Ghost Projects. Dreams, Promises and Failures in African Spatial Development Initiatives

Detlef Müller-Mahn & Christiane Stephan (U Bonn)


The African continent is spotted with ruins of development, unfinished projects, and the traces of initiatives that have never really materialized. The question arises whether these unfinished initiatives are merely useless ghost projects, or whether they should rather be understood as dreamscapes of development, i.e., as meaningful imaginations of desirable futures. After all, it is not unusual that large-scale infrastructure projects do not deliver as originally planned, that they are delayed, or change their design while they are under construction. Germany is full of such stories. The talk takes examples from East Africa to explore the role of dreams, visions, and spatial imaginations in the making of African futures.

The event takes place online. You can join by clicking the link below.

About the Speaker

Detlef Müller-Mahn is professor of development geography at the University of Bonn and spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center “Future Rural Africa” (SFB/TRR 228, His present research focuses on the political ecology of land-use change, future-making, and green development in East Africa. Recent projects addressed the “riskscapes” of climate change, hydro-development and the transformation of pastoralism in Ethiopia, urban water management in Khartoum, and the impact of global connections on the cut flower industry in Kenya.

Christiane Stephan studied geography, ethnology and journalism at the Johannes-Gutenberg University Mainz. After her studies she gained professional experience in development cooperation in a project in Cameroon and subsequently worked at the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assitance (BBK). With research on “Social Practices of Flood Risk Management in Mexico” she received her PhD from the Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelms University in Bonn. Currently, she researches and teaches as part of the Development Geography Working Group at the Institute of Geography at the University of Bonn. She conducts research on future visions for agriculture in Kenya using participatory and audio-visual methods. Since 2020, she has also been working on the social impacts of the Covid 19 pandemic in different regions of Kenya.