The FutureDAMS working paper series has begun! Barnaby Dye, a research associate on the project, has produced the first of these papers, focusing on the resurgence of dams. Barnaby’s work analyses the why of this notable infrastructure-building trend.

Taking conclusions from his doctoral thesis, the paper presents research on the ideological drivers for the return of dam building. The paper focuses particularly on Rwanda and Tanzania, but situates this against a broader continental trend that includes Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Uganda and Ghana.

The paper argues that in the past, high modernist ideas about dams and their ability to create development, justified the infrastructure’s construction. The ideology also rationalises larger dam designs by celebrating the symbolism of infrastructure. Additionally, high modernism underpins solely positive ideas about what they could deliver.

The paper argues that for Rwanda and Tanzania, this has changed. High modernist ideas about linear development delivered in top down processes by empowered experts does persist. But rather than the dam as the focus, electricity takes centre stage. Therefore governments are on a mission to build megawatts, not necessarily dams.

Moreover, unlike the 20th century dam-building era, hydropower infrastructure tends to be understood more critically. Dams’ vulnerabilities to the climate and some of their trade-offs with environmental and social impacts are sometimes (but not consistently, or fully) appreciated.

The paper therefore proposes that a different sort of modernist ideology now features in the dam building resurgence. It has familiar features to the past, but also important differences. The result is therefore a complex mixture of continuity and change in the drivers for dam projects.


Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of FutureDAMS as a whole.

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