Re-designing Africa: Railways and Globalization in the Era of the New Imperialism

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The Berlin Conference (1884–1885) consecrated a new colonial order that fitted perfectly the imperial agendas of Great Britain, Belgium, France, and Germany. As historical rights over colonial territories gave place to the policy of e efective occupation of African territories, the rivalries among European colonizing powers became increasingly critical. Portugal, a peripheral country in Europe, responded to this new international framework by launching a set of “civilizing out- posts,” to secure Portuguese sovereignty over the hinterland of both Angola and Mozambique and ideally linking the western and the eastern African coasts.
Colonial strategies, however, echoed European political balance, thus limiting the way countries were able to enact their specific agendas. Diplomatic and military events often disguise clashes between opposing technological projects, and technological superiority often acts a soft power, influencing diplomatic negotiations and shaping international treaties. Concepts such as techno-diplomacy, techno-politics and techno- economics helpfully portray the complex entanglements between technology and society at large.
e centerpiece of the Portuguese strategy was, however, not different from the British, the French, or the German ones. Building railways was the most e efficient way to “domesticate” and exploit the African natural and human landscape in situ and, at the same time, to establish an economic hierarchy among geographical spaces both within the colonies and in a world-wide context.
As with all colonial agendas, the Portuguese one was designed to exploit the colonies, imposing a European world view that implied altering the physical, social, and economic structure of the colonized territory under the label of the “civilizing mission.” Railways and other infrastructures—roads, harbors, dams—designed by engineers transformed both the African landscape per se, by molding it to the needs of building the railway lines (earthmoving, changes in river beds, tunnels), and its use, by carving the way to plantations, mining, and trade outposts in the land formerly used by indigenous as pastures or hunting territories, and by establishing white settlements.
Under the banner of progress, Portuguese engineers crafted techno- logical anthropogenic landscapes in Angola and Mozambique based on the European concept of “resource” and “commodity,” displacing and dispossessing native people of their land, changing their representations and uses of the territory, and imposing a new rationale of development. This active intrusion disrupted the native human and natural landscapes, forcing them to integrate the capitalist economic world system.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTechnology and Globalisation: Networks of Experts in World History
EditorsDavid Pretel, Lino Camprubí
Place of PublicationEngland/USA
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-75449-9
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-75449-9
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Economic Studies


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