The work-intensive fiction of frictionless trade in the Angolan port of Lobito


Jon Schubert
Focaal, 2021

Cargo shipping, as emblematic stand-in for globalization, peddles a seductive imagery of frictionless transnational trade and just-in-time logistics. Backed by the normative might of transnational institutions, instruments such as UNCTAD's Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) are being rolled out across “developing countries,” promising the rationalization, acceleration, and “dematerialization” of customs processing, while countries themselves introduce efficiency reforms to smoothen the flow of goods. This article charts the intensive work required to produce this fantasy of frictionless trade around the Atlantic port of Lobito, Angola. In a context where imports have dropped by 50 percent to 60 percent since 2014 due to lower oil prices, this article traces how actors involved in making this import-dependent economy work deal with the seeming failure of promises of transnationally connected economic growth.