African Studies Seminar Week 3

Convener: Rebekah Lee

Speaker: Marco Di Nunzio (University of Birmingham)


A Responsibility to Build: The Political and Moral Economy of Quality in Addis Ababa's Construction Boom


The coexistence of international companies and a growing domestic construction industry has not been without frictions in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. By exploring the political and moral economy of corporate narratives on quality, this paper will document the struggles that domestic contractors wage to keep themselves afloat in a competitive business environment. I show how quality is neither about the technical or social sustainability of the final product nor promoting justice and inclusion in the construction sector. Quality is pursued as revolving around the internal managerial processes that corporate actors should follow to make decisions, deal with their projects’ financial and time constraints, and importantly, project themselves as competent and viable to their clients, and in particular to the state. Under the impact of quality management procedures and ISO certifications, domestic contractors  have become more competitive. Yet, they have also further delimited the realm of their responsibility to a fundamental categorical imperative: to keep on building.  


Marco Di Nunzio is an Assistant Professor in Urban Anthropology at the University of Birmingham. He is the author of The Act of Living (Cornell University Press) and the director of award-winning documentary A Day in Arada. Since February 2020, he is the founding editor of OtherwiseMag, a magazine of ethnographic storytelling. He is currently a Leverhulme Research Fellow, writing a book on Addis Ababa’s construction boom, provisionally entitlement Conspiracies to Build.