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Dr Barnaby Joseph Dye, FRGS, DPhil

Having read geography at the University of Cambridge and completed a Master’s at King’s College, London, I undertook a doctorate at the University of Oxford. During the last phase of the DPhil, I joined the FutureDAMS Research Consortium at the University of Manchester as a research associate, earning promotion to research fellow. In the consortium, I mainly work with Dr Tom Lavers and Professor David Hulme and our partner research teams in Ghana, India and Ethiopia. Alongside my book project, I have four main strands of work, including managing three research grants.

My research has focused on the politics of development, with a particular specialism in Africa. My interests lie in the intersection of two major global trends; firstly, a boom in dams and infrastructure construction and secondly, the rise of states from the Global South and their establishment as major economic-development actors. I am interested in the political economy processes involved in funding and planning infrastructure and the decision making over who benefits. This involves research on the international level of ‘traditional’ ‘establishment’ actors like the World Bank, European and American donors, and the companies and governments from economically-rising states in the Global South. The national level is also enormously significant, and much of my fieldwork has focused on understanding the actors, strategies, ideologies and decision making processes within states. I have then traced international and national policymaking to particular projects and policies, examining the ‘on the ground’ impacts on people’s lives and the environment.

Book Project: Infrastructure and Ideology: The Dam Building Resurgence and Modernist Development in 21st Century Africa (Contract Singed with Oxford University Press)


From the early 2000s Africa has seen the rise of illiberal governments, a number of whom have also pursued ambitious programmes of economic and social transformation. This entailed the pursuit of grand infrastructure projects including major urban transformations, mega-road, rail and airport schemes, extensive plantation irrigation and booms in electricity generation. The so-called rising or emerging powers are often the key enablers for this trend, providing the finance and construction companies to implement large infrastructure. This book addresses these key political economy trends in Africa’s 21st century development landscape; the turn towards infrastructure construction, the rise of ambitious, state-led development programmes and the growing activities of the emerging powers. The book draws on work conducted during my doctorate and post-doctorate, focused on dams and the electricity sector specifically, with empirical fieldwork in Rwanda, Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia.

The book, using case-study evidence, demonstrates a significant change to the justification and planning of dams. Megawatt generation and not dam infrastructure is the goal for national governments. Moreover, impact assessment, wider-ranging compensation practices and local-level benefit sharing are increasingly practiced. Whilst such reformist idea-policies have increasing significance, the book demonstrates that these are subsumed into continuing high modernism. This ideology, associated with the theses of Scott, shaped 1950s-1970s era of infrastructure construction and state-led development. Today, the ideology is again at work alongside strategic, materialist interests, rationalising the pursuit of grand, (overly)ambitious megawatt building and justifies expert-centric decision making that overlooks impacts, treating infrastructure as apolitical. Thus, the book demonstrates new ideological bricolage: High modernist thought-practices have increasingly morphed with reformist ideas that have the opposite ontological and epistemological assumptions.

Related publications on the political economy of electricity and dams


Indian and Brazilian Relations With Africa

I have also conducted substantial research on the so-called emerging or rising powers of India and Brazil, and their trade, investment and foreign-policy towards Africa. I undertook substantial fieldwork during my doctorate and led the Oxford University China-Africa Forum. I have continued this work, with funding won from the FutureDAMS consortium for a research project on the Socio-politics of India’s National and International Dam Building. I oversee two researchers studying dam building in the Himalaya, whilst additionally undertaking my own work focused on the Indian ExIm Bank’s funding of infrastructure in Africa. My own research has examined the prominence of the private sector in Indian development cooperation and the impacts of particular policymaking practices in government and companies on infrastructure projects in Africa, and their developmental and environmental outcomes. Here I am also interested in the way India’s government development cooperation policies are changing, with an emerging pattern of ‘uneven convergence’ with protocols of the World Bank and OECD donor agencies.

Additionally, I have won a project from the FCDO’s India-UK Development Partnership Forum. Working with Professor Ricardo Soares de Oliveira (Oxford), I am gathering data on India’s private and state interests in Africa’s natural resources, what investments have been made where and what the 21st Century trends have been. We are analysing how natural resources fit into wider development cooperation with the continent alongside domestic political strategies.

Publications on India and Brazil’s Development Cooperation and Relations with Africa

The Politics of Electricity and Dams in Ghana

For the FutureDAMS project, I lead two streams of work; a) on the political economy of the electricity sector and b) the socio-politics of dams. The first strand, for which I undertook the majority of the fieldwork, focuses on three themes. The first concerns national-level decision making and, key drivers behind policy decisions in the last decade and how this led to two power-generation crises, one of shortage and one of over-abundance. The second unpacks the drivers for unequally distributed electricity-system benefits, from electricity, to tariff pricing and the handing out of private-sector contracts. The third explains a surprising degree of bureaucratic capacity in parts of the electricity sector and especially the Volta River Authority-Ghana’s dominant electricity generation utility. Collectively, this built a detailed analysis of the electricity sector’s politics and particularly the way competitive, clientelist democratic pressures drove short-term policymaking. The second strand examined changes to dam-building practices from Ghana’s Akosombo Dam, to the recent Bui and under-construction Pwalugu. I have overseen the team at the University of Ghana undertaking this work. I successfully applied for and ESRC IAA grant to support this research in Ghana.


The FutureDAMS Guide

I have also led the production of a FutureDAMS Guide, outlining a more participatory, stakeholder-based approach to modelling the Water-Food-Energy-Environment Nexus. This guide stems from the principal that modelling processes are political, involving fundamental decisions over resources, livelihoods and environmental impacts. Participative, stakeholder-based processes are therefore need that acknowledge the political nature of the modelling process and include those affected.

The guide can be found here: https://www.futuredams.org/research-themes/social-science/stakeholder-engagement-guide/

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, The Politics of Dam Resurgence: High Modernist Statebuilding and the Emerging Powers in Africa, Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford


Master of Arts, Environment and Development, Department of Geography, King's College London


Bachelor of Arts, Geography Tripos, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge


Areas of expertise

  • G Geography (General)
  • Development studies
  • Africa
  • India
  • Brazil
  • Politics and Geography of Development
  • Ideology in Development
  • High Modernism
  • Politics of Infrastructure and Dams
  • The Emerging Powers in Africa
  • Electricity Network
  • JF Political institutions (General)

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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