Continuity or Change in the Infrastructure Turn? Reform of the Technicians’ Realm in a World Bank Dam

Barnaby Joseph Dye

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Development in Africa is undergoing an infrastructure turn, no more so than in resurgent dam building. But how are new projects planned and constructed? Are we seeing the repetition of much maligned practices that underestimated economic, environmental and social costs, or have past critiques changed infrastructure building in the twenty-first century? Using the concept of the technician’s realm that describes short-sighted and expert-centric twentieth century practices of dam building, this article analyses the incorporation of reformist ideas about knowledge production, mitigation and compensation. It uses a detailed case study of the Rusumo Dam, and examines the decision-making processes of the World Bank and a new dam-building organisation, Nelsap. Significantly, this case involved a marked design revision to reduce impact, but also top–down and depoliticising impact assessment and policymaking. It therefore demonstrates nuanced change in the infrastructure turn, the incorporation of reform and continued relevance of past critiques.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Development Research
Early online date27 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Dam resurgence
  • Development
  • Hydro power
  • Impact assessment
  • Infrastructure
  • Nelsap
  • Reform
  • Rusumo Falls Dam
  • World Bank

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Energy
  • Global inequalities
  • Sustainable Futures
  • Global Development Institute


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