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Zhou, Hang (2021) Institution Building, Organisational Restructuring and Everyday Negotiations in Uganda's Roads Sector. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Restricted to Repository staff only until 16 July 2024.


This thesis aims to understand the process of building state institutions in Uganda’s roads sector. Through centering on Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), its recent restructuring exercise as well as its historical predecessors in this sector, I seek to illuminate how they were built, restructured and deployed to carry out the core state agenda of road making throughout different periods from the colonial Protectorate and early postcolonial decades to, most importantly, the contemporary context that witnesses an increasingly polycentric development landscape epitomised by China’s ‘South-South’ interactions with Africa. It is based on a one-year ethnographic fieldwork in Uganda, mainly including participant observation in UNRA, and interviews with Chinese construction contractors, in addition to archival research on Public Works Department in the Uganda Protectorate. This study finds that, firstly, the colonial creation of Public Works Department and later the development interventions by traditional donors, particularly World Bank, in the early postcolonial decades have left sedimented institutional features for Uganda’s roads sector and enabled their long-lasting role in engineering institutional changes therein. The recent effort to transform UNRA – itself a sedimented institutional upshot of Western development interventions – into a pocket of effectiveness (PoE) continued to witness heavy imprints from traditional donors. Second, by seeing PoE as a process of always-in-the-making and being embedded within societal relations, my analysis highlights the actual tensions and contestations between the patrimonial and legalrational logics and practices within the restructuring of UNRA. The success of this restructuring was likely to hinge more on the precise combination of or the full reconciliation between these competing logics in lieu of an attempt to make UNRA imperviously waterproof from patrimonialism. Third and finally, contrary to popular portrayals of China dominating Africa or displacing Western influence in the continent, China’s growing engagement in Uganda’s roads did not yet translate into a noticeable influence on sectorial governance and institution building therein. The content, focus and ways of quotidian mise en oeuvre of Western development interventions remained starkly different from Chinese ones, ensuring its long-lasting influence on sectorial institution building. Chinese actors also did not have a privileged access to shape the restructuring of UNRA, but were learning to grapple with both the formality and informality ingrained in Uganda’s roads sector and scrambling around on the outside at times of institutional uncertainty in UNRA.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Politics & International Studies
SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Julia Strauss
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2021 16:11
Funders: Other

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