The Roads Project

“First they build our roads and then they take our lands”: Road ‘(re-)construction’ in post-war Sri Lanka

“First they build our roads and then they take our lands”: Road ‘(re-)construction’ in post-war Sri Lanka

Deborah Menezes, University of Edinburgh:

The end of the 30-year civil war in the Sri Lanka saw the use of rapid road construction as a catalyst to economic development and a post-war settlement in the country. This course witnessed a massive influx of international loans to fund road building alongside national initiatives and nation building claims of increasing access and mobility by rehabilitating and expanding roads. By using examples from these two processes, I weave together two narratives to analyse how international and national road building agendas collide with local realities. Drawing on field observations and in-depth interviews, over a period of 12 months in Sri Lanka, I focus on the ambitious road projects and their local interpretation around a politics of (re)construction. First, I begin by critically positioning the role of ‘outsiders’, considering their social, political and economic motivations and implications in facilitating road building in a post war context.  Second, I move to analyse the ‘insiders’ position considering their war-related trauma vulnerabilities and the possibilities of framing resistance.  I conclude by pointing to a tense engagement and negotiations in these fragile spaces, where road construction is making and unmaking fractured relationships within post war Sri Lanka.

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