Borders and boundaries

Containing African international migration

Authored by: Bina Fernandez

Handbook of Africa’s International Relations

Print publication date:  August  2013
Online publication date:  September  2013

Print ISBN: 9781857436334
eBook ISBN: 9780203803929
Adobe ISBN:


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Africa has frequently been described as a highly mobile continent, with people migrating across the borders within, and of, the continent. This chapter seeks to map the interrelated significance of borders and boundaries in containing African migrations. The chapter draws upon Achille Mbembe’s distinction between Africa as a ‘place’ and Africa as a ‘territory’, in which the former implies an already given configuration of stable positions, while territory is ‘fundamentally an intersection of moving bodies. It is defined essentially by the set of movements that take place within it. Seen in this way, it is a set of possibilities that historically situated actors constantly resist or realize.’ 1 In this reading, place then assumes and produces the border as a physical location, a line on the map made manifest at check-points and sometimes, through walls and barbed-wire fences. Territory allows us not only to examine the mobilities of people across these physical borders, but also to examine the construction of identity boundaries of nation, ethnicity, class and gender that may reinforce, overlap, permeate, resist and/or ignore borders. The use of the term territory can also transcend the borders of the ‘nation state’, giving meaning not only to regional formations (such as African regional economic communities, or contiguous areas of countries inhabited by the same ethnic group), but also to the continent as a whole, particularly in relation to other international entities such as Europe or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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