Borders, Mobilities and Landscapes. Mapping railway infrastructure in (post)colonial Africa

01 January 2021 → 31 August 2022
Federal funding: VLIR-UOS
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Curatorial and related studies not elsewhere classified
    • African history
    • Public history
    • Architecture not elsewhere classified
    • Landscape architecture not elsewhere classified
  • Engineering and technology
    • Architectural sciences and technology
Railways Africa colonial history infrastructure
Project description

The construction of railways in colonial Africa was a crucial step in the development of extractive economies initiated by competing European powers. Exploitation, however, is only one side of the story, as railway lines also created unexpected dynamics across colonial borders, triggering large-scale mobility of people, goods and ideas, and forever transforming the landscapes they traversed. This exhibition shows some of the results of the investigation into these new spatial orders conducted by staff and students of the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning of Ghent University.

A first section presents a cartographic analysis of the railway lines that opened up the Central African region to and from neighbouring colonies. The maps displayed, show how these railway lines crossed the continent and thereby countered the spatial demarcations set by colonial borders. The exhibition further focuses on two crucial railway connections within the territory of the former Belgian colony Congo. The Matadi-Kinshasa railway line radically transformed the territory of the Bas-Congo into a colonial production landscape, dotted with plantations, factories and labour camps. The B.C.K. railway, which connected Port-Francqui to Katanga, facilitated the mobility of laborers and raw materials, but also brought significant demographic shifts, with local communities responding differently to the new spatial condition installed by the railroad.

The exhibition is being realized in the context of the Trains & Tracks program of the Europalia Arts Festival