafts in Bakou indicating those closed by OREZONE, April 2011 (photo: Muriel Côte)


Asking about what happens after the gold rush shines a different light on extractive enclaves. Firstly it shines a light on the frontier dimension of enclave economy, and to the fact that extraction is not the end of the road but part of a recursive process. In this recursive dynamics, exploration is as important a step as extraction in the conditions under which enclaves are secured, in the sense of being made investible. Secondly, looking at extractive enclaves from the point of view of exploration dynamics bring to light new territorialities to those envisaged through the lenses of security and extraction. The political economics of exploration accounts a great deal for the conditions under which extractive enclaves become secured, but a lot of this plays out through the virtual territoriality of the stock and share market places. Another territoriality of exploration is in the porosity of concessions. Extractive enclaves draw attention to the imperative of cordoning off extraction areas, making them impenetrable on the ground, an impermeability that is strategically reflected on maps with neat boundaries, as many rhetorical assurances of excluding competing claimants; but what allows outright exclusion and dislocation under extraction are strategic forms of engagement with competing claimants under exploration. In the case presented above it is precisely the porosity of concessionary boundaries that allow a Junior to be tipped off about the location of ore deposits, which may further become attractive to potential enclave makers. Understanding political topographies of extraction includes piecing together the territorialities of speculative concessionary politics. The virtual and porous territorialities of exploration are also key dimensions that make enclaves im/possible, and that shape the frontiers of global capitalism.


AMARA gold mine in Bakou, Burkina Faso (photo: Muriel Côte, December 2014)

AMARA gold mine in Bakou, Burkina Faso (photo: Muriel Côte, December 2014)



Ferguson, J. 2005. “Seeing like an oil company: Space, security, and global capital in neoliberal Africa.”  American Anthropologist 107:377–382.

ITIE. 2014. Rapport de conciliation des paiements des sociétés minières a l’état et des recettes perçues par l’état desdites sociétés pour l’exercice 2012. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: Initiative pour la Transparence dans les Industries Extractives, ITIE.

Luning, Sabine W.J. 2012. “Processing promises of gold: A minefield of company-community relations in Burkina Faso.”  Africa Today 58 (3):23-39.

Megret, Q. 2011. “De l’inscription en bourse à l’exploration en brousse: La double vie d’une multinationale minière junior.”  Carnets de geographes 2.

Orezone. 2010. Technical report of the mineral resource estimation of the SEGA (Tiba) gold project. Ottawa: Orezone.

Rubbers, B. 2013. “Les sociétés Africaines face aux investissements miniers.”  Politique Africaine 131 (3):5-25.

Watts, M. 2012. “A tale of two gulfs: Life, death and dispossession along two oil frontiers.”  American Quarterly 64 (3):437-467.


[1] Financial Times, January 14th 2014, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/4869ecf4-76c5-11e3-a253-00144feabdc0.html#axzz434QVVgRF

CAS PhD student Tobey Berriault (below) served as a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Officer in Côte d’Ivoire from November 2014 to September 2015, helping to ensure the reintegration of female armed combatants. Her experiences during this period, which would go on to inspire her current research, were recently published on the International UN Volunteers Website. To save you an extra click, you can also read all about them below!

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire: 

As a master student in Canada, I studied Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) processes in West African countries. While doing my internship with UNDP in Namibia, a colleague who was a UN Volunteer encouraged me to register online. I did not have a clue what the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme was, but I took her advice anyway. About a year later, I was recruited to serve as UN Volunteer DDR Officer, which was an academic dream come true.

I am serving with the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) section of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), and I’m also the gender focal point for DDR. At the Anyama Camp in Abidjan, I help collect weapons, grenades, unexploded ordnances, and munitions; demobilize ex-combatants; generate relevant statistics; and assist the national Authority on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration.

Traditional conceptions of a DDR programme tend to favour the reintegration of male armed combatants. While many women also take up arms, there is the risk of side-lining them in the process as the roles they held may have been supportive rather than active combat.

If a DDR process is limited in its ability to cater to these varying roles, it runs the risk of becoming an exclusive process, potentially relegating vulnerable groups to the side, and limiting their ability to sustainably reintegrate into their communities.

My daily responsibilities involve collecting and archiving relevant gender-disaggregated data for all processes of the programme, and to align our programme as much as possible with the United Nations standards for a gender-responsive DDR programme.

One of our main efforts has been to showcase and track the involvement of female beneficiaries in our reinsertion projects. The projects are particularly interesting because the benefits have the potential to extend beyond the livelihoods of the ex-combatants and into those of the communities themselves. It’s really tangible and rewarding to see beneficiaries and receiving communities happy.

In many of our projects, our field colleagues are working with the implementing partners to make sure that the projects are conducive to female participation. Some NGOs have put women in key roles within the project boards, for example as president of the organization or as financial secretary. It is extremely positive for UNOCI to be able to say that our projects place importance on female participation and have, in many cases, enabled women participants to become leaders within the projects and their communities.

Being a UN Volunteer is a great professional experience. One should not let the title UN “Volunteer” deter them from applying and potentially missing out on substantial work. It is a great stepping stone in one’s career, and a rare combination of interesting work and global opportunities.

Together with Carleton Universities, James Milner, CAS PhD student Amelia Kuch has just published a fascinating piece on the naturalisation of Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Read all about it below, and at www.reflaw.org.


In December 2007, the Government of Tanzania announced its willingness to offer naturalization as part of a comprehensive solution for Burundian refugees who had been in Tanzania since 1972. This policy announcement was a surprise to many observers of refugee issues in Tanzania in light of the country’s restrictive approach to asylum since the 1990s —an approach which was ultimately formalized in Tanzania’s 2003 National Refugee Policy. By June 2010, however, Tanzania’s newfound willingness to offer naturalization saw 162,156 applications for naturalization approved. The process then stalled, and the Government of Tanzania became more reluctant to see the process to its full conclusion. Then, to the surprise and delight of many, the Government of the Tanzania announced on the margins of UNHCR’s Executive Committee meeting in Geneva in October 2014 that it had decided to go ahead and fully implement the program. Tanzania’s President, Jakaya Kikwete, granted citizenship to all approved applicants, along with their dependents born after the application process, on October 14, 2014.

The granting of citizenship to Burundian refugees by the Government of Tanzania should be commended as a significant and unprecedented response to a protracted refugee situation. However, the process remains poorly understood, from the factors that resulted in the suspension of the program in 2010 to those that led to its final implementation in 2014. Was this the successful implementation of a global policy on resolving protracted refugee situations? And what impact did the process have on the rights of refugees? In response to these questions, we will briefly outline the factors that explain the initiation of the process and its suspension.[1] Drawing on recent fieldwork conducted in the region, we will also consider the impact of the process on the rights of the refugees themselves. While the factors that led to the full implementation of the process in October 2014 remain a mystery, we believe that a more detailed understanding of national politics and local realities are important for understanding the ebb and flow of the naturalization process in Tanzania and its potential application elsewhere.

The Naturalization Process: Origins and  Evolution[2]

Shortly after a significant victory for Tanzania’s ruling party in the 2005 elections, the Government of Tanzania informed UNHCR that it wanted to close the remaining camp for Burundian refugees in Tanzania, Mtabila, by encouraging voluntary repatriation. These discussions initially did not address the future of the 1972 Burundians remaining in the ‘Old Settlements’ of Katumba, Mishamo and Ulyankulu, as this group had been self-reliant since the mid-1980s and had not been included in UNHCR’s Tanzania program since 1985. In a meeting of the Tripartite Commission in 2006, however, the governments of Burundi and Tanzania expressed their desire to close both Mtabila and the ‘Old Settlements’. While this was unexpected, UNHCR was nonetheless able to propose a response that became known as the Tanzania Comprehensive Solutions Strategy (“TANCOSS”).

The Tripartite Commission

During the subsequent meeting of the Tripartite Commission, in June 2007, UNHCR accepted the proposal to close both the camp and settlements hosting Burundian refugees while raising the possibility that repatriation may not be the best solution for all refugees in the Old Settlements. Instead, UNHCR noted that it had not had a presence in the Old Settlements for some twenty years, and that a solution strategy for this population would therefore be best developed with the support of further study of the conditions and intentions of those refugees in the Old Settlement. With the agreement of the two governments, the Old Settlements Task Force was established as a sub-group of the Tripartite Commission and tasked with the development of a solutions strategy for refugees remaining in the three settlements.

This agreement led to a series of initiatives, led by UNHCR with the support of the two governments, which unfolded in a notably short period of time. First, a population census was conducted in the three settlements in July 2007. Second, an individual registration process was conducted in the three settlements between August and October 2007. Third, a socio-economic assessment of the settlements was conducted by an independent consulting group. This survey also asked refugees to identify their preference between repatriation to Burundi and local integration in Tanzania as a possible durable solution. In response, some 79% of refugees identified the acquisition of Tanzanian citizenship as their preferred durable solution, with the remaining 21% opting for repatriation. While the survey has been critiqued for not fully describing to respondents the specifics and implications of their choice, the results clearly indicated the overwhelming preference of the refugees to pursue naturalization.

A Three Pillar Approach

Building from these results, a “three pillar” approach was approved at the Tripartite Commission meeting in Bujumbura in December 2007. “Pillar One” involved the repatriation of some 46,000 individuals to Burundi while “Pillar Two” involved the processing of citizenship applications for some 162,000 individuals who wished to pursue naturalization in Tanzania. “Pillar Three” involved the relocation of naturalized refugees from the settlements and their integration in new areas of Tanzania. On 12 February 2008, UNHCR launched a supplementary appeal, calling on donors to contribute just over US$34 million to support a comprehensive solution for the 1972 Burundian refugees in Tanzania. While no specific timeline was detailed in the appeal, UNHCR did note that “the opportunity for a facilitated naturalization process is time-bound, and providing adequate resources to complete it by the end of 2008 is critical to achieving success in this programme.”

In March 2008, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, officially launched the TANCOSS process during a visit to Tanzania. Repatriation to Burundi from the settlements began in March 2008, and in June 2010 the Minister of Home Affairs stated in the National Assembly that 162,156 of the 164,312 applications for Tanzanian citizenship had been approved.

In parallel to what was thus seen as a successful and expeditious realization of “Pillar One” and “Pillar Two,” plans were being developed to support the relocation and local integration of refugees from the Old Settlements, now referred to as “Newly Naturalized Tanzanians” (“NNTs”). Ultimately, the 2011-15 United Nations Development Assistant Plan (“UNDAP”) included a total of $103 million intended to facilitate the relocation and integration of NNTs across Tanzania and to enhance the absorption capacity of receiving communities.

Notwithstanding these investments in the relocation process, however, there was no progress in the naturalization program between June 2010 and the government’s announcement in October 2014. In fact, several statements by the Government of Tanzania during this period suggested declining government commitment to the process and the possibility that the decision to grant citizenship could be reversed. The delay caused particular concerns for refugees and observers of the process, especially as UNHCR seemed unable to intervene in the process to encourage its implementation.

Explanatory Factors

As argued elsewhere (see Milner, 2014) global refugee policy played a marginal role in Tanzania’s initial decision to offer citizenship. Instead, the decision to facilitate naturalization was motivated more by changing relations between Tanzania and Burundi, the political abilities of UNHCR’s Representative to Tanzania, dynamics within Tanzania’s ruling party, and Tanzania’s prior history of naturalizing Rwandan refugees in the 1980s. In contrast, Tanzanian electoral politics, power struggles within the CCM, and the shifting position of President Kikwete within Tanzanian politics best explain the lack of progress in implementing the naturalization program between 2010 and 2014. The fact that President Kikwete was not able to run for re-election in 2015, coupled with his desire to prevent Tanzania from reneging on an international commitment, may also partially explain why citizenship was ultimately granted in 2014. Many of these factors are bound-up in broader shifts in the local, national and regional politics of Tanzania since independence. As such, a key lesson from the Tanzanian experience is that factors unrelated to the presence of refugees broadly explain the ebb and flow of a naturalization policy in Tanzania since 2007. Such factors will likely remain important when considering the possible encouragement of a similar response to protracted refugee situations in Africa.

Naturalization’s  Impact on  Refugees’  Rights

 Despite major delays and setbacks in the process of naturalization, in October 2014 the majority of Burundian refugees received Tanzanian citizenship. In the following, we discuss the effects that implementation of the TANCOSS policy has had, and continues to have, on the rights of the people concerned. This section draws on fieldwork research conducted in April-June 2015. In total,  fifty-four interviews were conducted, out of which  eleven were with Tanzanians living in the settlements,  thirty-eight with former Burundian refugees, and five with officials involved in the naturalization process.

Right to Freedom of Movement

A significant majority of the respondents singled out freedom of movement as the most important right acquired through their new citizenship. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that States shall afford refugees the right to move freely within the host State. [3] However, many countries[4], including Tanzania, specify in their national laws that refugees should live in designated refugee camps and that their movement must be regulated. Ultimately, these laws not only limit refugees’ mobility, but also restrict their access to other rights such as employment and education. It is important to note that prior to naturalization, many Burundians had migrated to and from the settlements. However, despite refugees’ ability to circumvent the rules, traveling has always meant applying for permits, potential harassment, and anxiety. Thus, for the people concerned, acquisition of citizenship is intertwined with freedom of movement. According to former refugees, the right to move freely is a privilege that can significantly improve their quality of life. These responses strongly resonate with arguments of scholars who advocate for recognizing and protecting refugees’ right to mobility as a solution to their economic and other livelihood needs.[5]

Political Rights

Half of the respondents pointed to voting and running for political positions as the second most important set of rights acquired through access to citizenship. Exile effectively excludes refugees, both physically and symbolically, from participation in the political community of their state of origin to which they are unwilling and/or unable to return. A situation of naturalization changes these dynamics. As James C. Hathaway argues:

By granting the refugee the right to participate in the public life of the state, naturalization eliminates the most profound gap in the rights otherwise available to refugees, since full political rights are not guaranteed to refugees under the Refugee Convention, nor to non-citizens under general principles of international human rights law.[6]

Among the refugees, excitement about political participation is demonstrated on two levels: it refers both to the ability to select representatives, but also to hold office. Previously, Burundians were allowed to select their village leaders, while Tanzanians appointed the higher authorities.

By becoming citizens, former refugees became entitled to take part in the political life of the country, and they were allowed to cast their votes in the October 2015 Tanzanian general elections. The right to vote constitutes a significant element of the refugees’ conceptualization of their newly acquired citizenship.

Right to Remain

For the Burundian refugees, the state of protracted displacement was marked by decades of insecurity and inability to plan for the future. People explained that they were never sure how long they would be allowed to stay in Tanzania, and that this lack of stability generated further concerns. The feelings of insecurity escalated at the time of suspension of naturalization (2010-2014). In the years when it was unclear if naturalization was going to be completed, disruptive rumors and anxiety spread in the settlements. For the refugees, acquisition of citizenship stands as a guarantee of their right to indefinitely remain in Tanzania.

Moreover, former refugees tend to juxtapose the value of their newly acquired citizenship with the unsafe situation in Burundi. In April 2015, civil unrest broke out in Bujumbura in protest of President Nkurunzinza’s third term in office. Following these events, 100,000 Burundians fled again to Tanzania. In total, since April 2015, hundreds of people have been killed and more than 200,000 have fled to Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania as a result of political violence. Virtually every family in the settlements has connections with others who repatriated to Burundiand who since fled again to Tanzania in the midst of continued instability in Burundi. These regional developments strongly influence the meaning and value people attach to their Tanzanian citizenship: they perceive it as a symbol of security, both in terms of physical safety and ability to plan for the future.

Contested Issues 

Despite the optimism surrounding the final implementation of TANCOSS, there are still many contested issues. At least 40,000 applications are still pending, and it is unclear how and when they are going to be finalized. The Ministry of Home Affairs contends that the Settlement Commandant is meant to remain in place until the pending cases are resolved. For the former refugees, the continued presence of the Commandant symbolizes the incompleteness of naturalization. However, the major challenge of opening the camps and eliminating the previous governance structure is not necessarily the issue of unresolved cases. In fact, the most complicated is the question of how to secure rights to land and property for the naturalized refugees. If the institution of the Settlement Commandant is abolished and the settlements are dissolved, the land will revert to the status it had prior to the establishment of the settlement in the 1972, meaning that it would not belong to the refugees (Section 16/1998 Refugees Act). It is unclear how former refugees are going to assert their rights following the dismantling of the camps and if they will be compensated for their investments in the settlements over the past  forty-plus years.


The decision of the Tanzania government to grant citizenship to more than 162,000 refugees sets a unique and laudable example of resolving a protracted refugee situation. Naturalization allowed former refugees to assert their rights to freedom of movement, political participation, and remaining in Tanzania. However, it was not a smooth process and it remains incomplete. There are still many contested issues, such as refugees’ property rights and a large number of pending cases. For many refugees, access to land is a prerequisite for achieving sustainable integration, and questions of property and land rights should be included in the process of formulating naturalization policies. Moreover, at the time when naturalization was suspended, UNHCR seemed unable to intervene in the process to encourage its implementation and refugees were not informed about the situation. An improved flow of information between the refugees, the Tanzanian Government, and UNHCR should be facilitated. Finally, when considering the possible encouragement of a similar response to protracted refugee situations elsewhere, it will be crucial to pay attention to the attitudes towards naturalization at the level of local governments, leadership’s commitment to naturalization, and availability of adequate funding.

[1] See James Milner, Can Global Refugee Policy Leverage Durable Solutions? Lessons from Tanzania’s Naturalization of Burundian Refugees, 27(4) J. of Refugee Studies 553 (2014).

[2] This section is based on James Milner, “Two steps forward, one step back: Understanding the shifting politics of refugee policy in Tanzania”, New Issues in Refugee Research, Paper no. 255, Geneva: UNHCR, July (2013).

[3] Arts. 12 and 26 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees also affords refugees freedom of movement within the host state.

[4] Ethiopia: National Refugee Proclamation, No. 409/2004, art. 21(1)Kenya: The Refugees Act, No. 13, Legislative Supplement No. 7 (2009)Tanzania: Refugee Act 1998, Section 17.

[5] See Alessandro Monsutti, Afghan Migratory Strategies and the Three Solutions to the Refugee Problem, 27(1) Refugee Survey Quarterly 58-73 (2008); Katy Long, Extending Protection? Labour Migration and Durable Solutions for Refugees, New Issues in Refugee Research 176 (2009); Katy Long & Jeff Crisp, Migration, Mobility and Solutions: An Evolving Perspective, 35 Forced Migration Review 56-57 (2009).

[6] The Rights of Refugees under International Law 980 (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

– See more at: http://www.reflaw.org/naturalization-in-tanzania-lessons-from-the-ebb-and-flow-of-the-process/#sthash.NBjjiOhu.dpuf

On 19 November, four African restaurants, each representing a different region of the continent, gathered together at Earthy Café to compete for the coveted title of African Food Battle Champion 2015.


The event, attended by almost one hundred people, was organised by Stephen Kaye (Centre of African Studies), the Global Development Alliance, the Edinburgh University International Development Society (EUID) and the Edinburgh University Swahili Society, and aimed to promote and celebrate the diversity of African cuisine and art.

As well as the delicious food on offer, prepared by Jambo Grill (East), Knight’s Kitchen (South), African Flavour (West) and Café Arabicana (North), guests were also able to enjoy Afrobeat from Samba Sene & Diwan, comedy from award-winning comedian Njambi McGrath, a performance from professional storyteller Mara Menzies, and electrifying drumming from the University of Edinburgh Drumming Society. Also in attendance were STV, who filmed a three-minute segment of the evening for their Fountainbridge Show.

The eventual winner of the title, as voted for by the guests present, was the Café Arabicana team, who are already preparing to defend their crown at the sequel, scheduled for April 2016.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

MSc in African Studies student Hermine Kudia writes about the recent CAS retreat to the Burn.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While I did not know what to expect from a weekend away with the CAS staff and my fellow new colleagues, I awaited the retreat with much anticipation.

After what seemed like a long drive to Aberdeenshire, we arrived to a welcoming old Scottish country house, what was to be known as The Burn and home for the next two nights. Upon arrival we were greeted by Paul and settled into our rooms. We were very quickly made to feel welcome and at ease. The night consisted of watching ‘We Will Win Peace’, a documentary by Seth Chase, exploring and critiquing aid organisations and their effects in the DRC. The compelling nature of the documentary created a starting point for discussion. With a room full of eager and opinionated students, the night was off to a good start and discussion. With the conversation moderated by Dr Sarah-Jane Cooper-Knock, different voices and opinions were heard. As Dr Zoe Marks stressed in her first seminar of the term (paraphrasing) ‘You are open to say your opinions and opinions can change’- which is certainly what happened over the weekend with educated discussions taking place.

The Walk, Debate and Braii

After a thought provoking and insightful night we awoke to the sound of a large gong calling us all down for breakfast. Breakfast was swiftly followed by a walk in the Aberdeenshire gardens, Dr Wolfgang knew his way around well and led the pack; which is what we had become, having familiarised ourselves with each other. After the walk, we had a hearty and warm lunch followed by a round of debating.

Debating consisted of many topics including motions such as ‘Has Aid done more to hurt Africa then help it’ and ‘This House believes in African Solutions to African Problems’. Through the session we enhanced our effective communication skills, teamwork and broke down national, economic, cultural and ethnic boundaries. This was an engaging way to connect the students, also encouraging discussion.

An outdoor South African Braii followed soon after, with Dr Wolfgang grilling the meat at the social gathering. The Braii, a social tradition was definitely fitting for the night. With everyone gathered around the fire, storytelling began and laughter filled the Aberdeenshire air

Final Day

On our last day a Reading Group was planned, evaluating Achille Mbembes ‘The South African Political Life’ and a critique piece from T.O.Molefe ‘A long comment on Mbembe’s state of South African politics’. The conversation around the piece opened up discussion, to say the least, and touched on personal experiences. Inspired by the shared desire for conversation, a bimonthly reading group was created, hosted by both Dr Marks and Dr Cooper-Knock.

The CAS Annual Retreat truly exceeded expectation and brought together new members of the department. The greatness of conversation was not limited to the country house, but a passion for Africa poured out into the seminars and lecture discussions in the coming week. Questions were asked, ideas were developed and false assumptions were put aside. I believe it would be accurate to say that not only did the new Masters students learn on the trip, but so too did the lecturers.

I would like to give a special thanks to; Dr Sarah Jane Cooper-Knock, Dr Zoe Marks, Dr Sam Spiegel and Dr Wolfgang Zeller.


Fancy putting your Africa knowledge to the test over some well deserved procrastination? Well now is your chance with the monthly CAS crossword!

Print out the puzzle from the link below and the first person to hand in a correct completed copy to Steve in CMB 4.13 will win a free hot drink at Ground!

Good luck!

Monthly CAS Crossword (October)

Our very own Wolfgang Zeller writes about his recent fieldwork in Namibia and Zambia. Wolfgang is a Senior Research Fellow on the African Governance and Space (AFRIGOS) project. Starting in January 2016, AFRIGOS will examine transport corridors, border towns and port cities in four regions of Africa. The project is funded by the European Research Council’s Advanced Grant scheme. Prof. Paul Nugent is the Principal Investigator of AFRIGOS.

Katima Gateway

Would you greet the visitors on your doorstep with the words: “Welcome! My home is a gateway to my neighbours”?

It seems the town council of Katima Mulilo in Namibia’s Zambezi Region has officially and explicitly internalized the colonial logic that, in 1890 as part of the Anglo- German Heligoland- Zanzibar agreement, originally established the German “access corridor” to the Zambezi and, by logical extension, to the interior of southern Africa. The town council has a very concrete reason to endorse that view.

Bridge ribbon cut

Opened in May 2004 and built with a bilateral German-Zambian development grant, the Katima Mulilo bridge across the Zambezi was the last missing link connecting the Namibian port of Walvis Bay with the mining areas of Zambia’s Copperbelt and the Katanga province of DRC via an uninterrupted 2600km asphalt road.


This road is one of four long-distance trans-boundary transport corridors converging on Walvis Bay. Developing the port into a major transport hub plugging the southern African region into the world of global commerce has for over a decade been a high official priority for the Namibian government and a wide variety of public and private interested parties organized, since 2001, in the Walvis Bay Corridor Group. Their agenda is well integrated with even larger-scale pronouncements by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), donors and investors around the globe. Investment in transport infrastructure is currently big business and high politics across Africa. The present construction of an entirely new container terminal in the Walvis Bay harbour is but one small piece in the puzzle.

Walvis Bay enlargement June 2015

Big words and big numbers of ongoing or projected investments are easy to come by in the media coverage and policy literature. But “uninterrupted” and “trans-boundary” are relative terms.


When you are behind the wheel of a truck arriving in Katima Mulilo, potholes, 2 and 4-legged pedestrians, and red tape are what you need to deal with. The gateway has many locks and they do not all open easily.

Despite its appearance of permanence and continuity, infrastructure is never separate from the physical environment. Instead it must be understood as alive and part of the natural landscape. Prof. Andrew Barryrecently pointed this out at the annual conference of the Centre of African Studies at Edinburgh University.Elephant road sign

Elephants, people and cattle crossing or using the road for their own purposes are all aspects of this. 11 years after it was entirely rebuilt, the fast-growing potholes on the first 60km of highway between the Katima Mulilo bridge and Livingstone in Zambia illustrate another aspect: roads require ongoing maintenance. Lack of drainage and canals blocked by encroaching vegetation has left sections of the highway’s undercarriage waterlogged and consequently unstable for months during the rainy season.

While Zambian work crews are doing their best to fill in the holes with an – evidently inadequate and largely cosmetic – mix of cement and gravel, their colleagues on the Namibian side have asphalt to do the job and appear to be on top of the task to keep the weeds down.

This abnormal sized convoy of altogether 16 vehicles (4 oversize trailers & their “horses”, 1 tanker truck, 2 managers, 8 escort vehicles and 1 researcher) is hauling 4 Dutch-built electricity transformers weighing 110 tons each from Walvis Bay to the Kafue Gorge hydroelectric power plant in Zambia.

Convoy near WENELA

For the drivers the difference between the road surfaces in Namibia and Zambia is easily put in numbers: A breath-taking 50km/hour cruise down the smooth open road or a nerve-wrecking slalom at 10km/hour to avoid as many holes as possible, and a lot more hassle with the after-effect such conditions have on the 18 or more quadruple axles per trailer.

Physical infrastructure is but one aspect of the ever-changing landscape navigated by the core team of the convoy: Wynand Prinsloo (supervisor), Hentje Rupping (soon retired senior supervisor), Rudolf Rupping (driver, & Hentje’s son), Chris Dean (driver), Israel Mollo (driver), Teens Nhlapo (driver) and Cecil Ramasenya (gofer & handyman), all from South Africa. Dealing with border post bureaucracy, traffic police and the pen-pushers back in the head office of Mammoet Southern Africa (pty) ltd in Johannesburg is at least as much part of their job as their technical know-how to keep 4 X 200 tons of steel & rubber on the road and moving forward.

Paper work II

By the time I join the convoy they have been on the road non-stop for altogether 11 weeks. One week has passed while they were waiting at a lodge in Katima Mulilo for their head office to confirm that the Zambian parastatal electricity provider ZESCO has indeed transferred the final installment of 33 million Euros for the merchandise which Wynand & his team are about to take across the border into Zambia. Their predicament was my good luck: I had plenty of time to socialize with the truckers.

What does a South African with extra time on his hands do? Beach or borderland, he fires up the braai.WENELA braai

I took the above pictures as the convoy, finally with green light from the head office but now dealing with yet more border bureaucracy, was settling in to camp for a second night in the no-man’s land between the Namibian and Zambian checkpoints. In the very same place, the official speakers at the opening of the nearby Zambezi Bridge in 2004 had loudly proclaimed the prospect of a supposedly more efficient one-stop border post. It has so far remained a happy fiction.


Despite their close and friendly relations, both the Namibian and Zambian governments have, instead, in recent years invested in separate brand new shiny office buildings housing their separate immigration, customs, police and road authority desks.

The architects have done a fairly good job to provide for the needs of the administrators and regular-sized personal vehicles and trucks. My Mammoet friends are not so lucky.

Stone ramp

Their oversized trailers barely fit through the gates and around the narrow corners of the border checkpoints. But, as the saying goes, the Boers make a plan.

But no Boer plan can help against the fact that the Zambian customs service has recently centralized its operations. Whereas before border customs stations were able to handle and process their local paperwork – albeit at their own chosen speed and often against unofficial or inflated fees – all procedures must now go through the national head office in Lusaka. They are supposedly working 24/7 but that’s the theory while in practice the electronic channels that should transport the customs documents between the central and frontline offices are just like some of the roads: potholes, inadequate bends, poorly maintained etc. So what used to take 2 days now takes 5, say my trucker friends. We wait and braai. Time to look around a bit.

Currency traders

The space between the checkpoints is bustling with the activities of currency traders, fuel smugglers and truck cleaners by day, while the working girls, gangs stealing diesel from the parked trucks, and private security personnel hired to prevent the latter are working the night shifts. The corridor route is space where many people live and try to make a living, and only few of these are long-distance transporters.

With the oversized cargo providing welcome shade, the white supervisors and drivers of “my” convoy are sharing the meat, beer and stories. We discuss how to best adulterate electrical equipment to cater for the needs of life on the road. The senior members of the team soon move into stories of their time spent in the area as young soldiers serving with the South African Defense Forces back in the 1970s and 80s, and the importance of their Christian faith to provide a moral compass for the hard life on the road. As the shadows from the steel hunks surrounding us grow longer the memories of the Voortrekkers are invoked.

Kazungula breakfast

Meanwhile, the black members of the team and their local female companions are gathering in their own separate circle, preparing Zambezi bream, cabbage and maize porridge and sharing their own stories in the shade of their own trucks. All members of the closely-knit team are well used to each other after years of life on the road together, but when making camp they do maintain that certain distance.

By the following morning all the paper work has finally been resolved. Before sunrise the diesel hearts are pumping hydraulic fluids through the veins of the monsters.

WENELA lock opening

The escort vehicles (Zambian law requires two per abnormal truck) are blinking and buzzing around them like nervous insects. Then the man with the key to the highway finally appears. I ask Wynand: “Are you excited to get going again?” “No, I just want to go home to my family” comes his prompt reply.

Minutes later, the convoy very carefully crawls across the Zambezi bridge, one truck at a time.

Zambezi Mammoet crossing

But as soon as they reach the other side they come to a full stop.

ZESCO cable lift

The mechanics from ZESCO, supposed to lift some power cables that are hanging too low for the tall cargo to pass, are nowhere to be seen. 16 vehicles, 4 of them far too wide to pass, are stuck in the middle of High Street in the border town of Sesheke and absolutely nothing is moving. Wynand has been working the phone for days to avoid precisely this scenario. But it’s too early in the morning to get angry. With a dry grin he comments “If we don’t move nothing here moves. That’s not my problem”. Except it will be his problem later on.

The ZESCO team eventually arrives at a leisurely speed to lift the cables. We start rolling again at 50km/h. Then the potholes start. The convoy ends up spending the night by the roadside half way to Livingstone, only half the distance Wynand an his team had hoped to accomplish that day.Potholes

Abnormal sized trucks are only allowed on the road during daylight hours. A Cape-to-Cairo cyclist adventurer has overtaken the convoy several times during the day and ends up pitching his tent in the safe proximity of the Mammoet convoy.

How long the rest of the journey may still take is uncertain. Once the convoy reaches Kafue, they must wait for the hydraulic lifts needed to unload the cargo to arrive. Those are currently stuck at Beitbridge on the South Africa-Zimbabwe border. And among the truckers of Southern Africa that border is famous for being very, very slow. At least the fishing is good in Kafue. And then they will braai.


The Walvis Bay Corridor Group is promoting the Walvis Bay Ndola Lubumbashi Corridor as an integrated transport route to unlock the economic potential of southern Africa. They market the promise of unrestrained movement of goods. What I have learned during those days on the road and crossing the Namibia-Zambia border with the Mammoet convoy is just how wide a variety of reasons there is for stoppage.

“Red tape” is just a word that masks a huge variety of administrative steps involving both state representatives in frontline and distant central offices, and corporate actors on the road as well as back in the headquarters of the transport operators and their customers. “Poor infrastructure” is just a word which masks a huge variety of hands-on problems, from deteriorating road surfaces and tight corners to low power cables. All of these constantly evolve, sometimes for the better and sometimes the opposite. There are patterns and seasonality but no matter how well prepared and seasoned Wyand and his drivers are, they constantly need to try and anticipate the unepected. In most cases “the unexpected”, when it finally occurs, means the wheels stop turning. Living on the corridor road appears to be very much about living with the absence of movement. The braai and the fishing rod, the smart phone and, for some, the bible are essential tools to keep going.

Living on the road, my friend

Was going to keep you free and clean

Now you wear your skin like iron

And your breath’s as hard as kerosene

From Pancho & Lefty by Townes van Zandt

Truck wreck


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.