22.- 25.9

Governing African mobility: actors, institutions and practices

Dr. Johara Berriane, Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin
Dr. Elieth Eyebiyi, Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris, Centre de Recherche en Politiques Sociales Dakar and LASDEL


24/09/20 2 - 3.30 pm

4 - 5.30 pm

Room HZ 12 (Hörsaalzentrum)


Short Abstract:

Based on historically and ethnographically informed contributions, this panel explores the diverse practices of migration and mobility regulation on the African continent in order to question and challenge, in a second time, the notion of « migration governance » that prevails today in public debates and migration scholarship.

Migration and mobility have, both today and yesterday been crucial to the economic and social development of human societies. However, despite their essential role, these social practices have increasingly become a major challenge for African states and their societies. Indeed, the rise of political crises as well as the increase of ecological catastrophes have led to unprecedent exodus towards urban centres as well as to the establishment of refugee camps that African states and host societies have to handle. Todays’ restrictive and security-based migration policies of many African states and the externalisation of the European borders have further led to the widespread opinion that migration and mobility within Africa need to be better controlled, ordered, documented and governed. Yet, this mainstream view (among international organisations and states) tend to ignore the manifold circulatory and mobility practices which migrants, traders and other African mobile individuals undertake and that both contribute to the (local, national and global) economies and participate in regulating flows, the migration installations and the integration of strangers within the continent.

Bringing together historically and ethnographically informed contributions that emphasize the perspective of the actors, this panel explores the diverse practices of migration and mobility ‘governance’ on the African continent. It aims first to highlight the varied bureaucratic and non-bureaucratic forms of mobility regulation in Africa and the different actors and formal and informal institutions (public, private or civil society) involved in these practices in order to question and challenge, in a second time, the notion of « migration governance » that prevails today in public debates and migration scholarship.


Over the past decades, information and communications technologies have radically altered notions of spatial and temporal distance, generating what scholars have called a “shrinking world”[1] or a “time-space compression”[2] effect. Globalization has increasingly transformed human mobility through new transport and communication technologies, which have enabled migrants to remain in touch with relatives in origin countries and to travel back and forth more regularly[3]. Today, international migration is therefore deeply embedded in the dynamics of the “information society”[4].

The aim of this paper is to explore the role that information plays in shaping and governing contemporary African mobility. Based on an extensive literature review, the first part describes how information flows shape the movement of people around the world both pre-departure and en-route to their destination countries. Then, the second part highlights how information has become a key component of international migration management since the late 2000s, following the externalization process of EU borders towards so-called “origin” and “transit” countries of migrants. Finally, the third part of the paper shows how the notion of “information” can be strategically mobilized by various civil society actors to promote and justify their restrictive governmental practices towards (potential) emigrants from the African continent.

This main argument is illustrated by the case study of an information campaign about the risks of irregular migration led by the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms in Senegal since 2019. Based on an in-depth analysis of project documentation and semi-structured interviews carried out with its managers, the study of this campaign reveals how actors who are very critical of the EU migration policy in their discourse can also become its “ambivalent functionaries”[5] on the field. In conclusion, it is therefore argued that the dominant approach of EU migration governance in Africa as a top-down process needs to be subverted by the Foucauldian concept of “governmentality”, whereby political power over human mobility is exerted through rather than on civil society[6].


[1] Abler, R. (1975). Human Geography in a Shrinking World. Duxbury Press, 307p.

[2] Harvey, D. (1991). The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Wiley, 392p.

[3] Castles, S. & Miller, M. J. (2003). The Age of Migration. Guilford Press, p. 5.

[4] Ros, A., Gonzales, E., Marin, A., Sow, P. (2007). Migration and information flow. A new lens for the study of contemporary international migration. Barcelona: IN3 Working Paper.

[5] Makaremi, C. (2009). Governing Borders in France: From Extraterritorial to Humanitarian Confinement. Canadian Journal of Law and Society 24 (3), pp. 411–432.

[6] Sending, O. & Neumann, I. (2018). Governance to Governmentality: Analyzing NGOs, States, and Power. International Studies Quarterly 50 (3), pp. 651-672.

Most scholars and humanitarian practitioners agree that refugee encampment does more harm than good. Nevertheless, refugee camps are still a major technique to govern the mobility of refugees in Africa. However, there are striking differences in the refugee host policies of different African countries. One explanation for this difference can be traced in the specific historical trajectories and genealogies of refugee encampment. This paper will show these differences by contrasting the histories of Kenyan and Ugandan encampment policies from the colonial to the postcolonial period.

In Uganda, the first refugee camps were established in the 1940s for Polish refugees, followed in the 1950s by Sudanese and Rwandans fleeing violence from the independence conflicts. Especially in the setting up the camps for Rwandan refugees Ugandan officials mainly followed already existing agricultural resettlement schemes. In the context of the post-war ‘developmental colonialism’, the Ugandan government regarded the refugees as an asset to settle underpopulated regions, push back animal diseases and increase productivity. In Kenya, the first refugee camps were set up in the 1930s for Ethiopian refugees from the war with Italy. Strictly supervised, these refugees were not supposed to form permanent settlements but to return as soon as feasible. The most extensive camp system in Kenya developed in the 1950s consisting of the internment camps during the counterinsurgency war against Mau Mau. The post-colonial government continued the practice of internment during the Shifta War in the 1960s to 1970s. The Kenyan policy of refugee encampment developed in the 1990s out of this legacy of securitization. Today, Uganda's policy of giving rights and land to refugees stands in stark contrast to Kenya’s restrictive encampment policies.

Based on archival research in London and Nairobi this paper will present some preliminary results of the new research project ‘Africa in the global history of refugee camps’ within the research section ‘Mobilities’ of the cluster of excellence ‘Africa multiple’ at the University of Bayreuth. Additionally, it draws on findings from the author’s concluded doctoral research project on Polish refugees in British colonial Africa. This paper thereby exemplifies the assumption that refugee camps are non-universal and locally specific, yet globally entangled mobile devices for the care and control of mobile people.

La question des mobilités forcées est un sujet d’actualité au Cameroun au regard des différentes crises qui secouent ce pays depuis 2013. Déjà sur le plan sous régional, la crise sociopolitique centrafricaine et le phénomène de la nébuleuse Boko Haram ont engendré le déplacement de millions de personnes pour la grande majorité d’origine centrafricaine et nigériane qui ont trouvé refuge auprès des sites d’accueil recensés dans les régions de l’Est et de l’Extrême-Nord du Cameroun. Sur le plan national, la nébuleuse terroriste Boko Haram cité supra et la récente crise identitaire dénommée la « crise des régions dites anglophones » de 2017 ont également été à l’origine du déplacement forcée de millier de camerounais tant

dans l’espace national que dans l’espace international. Toutefois, l’accent sera mis dans le cadre de cette recherche sur le concept de politique publique d’asile ou de refuge en tant que voie d’observation et d’analyse de la gouvernance migratoire au Cameroun.

La situation actuelle du statut de réfugié au Cameroun porte moins sur leur conditions de personnes vulnérables mais tout au contraire sur la capacité de l’Etat camerounais de pouvoir assurer leur intégration et insertion sociale, d’où la problématique des mécanismes de réhabilitation de cette catégorie de personnes. En effet, il est évident qu’en tant que personnes vulnérables, les réfugiés et les déplacés ne peuvent par elles-même contenir le maximum de besoins qu’elles sont capable de générer. Pour se faire, il s’agit dans le cadre de cette étude de mettre en relief les interventions et politiques publiques produites et mise en œuvre aussi bien par l’Etat du Cameroun que par ses partenaires au développement afin d’assurer la réhabilitation de ces personnes classées dans cette situation de vulnérabilité. En ce sens, quel est le poids de la politique de prise en charge des réfugiés au Cameroun ?

La participation au projet de recherche dénommé : « stratégies de rehabilitation des personnes vulnérables du fait des déplacements » de 2016-2018, dans les régions de l’Est et de l’Extrême-Nord du Cameroun a servi de terrain d’application et d’expérimentation des théories scientifiques de gouvernance migratoire, mais aussi cette participation au projet a été l’occasion de cerner le mécanisme d’action et l’impact de la politique de prise en charge du Cameroun.

This paper discusses the evolution of mobilities in the Maghreb through the case study of Tunisia. I argue that a multi-dimensional and multi-scalar approach constitute a relevant prism to examine the evolution of migration, mobilities and circulation in the region. From the colonial period to the post-revolution context, we observe important shifts on intra-regional and transregional migratory dynamics regarding the scales and the actors. In order to exemplify our statement, empirical data on patients from the Maghreb and sub-Sahara Africa in Tunisia will be discussed. Based on a historical perspective as well as ethnographic field work in a private clinic, we disentangle how cross-border, regional, transnational processes in specific geopolitical contexts produce specific migratory figures that are governed on multiple scales. Focusing on the private health sector in Tunisia, our interest is on endogenous development processes through intra- and transregional mobilities.

The paper seeks to provide a reconceptualization of the lives of female migrants from the Upper East, Upper West, Savanna, Northeast and Northern regions of Ghana. The goal of the paper is to use the agency of female migrants, through a refraction of their coping strategies in negotiating for livelihood, to advance a new debate about internal migration studies in Ghana. Extant literature on migration assumes that female Northern migrants are vulnerable and susceptible to all forms of challenges in southern Ghana where they migrate to. Centralizing on female migrants from the Northern regions in La Nkwantanang-Madina area a suburb of Accra, I argue that female migrants invest in many coping strategies that enable them to survive the economic and Socio- cultural challenges I greater are their new destination. I maintain that, instead of projecting these female migrants as victims and helpless in the face of urban challenges, it is important to emphasize the coping strategies that these migrants deploy to negotiate for livelihood in Accra. In terms of policy formulation, this implies that the state has to identify areas where female migrants have demonstrated autonomy in living in Accra and complement their efforts.

Key words: migration, vulnerability, social capital, coping strategies.

The control of migrants is often exercised through the prism of crisis and risks, especially for host states that seek to “manage” them through securitization. A regime of securitization can disempower and subdue transit migrants in society, as they are often not accorded the opportunity to publicly voice their security needs, leading to deleterious implications for their wellbeing and safety. This paper seeks to unravel the implications of a securitized migration regime on migrants in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa, as well as propose how to deal with the scourge, from the standpoint of securitization regime. This study argues that to effectively deliver on its security needs with regard to transit migration, the government must develop and deploy a holistic strategy for regulating migration activities. This strategy should integrate such features as: early warning systems; advocacy, public awareness and creation of disincentives; intelligence information sharing; investment in economic and social infrastructures; and strengthening of migration laws and policies, as well as regional alliances, among others.