UCL Anthropology


Podcast Series: Hearing above the roar

Explore why major energy infrastructure projects in Africa are on the rise and how rural communities in Tanzania and Kenya can—and are—mobilising to protect their waters, lands and ways of life.

There is a boom happening in major energy infrastructure construction in East Africa — from hydropower and solar plants to oil & gas platforms, ports and pipelines—but how are project decisions made, and who is weighing up the costs and benefits? In this podcast series, three UCL Anthropology Masters students speak with experts in international development, water resources management and legal activism about what ideas and imperatives drive governments to transform landscapes and livelihoods on an industrial scale, and how rural communities most directly affected by these megaprojects could—and are—making their voices heard to secure their rights.

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Ep. 1: Modernism and the Drive to Dam

Energy infrastructure projects offer opportunities for social engineering on a massive scale which, as Dr. Barnaby Dye discusses with Lily Higgitt in this episode, is part of their appeal for development planners, international financing bodies and national governments. Taking the example of the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Plant, currently under construction on Tanzania’s Rufiji River, Barnaby and Lily consider how serious concerns around the environmental and social impacts of megadams on downstream communities are ignored as states pursue an ideal of modernity, and how echoes of colonialism and the future threats of climate change further shape narratives around dam-building.

Host: Lily Higgett (Anthropology, Environment and Development MSc student)
Guest: Dr Barnaby Dye (Lecturer, Politics of Development, Department of Politics and the Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre (IGDC), University of York)

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Ep. 2: Same river, different uses: Participatory water resources management in Tanzania

The people of Rufiji have not been consulted about the construction of the Nyerere Dam, nor offered any compensation for its social and environmental impacts. How could decision-making have been done better? In this episode, Olivia Brown speaks with Dr Nathalie Richards about how water resource management could be made more equitable and sustainable by involving all sectors—from local communities and civil society, to the private sector, to government—in collaborative decision-making processes suited to local realities. They discuss how different people—upstream and downstream, rural and urban, men and women—use water differently and with different priorities, and how it is only by recognising trade-offs and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard that we can arrive at efficient solutions for sharing water resources. 

Host: Olivia Brown (Ethnographic and Documentary Filmmaking MSc, 2021-22)
Guest: Dr Nathalie Richards (Specialist in Water Resources Governance; Advisor, GIZ-Natural Resources Stewardship Programme (NatuReS); Past role: International Advisor to the Ministry of Water, Tanzania)

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Ep. 3: Know your rights: Using the law to support environmental defenders in Kenya

In 2019, Kenyan courts cancelled the environmental license for a mega-infrastructure project on the Swahili coast—the Lamu Coal Power Station—following years of organised grassroots opposition. In this episode, Eva Maria Anyango Okoth, a lawyer and environmental activist, speaks to Hein Aung Htet, a social anthropology student at UCL, about how the law can both help and hinder community-based efforts to protect lands, waters and livelihoods. Drawing parallels with his home country of Burma, Hein asks Eva about the severe threats to indigenous peoples and environmental defenders in East Africa, and together they consider the need for hydropower—proposed as a renewable energy source—to be planned and implemented as part of a Just Energy Transition.

Host: Hein Aung Htet (Social and Cultural Anthropology MSc, 2021-22)
Guest: Eva Maria Anyango Okoth (Past role: Senior Programme Officer, Natural Justice)

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About our hosts and podcast team

Hosts: Lily Higgitt (Ep1), Olivia Brown (Ep2), Hein Aung Htet (Ep3)
Executive Producer: Marie-Annick Moreau, UCL Anthropology
Editing: Suzie McCarthy
Translation (English to Swahili): Stephen Sankeni
Communications: Ana Ghica
This podcast series was funded by the UCL Faculty for Social and Historical Sciences Dean's Strategic Fund.