Sub-theme 6. The drama of the grabbed commons
Community-based collective action and sustainable development around infrastructure mega-projects
Infrastructure mega-projects, such as economic corridors and special economic zones, induce rapid, large-scale, and contentious transformations to power relations, the distribution of wealth, land-use, and livelihood strategies. Local communities, such as pastoralists, smallholder farmers, women, and youth, are often not involved in the planning of such projects and may lack the power, knowledge, or resources necessary to negotiate remedies with project proponents, such as governments and investors. These imbalances allow grievances to go unresolved and can lead disadvantaged stakeholders to take matters into their own hands through forms of resistance (e.g., sabotage) and competition among local resource users. At the same time, infrastructure projects could, if better designed and implemented, make contributions to sustainable development through improved access to basic services, such as health, education, sanitation, and energy (SDGs 3, 4, 6, 7), improved infrastructure (SDG 9), and reduced poverty, hunger, and inequality (SDGs 1, 2, 5, 10). Strengthening the voice and visions of sustainable development of local stakeholders may be a key lever to improve the impacts of infrastructure projects on sustainable development.
This panel aims to 1) share results of current research and/or development projects about the role of communities, emic perspectives, and collective action in shaping sustainable development in regions targeted by infrastructure mega-projects; 2) strengthen networks among like-minded researchers and professionals; and 3) identify and discuss current key thematic and methodological frontiers in this field.
This panel may be organized in a hybrid or online form, if possible.
1. Grabbed grazing commons, deferred dreams and ripped futures: The curse of oil discovery among the Turkana in Kenya.
1Turkana University College, Kenya, 2Moi University, Kenya
The Turkana people are a marginalized pastoralist group in semi-arid Northwestern Kenya.Land ownership is communal and used for grazing by the community members. The discovery of oil by Tullow International Company in Turkana led to the loss of common grazing land through consiprancy of local elites, nonlocal Kenyans and foreign actors for speculative investments associated with oil explorations. This loss of common grazing land affected the Turkana means of everyday livelihood negatively, (re)defined inter/intra ethnic social relations and contested their sense of social identity and status hinged on rearing of livestock especially among men. These impacts are further compounded by the collapse of Tullow International Company Oil exploration project which local community members (re)imagined self accomplishment through oil wealth. As a consequence there is increased vulnerability and future uncertainity among local community because of inadequacy of legislative mechanism to address community compensation and guidance on mining company Corporate Social Responsibility activities especially afterlives of mining projects.
2. The SD-Engine for Inclusive and Sustainable Development
University of Bern, Switzerland
The Kenyan and Ethiopian governments plan to raise their countries to middle income status by 2030. Both countries are developing infrastructure megaprojects that involve economic development potential as well as risks to local communities (e.g., pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, smallholder farmers) and ecosystems.
The SD-Engine Project aims to test and implement an innovative, conflict-sensitive, and solution-oriented approach for shaping pathways towards inclusive and sustainable development in areas affected by infrastructure megaprojects (e.g., the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor).
We aim to involve community, governmental, business, civil society, and research stakeholders in (1) co-creating pathways for inclusive and sustainable development; (2) negotiating agreeable futures & pathways and co-creating strategic actions; (3) fostering experience with planning, implementing, and monitoring co-created actions; and (4) establishing long-term cooperation through a multi-stakeholder action plan.
The innovative methodological toolkit of the SD-Engine Project combines knowledge and action co-creation. We integrate spatial and system dynamic models with stakeholder interviews and surveys of experts to co-create system and transformation knowledge; workshops with stakeholders to co-create a solutions-oriented partnership and an action plan; and field experiments to test pilot actions.
In this talk, we share an overview of our approach and invite a multidisciplinary discussion of challenges and opportunities related to social learning, power imbalances (including gender, dissent, and controversy), and envisioning alternative futures.
3. Go big or go home. Infrastructuring post-Soviet geographies
Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS), Germany, Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys), Germany, and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Despite scholarly calls for moving away from large-scale flagship projects, a rethinking of the underlying development and infrastructural paradigm is nowhere in sight. The infrastructural boom that gained unprecedented moment with China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ a decade ago continues emboldened as now also the EU and the G7 launch their counter interventions. Each with its own (geo)politics, poetics and promises, these initiatives are infrastructuring geographies and lives, that is, restructuring and governing through infrastructures; seemingly for building better futures. This talk situates the contemporary global infrastructural push and concomitant developmental narratives in post-Soviet geographies by engaging mining, renewable energy and road infrastructure projects in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Georgia. The study takes the dominant ordering of infrastructure projects as material extensions of il/liberal geopolitical and geoeconomic projects of the East or the West down to earth, to places and lifeworlds where these objects emerge. Yet, going beyond a treatment of infrastructure as mere material product, the investigation mobilises infrastructure as a processual analytic for dissembling infrastructures into actors, agendas and agencies that pull and push against infrastructures in different phases. A situated processual approach to infrastructure reveals uneven everyday experiences with re/newed infrastructures on the ground. Beneath the promises of better futures, the research insights speak to translocal paradoxes and grievances associated with large-scale infrastructures. Alarmingly, it also attests to the ever-dwindling space for collective action and meaningful participation for affected people in post-Soviet geographies.
4. Mega-infrastructure projects and communities: local voices from South Caucasus, Georgia
Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Georgia
The priority of the 21st century includes developing trans-regional supply, transit, and trade networks, which the South Caucasus area is actively involved in owing to its geographical location. As a result, some trans-regional mega-infrastructure projects (MIPs) are being planned and carried out. MIPs are developed for the future of city corridors and regional networks because of their large-scale and highly complex nature. However, such projects are huge on a physical scale and in nature, as evidenced by their broad economic, environmental, social, and societal implications on local levels. Due to the geographical location of the Caucasus countries between East and West, North and South, many MIPs are being planned and implemented in these countries. To observe these massive shifts, the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) and the Tbilisi State University (TSU) decided to conduct a preliminary exploratory study to visit a few road infrastructure projects on the spot. After collecting secondary information equipped with discussion guidelines, we followed the newly constructed or planned roads to understand the local context of the MIPs. Given the engagement of several stakeholders, including local government, civic initiatives, small businesses, and the community, we had open discussions covering various viewpoints. Generally, most of the residents and local self-government support the construction of new road infrastructure. Although the mega-project is being built in their municipality, the local governments have little connection with the project and are excluded from the planning and execution processes. Such flaws result from the top-down management, implemented mainly from the country’s “centre”, which lacks the consideration of local context and needs.
5. Centering local communities in large-scale infrastructure projects in southeastern Kazakhstan
University of Zurich, Switzerland
A substantial part of China´s overland Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) runs through Central Asia. As a transit country, Kazakhstan provides relative political stability and is therefore an appreciated cooperation partner. Since the launch of the BRI in 2013 international press and stakeholders celebrated the construction of numerous large-scale infrastructure projects. One aspect, however, is largely neglected in the hype about BRI projects: the impact on local communities and villages located far from political centers and main transport links. The Kazakhstani village Nurly is nestled amidst those large-scale infrastructure projects. Its villagers are on the one hand excited about the opportunities the new infrastructures create, while at the same time they feel excluded from discussions regarding their planning and property rights: “They don’t tell us anything. Now we see that land along the highway became a property of someone else”, a local mourns.
Building on 16 months of ethnographic field research in southeastern Kazakhstan, this paper is based on two shorter field stays in Nurly where a railway line and a highway both cut the grazing land of livestock in Nurly. Upon my visits in 2021 and 2022, I explored how this circumstance put previous livestock herding practices to the test and forged new synergies among pastoralists. This paper is a plea to study marginal communities that unexpectedly turned into centers of grand infrastructure projects.