Participant Support: The Economic and Social Impacts of New Infrastructural Development in Rural Areas

Grants and Contracts Details


On September 21, 2015, Zambia’s President Lungu celebrated the groundbreaking for the new “Bottom Road” project. This project aimed to construct a paved road through Zambia’s Gwembe Valley, with a goal of making travel between cities and towns in Southern Province faster and easier. The project would also, in President Lungu’s words, “spur development in this area [of the Gwembe Valley].” In July 2016, phase one of the project – 131 km of paved road between the northern edge and the central region of the Gwembe Valley – was completed. News reports, and the President himself celebrated the success and the potential of this smooth, new access to previously distant and almost mythological (for urban dwellers) regions. Having worked with communities in the Gwembe Valley since the 1990s, I know that this road reconnects rural communities living on Lake Kariba’s shores which have not been easily reachable since before the forced relocation of 57,000 Gwembe Tonga people in 1958, when the Zambezi river was dammed (pun intended), and Lake Kariba was created. Prior to the 1958 relocation, Chief Chipepo’s territory in Central Gwembe was a large conglomeration of villages, sharing deep kinship ties, and interdependent rural livelihoods of small scale farming, cattle and small livestock herding, and fishing (Cliggett 2005; Colson 1971; Scudder 1963). Due to last minute changes by engineers, the height of the dam wall increased approximately one meter, resulting in the unplanned forced relocation of one third of Chief Chipepo’s population to the far north end of the Gwembe Valley. This “emergency” relocation site was established on tributaries of the Zambezi River, downstream from the Kariba Dam. Chief Chipepo himself was among those moved more than 100 kilometers north of the initial relocation site. Despite this distance from three quarters of his population, Chief Chipepo has remained the Customary Political Leader for those still living in Central Gwembe, in the region known as “Chipepo.” This political arrangement has ensured that social and political ties endure over time, and distance. Both of these territories sit at one end, or the other, of the new Bottom Road. The Bottom Road was originally constructed (as a dirt/gravel road) in order to facilitate the forced 1958 relocation. By the late 1960s the road had become impassable to any vehicles, and even bicycles; it had simply become a useful walking path. Residents of the two Chief Chipepo territories either walked approximately 24 hours to reach relatives and their Chief at the far end of the valley, or used expensive public transport, also requiring a full 24 hours of travel. As President Lungu stated at the ground-breaking ceremony, “It is regrettable that despite this road being an important economic link, it has remained a poor gravel road since independence. …. The Bottom Road is part of the Link Zambia 8000 Road Project and has been identified as one of the strategic roads that can spur development in this area (author emphasis)” (ZRDA, 2015). This project will examine how development, economic opportunity, and socio-political systems intersect with new infrastructure – particularly a new road through previously impassable (by wheeled vehicles) territories. Recent anthropological literature reveals that infrastructure, and the dreams that surround it, often says more about aspirations of modernity, than about concrete material benefit (Harvey and Knox 2012, 2016). There is no doubt that the Bottom Road represents this kind of expectation of modernity (Ferguson 1999), for all parties. Word has reached me that urban elite are already wooing lake shore land from local leaders. However, despite the threats, local residents ARE likely to snatch what benefit they can, while they can. Gwembe Tonga people have a history of seizing opportunity when it appears – as with the boom (and then bust) of the new fishing industry with the creation of Lake Kariba, with the transformation of beer from a ritual libation to a male recreation and lucrative women’s economic endeavor, and when the availability of frontier land drove quick migration decisions in search of vibrant new livelihoods (Cliggett 2014; Cliggett et al 2007; Colson and Scudder 1988; Scudder 1972). This is a request for funds to conduct exploratory research to identify the most critical issues emerging from the construction of a new road into previously inaccessible (by wheeled vehicles) regions of Zambia’s Gwembe Valley. Of particular interest is how the road reconnects two particular communities sharing long term political and kinship ties, though separated physically for the past 60 years. Six weeks of fieldwork in summer 2017, carried out by Cliggett and two PhD students (planning dissertation research in this region of Zambia), will produce sufficient data to understand the most critical and time sensitive questions for the “infrastructure – development – politics” nexus deserving further research (which Cliggett will propose in a fully developed regular NSF senior proposal). The starting point for this project is three specific questions: How does a new road enhance (or not) rural livelihoods? • How do rural farmers use the new road to market agricultural crops? (for example: transportation to market centers, road side stalls, introduction of new crops, intensification of livestock activities for the purposes of sale, marketing across ecological zones / climate zones, etc) • How do rural people use the road to diversify their livelihoods? (for example: new entrepreneurial activities, owning/driving for transportation, marketing urban products through shops or mobile sales, marketing within or beyond the region, locally driven tourism endeavors, restaurants and guest houses, new market centers) How does a new road, into prized ecosystems (lake shore territories), impact local land tenure security? • How do outsiders respond to the new road? in particular, political and urban elite acting to gain access to lake-shore land? • How do local elite use the road to access land resources? • How do local communities resist land alienation in these circumstances? How does a new road impact extended political and kinship networks? • Does customary political power become more extended and “democratic” with ease-of-access that a new road provides, or does it reinforce power hierarchies by easing movement and surveillance of existing political elite? (“political” in this case means customary political systems) • Do families isolated for the past 60 years (following the forced resettlement) reinvigorate kinship through marriage, fostering of children, facilitating educational opportunities for extended family, livelihood collaboration, etc? • Do family networks experience increased concern about witchcraft and malevolent intentions due to easier access to relatives, leading to greater insecurity in wellbeing and health (witchcraft in this region is most often identified as ill physical and mental health).
Effective start/end date9/1/178/31/23


  • National Science Foundation


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