9: Radioactive Strategies: Geopolitical Rivalries, African Agency, and the Longue Durée of Nuclear Infrastructures in Namibia

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This chapter challenges ‘chessboard’ interpretations of infrastructural geopolitics in a realm often assumed to be the sole purview of great powers: nuclear energy. More specifically, it analyses how Namibian actors have employed radioactive strategies – a term used here to refer to the tactics through which actors use the geopolitical significance of nuclear infrastructures to advance their spatial objectives – to pursue their own spatial-political objectives in the context of nuclear geopolitics and uranium mining. It does so across temporalities ranging from German colonialism to apartheid South Africa’s quest for ‘the bomb’ and the Cold War to the war on climate change. The chapter explains how the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), Namibia’s liberation-movement-turned-ruling-party, transformed nuclear infrastructures from symbols of colonial and apartheid exploitation into core components of its quest for state-led extractive development. It begins with an overview of the colonial and apartheid origins of Namibian uranium before embarking on a more detailed analysis of SWAPO’s radioactive strategies during the Cold War, the US-led War on Terror, and, finally, the current moment of US–China rivalry. It concludes with a discussion of how attending to historical and geographic contexts and host country agency can shed new light on infrastructural geopolitics across multiple scales.

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