The return of ‘high modernism’? Exploring the changing development paradigm through a Rwandan case study of dam construction

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The past half-decade has seen a resurgence of dam building in Africa, a controversial development after decades of critique exposing the environmental, economic, and social costs of such projects. Dams have been imagined as symbols of modernity and as keys to national economic development, giving them such status that potential negatives get overlooked. This paper sets out to investigate the implementation of a particular dam built in this new resurgence period. It will ask whether modernist development logics are being repeated in the construction process, causing the social and environmental costs documented in past dam construction. This paper focuses on the Nyabarongo Dam in Rwanda, a country whose post-genocide development record and authoritarian modernist tendencies have been considerably debated. This particular case study also shows the growing role of India in Africa, as it records one of the first Indian financed and built dams on the continent. Qualitative field research found that that while construction planning and practice has enabled many locals to benefit, the dam’s construction was influenced by modernist logics of development that created detrimental, top-down practices
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-324
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number2
Early online date8 Jun 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Jun 2016


  • Rwanda
  • Ideology
  • Development
  • Political Economy
  • Infrastructure
  • Electricity
  • Hydropower
  • Dams

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