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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 August 2013


Roads and automobility on the African continent are commonly encountered with a rather ambivalent stance, both by Africans and Africanist scholars. This ambivalence emerges from what Adeline Masquelier describes as the ‘profoundly contradictory nature of roads as objects of both fascination and terror’ (2002: 381). In her widely received article on ‘road mythographies’ surrounding Niger's Route 1, Masquelier draws a vivid picture of the ‘contradictory aspects of the road as a space of both fear and desire’ (ibid.: 831). She highlights, in particular, how roadside residents perceive automotive travel as ‘a process fraught with risky and contradictory possibilities’ (ibid.: 832). A ‘pioneering study in the ethnography of roads’ (Campbell 2012: 498), Masquelier's account of people's profound ambivalence towards roads, mobility and transport in post-colonial Niger has been a source of inspiration for a range of scholars who have explored in a similar vein the intricate entanglement of people with (auto)mobility, space and modernity, both in Africa and elsewhere (see, for example, Khan 2006; Klaeger 2009; Dalakoglou 2010; Hart 2011). Five articles in this volume press ahead with the analytic theme of the ambivalence of roads. Through their historic analyses and ethnographic observations, the assembled case studies from Senegal, Ghana, Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania give a strong sense of how the perils and possibilities of roads, roadsides, traffic and transport have been and continue to be embraced in the everyday lives of colonial and post-colonial subjects.

Research Article
Copyright © International African Institute 2013 

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