ArticlePDF Available

Introduction: From Empiricism to Theory in African Border Studies



This special issue represents a small milestone in the crossing of Africa into the sovereign territory of border studies. In June 2007, a first step in this direction was taken at the workshop on “African Borderlands Research: Emerging Agendas and Critical Reflections” at the African Studies Centre of the University of Edinburgh. There, the “African Borderland Research Network” ABORNE ( was founded by fifteen participants as an interdisciplinary network of European, American and African scholars who seek to integrate history, anthropology, development, migration, and refugee studies in a broad field of African border research. The publication of this set of articles by ABORNE members in such a distinguished journal in the field represents both a recognition and a product of progress since then.
Editor’s Introduction: from Empiricism to Theory in African Border Studies
David Coplan, University of the Witwatersrand1
Journal of Border Studies
Both ‘border theory’ and indeed, border studies as a field owe their cross-disciplinary origins
and development to scholars of the American Southwest. By the late 1990s, spurred by the
rapid development of the European Union, Europeanist scholars had begun to contribute not
only a wealth of empirical studies but also significant theoretical insights and concepts to
border studies. And as this issue of JBS illustrates, Africa and other regions of (to borrow
from the Artist Formerly Known as Prince) the World Formerly Known as Third, the day is
(we trust) long past when We (the North/West) were theory and They (the South/East) were
data. Many years ago, pioneers such as Anthony Asiwaju (1983, 1989, 1996) Paul Nugent
(1996), M.A. Ajomo, P. O. Adeniyi, C.S. Momoh, Omolade Adejuyigbe (Asiwaju and
Adeniyi 1989), and others were already making contributions to border theory that are
difficult to supersede today.
Still, African border studies have suffered from some particular disadvantages. The
seeming friability of African national states and their lack of a popularly rooted social identity or
morality have been coupled with the notorious porousness or negotiability of their borders. These
borders were in any case conceived (not always accurately) as ‘arbitrary,’ divisions in the midst of
powerfully self-identified pre-colonial polities or language groups. Such conceptions have helped
to keep African borders on the scholarly as well as political periphery. If one thinks about it, these
very realities and contradictions ought to have motivated greater attention to the goings-on along
African borders, not less. Not surprisingly, the intensity of activity that characterizes these border
districts, and indeed the dynamics of African state development itself, in time came to the notice
of a range of talented Africanists from Europe, North America, and Africa itself. In many cases,
1 David B. Coplan is The Professor and Chair in Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand,
these researchers had chosen to locate their field work in areas near or within local borderlands in
pursuit of projects that (they thought) were quite unrelated to this geo-political reality. But then the
festive bustle and demi-monde enterprise they encountered upon every crossing or visit to a border
post led them to realize that this was where some of the most revealing and important forms of
social and economic transaction were taking place. As a result, not a few Africanists who have
studied borders, or more often, ‘their’ border, have done so by default, lured away from the calm
of less transient interior communities by the mobile and shadowy attractions of sovereignty’s
klieg-lit stage.
Yet another result of this situation has been a rather myopic, empirical focus on one’s
‘own’ border as a case, to the detriment of comparative or more broadly conceptual and theoretical
studies. In this regard, contributors to this issue were encouraged to transcend specific cases and
localities to an appropriate extent, in order for the whole to represent a demonstrable advance on
previous empirical work and stake Africa’s claim as a center and not a periphery in border studies’
broader analytical discourse. In June 2007, a first step in this direction was taken at the workshop
on “African Borderlands Research: Emerging Agendas and Critical Reflections” at the African
Studies Centre of the University of Edinburgh. There, the “African Borderland Research Network”
(ABORNE) was founded by the fifteen participants, as an interdisciplinary network of European,
American and African scholars who seek to integrate history, anthropology, development,
migration, and refugee studies in a broad field of African border research. Some of the
contributors to this special issue contributed to the Edinburgh workshop, although the majority of
the articles are new work that was not presented there. In July 2008, the second ABORNE
conference was held in Bayreuth, Germany, and featured not only formal papers but three
workshops, including one focusing on the imperative to combine empirical case studies with a
more conceptual and theoretical approach, providing a distinctive scientific profile of borderland
studies by developing theoretical perspectives and methodologies based on African research
findings. As editor of and as contributor to this special issue, it is my intention to lead by example
and advance such an objective. In my own comparative article herein, I take El Toro by the horns
(just as Anthony Asiwaju did with Nigeria and the Southwest United States a quarter century ago;
Asiwaju 1983) and compare the United States-Mexico border with an African one, South Africa-
Lesotho (Coplan, infra.)
To begin at the beginning, we might review a few comparative axes along which
African borders might provide a contrasting or alternative ground for research. These include
such well-worn observations that while borders are nowhere simply the product of geography,
borders in North America and Europe were established by war, domination, and resistance,
while in Africa they are thought to be the ‘arbitrary’ product of the 1885 Berlin Conference.
Several of the contributors to this issue repeated this assertion, but as Simon
Katzenellenbogen demonstrates in his essay, “It didn’t Happen at Berlin” (Katzenellenbogen
1996, 22), there were many other boundary-making processes and events, and territorial
claims were not in fact recognized based on effective occupation as specified in the
Conference’s Final Act. More significantly, almost 40 per cent of colonial boundary lines had
some pre-existing political reality (Arrous 1996, 16). Strassaldo also points out, conversely,
that all boundaries are in some sense artificial and that “African boundaries are in no way
more artificial than European or other boundaries” (Strassaldo 1989, 392). Yet the most
important reality of all, as so many of the contributors to this issue have discovered, is that
whether originally ‘arbitrary’ or not, and intra-ethnically or politically divisive or not, African
borders are often now an accepted, even actively reproduced ground of social and economic
life for borderlanders. As Donna Flynn has observed:
Less thoroughly explored are the ways in which ‘arbitrary’ African borders have become entrenched and embedded
in local communities that surround them. How is it that populations that had an international border imposed on
them cannot now imagine their existence without it? How are borders perceived by those continually crossing them
as corridors of opportunity rather than as divisions and barriers? (Flynn 1997, 313).
Having established that African borders were most often established by colonial
competition interacting with indigenous contexts on the ground, their study is powerfully
influenced by some essential realities that follow. First, the history of border making itself has
present relevance. In Africa this has usually to do with the historical construction of ethnic
identities in relation to territorial claims. Second, newly independent African governments did not
inherit functioning colonial states but only extractive administrations, out of which, as Julius
Nyerere recognized, they were compelled to attempt to build, with mixed success, post-colonial
nations. The OAU’s famous “glass houses” rule mandating the acceptance of boundaries at
independence was part of this compulsion. Second, neo-colonial powers, for whom globalisation is
the latest instrumentality, have repeatedly attempted to reinstate imperial economic regimes.
Third, concentrating power and wealth in the capital’s public sector causes instability, so that most
African wars are internal to state borders, in unstable states. Unfortunately these conflicts often
spill over state borders, necessitating multi-state cross border cooperation, even beyond the
continent. Fourth, the stability of African states can be enhanced by recognising areas of regional
self-production and the centrality and trans-national utility of the border.
There are many characteristics of border management, border life, and borderlanders that
operate at borders everywhere, to which African borders are no exceptions, and that indeed inform
the comparative and analytical foundations of border theory. But we shall focus here on those that
African borders if not uniquely at least greatly exhibit and contribute to these foundations. So
while for example the performance (without necessarily the substance) of sovereignty and control
is a high-profile feature of any border post, it is particularly salient at African borders where the
substance may exist in inverse relation to the performance of the state. Again, there is the degree
v rather than the mere reality to which attempts to increase regulation at African borders fail
(perhaps intentionally) to improve enforcement, but rather simply add to the opportunities to
extract payment for yet another level of circumvention. In this regard it is not surprising that what
we might term “mixed inefficiency” and “inconsistent enforcement” (Coplan 2002) are the order
of the day. In many ways, the border posts are themselves a form of business, with the conditions
of the market producing the mode of operation. According to these principles, if the posts were
adequately staffed, resourced, and technologically controlled, there would be far less opportunity
to contravene regulations for a price. Conversely, if passport controls were greatly relaxed or
withdrawn, there would be no reason to pay cash for the service. A system of illegal payments
depends upon controls that are just inefficient and inconvenient enough to encourage payment to
circumvent them, and this is indeed the form of operation everywhere in place. Further,
inconsistent enforcement encourages many travellers who do not possess or have failed to carry
the required documents and permits to “try their luck” at crossing without them. This ensures that
when officials do “spot check” or slow down ordinary operations to (inconsistently) enforce
regulations they will catch a far higher percentage of violators than if such enforcement were
regularly anticipated. Such violators serve as well the purpose of as sacrificial lambs, punished to
demonstrate to travellers who pay to circumvent procedures just what it is they are paying for.
Another relationship key to how African borders and borderlanders operate is that
between center and margin. For most African governments, central nation building is more
important than incorporating borderlands and borderlanders, who experience central authority
as oppressive. This is because national officials do not begin from the perspective of the
border region itself, but rather make proposals that always negotiate national interests. But
spatial justice requires that border people not be handicapped, in their daily lives, by their
location (Strassaldo 1989, 393). And as Samuel Truett (2006, 8) writes, “Border people are
not blank slates for the inscription of new national identities.” African borderlanders typically
constitute their own cross-border society, and do not emphasize their citizenship of either state
(Flynn 1997, 315). So as Donnan and Wilson (1999, 58-59) observe, border subjects produce
their own border theory, rooted in social practice, one that dismantles the conventional
imaginary of the state, and claim citizenships that transcend boundaries. Yet no African
country, in contrast to Mexico and some others, has authorized dual nationality for their
citizens, despite the impossibility of preventing it. Regardless, cross-border family networks
are the norm and migrant family members, including those of border officials, span the border
and provide a base for common operations. A busy border post, such as that at Lesotho’s
Maseru Bridge, is a clear indication of advanced cross-border social integration. But such
intensity of interaction, even when, as at Maseru Bridge, it is strongly asymmetrical, does not
erase borders.
Typically, there is more business among African borderlanders and between them and the
US and Europe than with their own interior, and communications and transport are better between
“twin towns” on either side than with the next major settlement up or down the border. The twin
towns also feature “periodic markets on both sides of the border to exchange goods, border
warehouses where large quantities of goods are stored, and clusters of towns at the main points of
passage across the border” (Igué, in Flynn 1997, 315). The national government is therefore
viewed there as parasitic, a kind of contemporary colonial power. Borderlanders in Africa
demonstrate “a growing distrust and suspicion of government – the interests of which are
perceived as being opposed to border interests and that regularly infringe on the economic and
political freedoms of border residents” (Flynn 1997, 313). Indeed one may ask what or whom, in
Africa, do borders protect the citizenry from? Or is it only government that is protected?
Smuggling, which often enough takes on an open and festive atmosphere at African borders, is
after all only a crime against the state, and a response to taxation for which no services are
provided in return. In contexts where the authority and the economy of the two bordering states are
of equal weakness, the emphasis is on performance not control, gate-keeping and taxation not
service. In Africa, borderlanders have greater self-justification than elsewhere to identify with each
other, to create a common border identity, and to work together to outwit the state.
Borderlands create a “border culture” as well: a landscape that emerges from and
transcends the history of political boundary making, defined by the social interactions from
which it is built up. Borders “are constructed by much more than the institutions of the state
which are present there, of which the border’s framework is a representative part…. More
than idealized locations for the instantiation or performance of the state under the gaze of its
other, borders are also meaning-making and meaning-carrying entities, parts of cultural
landscapes which often transcend the physical limits of the state and defy the power of state
institutions” (Donnan and Wilson, 1999, 4). For border residents, such cultures constitute
“ways of life and forms of meaning which they share only or principally with other
borderlanders, on the same or the other side of the legal state demarcation” (Ibid). Still, I am
concerned that, as Donnan and Wilson have noted, “culture is the least studied and least
understood aspect of the structures and functions of international borders….Although scholars
in a variety of fields have recognised the role of culture in the creation and maintenance of
borders and borderlands, few have directly tied culture to their analyses of statecraft at, across,
and as the result of borders” (Donnan and Wilson Ibid., 11). But if the border possesses a
transnational identity of its own, it is one that has no stability as a cultural marker. National
identity in Africa is a political and economic matter: there is no customs station for customs.
Borders facilitate cultural exchange just as they equilibrate the disparities of value of
commercial exchange, disparities that are reflected in culture and in social contestation. The
economic equality that characterizes both sides of so many (but not all) African borders make
for a border identity quite solid and not shifting and ‘hysterical’ as in inequitable situations
like that of Mexico and the United States (Flynn 1997, 313). So Africa is a leader in the de-
nationalisation of identities, because African nationality has been de-territorialised:
nationalism and its fictions are bankrupt, and they cannot erase or assimilate local identities,
which are everywhere increasingly self-constructed. In many sense, therefore, the border
becomes “less a boundary dividing them into two nations than a bridge linking them in mutual
dependence” (Ibid.). As Flynn explains,
…by centralizing their marginality in their economic strategies and through common border experience,
[African borderlanders] have constructed a strong, transnational identity around their sense of deep
territorialization in the borderland…. In a very literal sense, locals embody the border: they conceive of their
cluster of [border] communities… as constituting the international boundary. The “border” is not merely an
arbitrary line dividing two nations; it is a social grouping based on historical, residential claims…to the
region… In other words, the “border” exists where notions of “deep placement” meet cross-border exchange
and all its surrounding social, political, and economic relations (Ibid., 315).
Even so, the communities living in a bi-national space are not homogenized. As a Gambian,
whose country is all borderlands, once explained to me: Our Wolof brothers in Senegal are
French; we are English. We cannot join with them.”
The contributors to this issue are a cross-border gang of academics in themselves.
European, American, and African Africanists, male and female, young and old, from
disciplines that include political science, history, sociology, anthropology, the archive, even
epistemology! They ordinarily write in languages and associated academic styles as diverse as
Italian, French, German, British, and American, and for only two of them is English their
native tongue. They work in universities from Scotland to Italy to Switzerland to Finland to
Lisbon to America to South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon. In preliminary editing, I struggled
to bring a range of eclectic presentations into line with something resembling standard
American style, without homogenizing or stifling eye-opening or was it eyebrow-raising
idiosyncratic voices. Of course I failed, but this is not the point. The point is that scholars
(including that most hated subcategory, editors) working within the self-focused borders of
the Anglo-American academic empire can benefit from encountering the continentals (both
European and African) when they write back.
Paul Nugent, ABORNE founding father and Chair, sets the standard for the rest of the
contributors with his theoretically sophisticated he nails his tricolour to the mast through
applications of Bourdieu and de Certeau - but intriguing empirical comparison between the
Ghana-Togo and Senegal-Gambia borders. He discovers, unsurprisingly, that a “light touch”
as opposed to a heavy-handed approach to border management in Africa serves officials and
governments as well as border residents more effectively.
The borders of Namibia are featured in several of the issue’s contributions. Wolfgang Zoller,
the young German from the ice flows of coastal Finland, spends ten months in Namibia’s hot,
dry Caprivi digging out the complex history of strategies of a century of border chieftaincy.
His detailed account demonstrates that far from being arbitrary or “artificial,” this border has for
the whole of this period functioned very much as part of the socioeconomic and political landscape of
Caprivi. Staying in Namibia/South West Africa, but this time along its northern border with Angola,
Gregor Dobler shows how, after 1915, the South African colonial administration constructed
Portuguese rule in Angola as the contrast which let South African rule appear as benign, just
and ordered, justifying its colonial occupation. Later periods are woven into a history of South
African/ Namibian identity construction on the border shaped by power and legitimacy,
highlighting the role of the border as a preconceived boundary of practices and spheres of
domination. Chiara Brambilla takes a different approach to the Namibian-Angolan border by
describing and analysing the representational discourse created through an exercise in
“participatory mapping” by the cross-border Kwanyama village community of Onghala.
Participatory maps show that borders are spaces of meaning-breaking (‘di-visions’) but also
zones of plural cultural production and meaning-making (‘pluri-visions’). This highlights the
complexity of the border as both a cognitive and experiential space where a number of
b/ordering practices are articulated. Such practices are designed on participatory maps through
cartographic icons that are the visual, territorial projection of an imaginative socio-cultural
order. Accordingly, the Angola-Namibia border is investigated not only in terms of the ‘di-
vision’ of the Kwanyama people but first and foremost as a laboratory of identities, where
Kwanyama identity has been reshaped through the b/ordering interplay.
More than one contributor to this issue has focused as well on the border between
Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Corrado Tornimbeni explains how the last phase of colonial rule
developed or consolidated local differences in the political economy of the border districts,
and how this process was linked to the elaboration and extension of “transnational” networks.
Second, he analyses a secondary process through which new internal borders (between the
recently delineated “rural communities”) are being constructed in Mozambique in the context
of the implementation of the state reforms and development programmes on decentralisation,
land, and management of natural resources in the post-civil war period. Nedson Pophiwa
examines the rise of smuggling in the post-colonial era through engaging the different roles
played by the state and borderland communities as actors involved. Popihiwa focuses on the
actual processes and the main actors at work in smuggling across the Zimbabwe-Mozambique
border, paying particular attention to the experiences of the Penhalonga and Nyaronga
communities. He argues that these cross-border transactions are indispensible to survival and
wealth creation. He further probes the position of the state regarding smuggling along the
Zimbabwe-Mozambique border as a whole, showing how state agents condemned smuggling
yet continued facilitate it for their own purposes. Finally there is Ana Roque, working away
indefatigably on maps of the southern borders of Mozambique in the Archives of the
Portuguese Commission of Cartography in Lisbon. As in other Portuguese African territories,
in Mozambique the demarcation of the frontier went along with the cartographical surveys.
From 1883, these surveys were carried out by the Portuguese Commission of Cartography,
and frequently the Commission team was requested to participate in negotiations involving
border issues. The archives of this Commission – maps, photos, reports, official
correspondence… - belong today to the Tropical Research Institute and have been little
studied because they have only recently been organized and inventoried. Roque’s exposition
informs us about this corpus of documents and its importance to all those working or
interested on the late 19th century history of Mozambique and Southern Africa.
Rejoining Paul Nugent, both conceptually and geographically, back over in West
Africa, Clemens Zobel explores the meaning of boundaries, frontiers and territoriality in the
borderlands of the Manding hills between Guinea and Mali. Zobel’s point of departure is
Nugent’s image contrasting the European idea of political space as being a kind of “checker-
board in which every state shared borders with others of its kind” with the West African map
which “looked more like a raisin bun with centres of political power interspersed between no
man’s lands and scatterings of decentralized polities” (Nugent 1996, 39). The Manding Hills,
he argues, have a long historical record of representing an “interstitial” zone in relationship to
the state powers that have surrounded it. Zobel’s question concerns the extent to which this
interstitial status has influenced the transformations which the region has undergone since its
colonial integration into the world of checker-boards. Moving south to Nigeria and Cameroon,
Kaya Ogen provides a frankly partisan but fascinating fish-eye view of the territorial dispute
between the two countries over the Bakassi peninsula. Ogen’s argument is particularly topical
in the light of the Nigerian Governmnt’s recent decision to end the dispute and recognize
Cameroon’s claim to the oil-rich peninsula. Anthony Asiwaju, doyen of African border
studies scholars, gives a retrospective account of his extraordinary career in the field.
Asiwaju, now seventy, illustrates how African border studies spans continents as well as
countries and practical political and economic policy as well as intellectual issues over the
course of a long, pioneering professional quest to legitimate Africa within the ambit of border
At the other end of the age spectrum, Timothy Mechlinsky, an important new American voice
in the field, observes that the majority of studies of African borders (my own work excepted!)
focus on the lives of borderlanders rather than on the border itself and how it functions in the
lives of longer-distance migrants and travellers. His article, based on ethnographic evidence
gathered at 23 international border crossings between 4 West African countries (Burkina Faso,
Ghana, Mali, and Côte d'Ivoire) offers as well observations on the differences between West
African borders and the US-Mexico case, paradigmatic in border studies. Mechlinsky posits
that borders are “negotiations” in which border crossers engage and succeed differently based
on their social positioning. Joining him in exploring the Africa (in this case South Africa-
Lesotho) US-Mexico comparison, my own article is based on reality that these are two of the
only borders in the world where vastly different levels of development meet. If, hinged on this
variable, the door to comparison of two such distant and different borderlands can be opened,
then quite possibly some generalisations, both small and large, might be admitted into border
theory. My paper marks an initial attempt to both to advance African border theory at the
ethnological level, and to link border studies in Africa with the established and critical
heartland of border studies. Finally, Thomas Hüsken & Georg Klute, odd men out in focusing
both on North African (Egyptian) borders and upon the transformation of statehood in Africa
in the context of globalization. In particular, the peripheries and borderlands of many post-
colonial states in Africa contribute to the emergence of local stateless forms of power, which
seem to suggest the end of the globalized statehood utopia. The authors pose their argument in
terms of fittingly global questions: Are these new forms of political organization are only a
reaction to uncertainty caused by the weakness or even the absence of state structures? Are
these orders able to substitute the state in the long run? Can the strength and persistence of
local political models lead to the transformation of the state as the only and unique model of
organised power? Or do they foreshadow a specific form of interlacement between non-state
actors and the state that will lead to heterarchical political settings in Africa and elsewhere?
In posing these and other global questions, the contributors hope to both correct
certain misconceptions about African borders, both within and without the academy, such as
that African borders are both ‘arbitrary’ and de facto not border at all. More importantly, we
hope to show that African border studies have more to contribute to the field than just other
borders heard from, and to assist significantly in the making of border theory in the new
References cited
Arrous, M. Ben. 1996. Beyond Territoriality: A Geography of Africa from Below
Asiwaju, A.I. 1983a. The Concept of Frontier in the setting of states in pre-colonial Africa
Presence Africaine. 127/8.
Asiwaju, A.I. 1983b Borderlands Research, a Comparative Perspective 32 pp. mimeo, El
Paso, UTEP Press, Border Perspectives Studies # 6.
Asiwaju, A.I. and P.O. Adeniyi, eds. 1989. Borderlands in Africa. Lagos: Lagos University
Adejuyigbe, O. 1989. Identity and Character of Borderlands in Africa, in Asiwaju, A.I. and
P.O. Adeniyi, eds. Borderlands in Africa. Lagos: Lagos University Press, 27-35.
Ajomo, M.A. 1989. Legal Perspective on Border Issues in Asiwaju, A.I. and P.O. Adeniyi,
eds. Borderlands in Africa. Lagos: Lagos University Press: 37-50.
Coplan, David B. 2002. Border Burlesque: Deception and Disappearance on the New South
African-Lesotho Frontier. paper Presented to the Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford
University, 30 April.
Coplan, David B. Siamese Twin Towns and Unitary Concepts in Border Inequality, infra.
Donnan, Hastings, and Thomas M. Wilson. 1999. Borders: Frontiers of Identity, Nation and
State, NY: Berg.
Flynn, Donna K. 1997. We are the border: identity, exchange, and the state along the Nigerian
Benin border. American Ethnologist, Vol. 24, No. 2 May: 311-330.
Katzenellenbogen, Simon. 1996. It didn’t Happen at Berlin in Paul Nugent and A.I. Asiwaju,
eds. African Boundaries. London: Pinter.
Momoh, C.S. 1989.A Critique of Borderland Theories in Asiwaju, A.I. and P.O. Adeniyi, eds.
Borderlands in Africa. Lagos: Lagos University Press: 51-62
Nugent, Paul and A.I. Asiwaju, eds. 1996. African Boundaries. London: Pinter.
Truett, Samuel. 2006. Fugitive Landscapes, the Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico
Borderlands. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Africa’s inherited colonial borders have been central in debates on decolonisation for reasons that include challenges posed to African mobilities and identities, suggesting that there is a crisis of ideas about the border. This article draws on critical border studies (CBS) to examine the agency and negotiating capabilities of border residents using Leklebi and Wli, on the Ghana–Togo border, as case studies. How are discourses and practices of the border embedded in the contemporary everyday life of the borderland residents? What do their bordering practices reveal about their borderscapes? Are borderscapes being created or negotiated dependent on context? It argues that in these borderlands, borderscapes and bordering are conceived and expressed contextually not only through the lens of the postcolonial territorial border but also through the precolonial migration histories as well as precolonial concepts of political space. It contributes to border studies by highlighting the importance of historical and cultural factors in bordering and borderscapes. An understanding of such complexities may, in a significant way, help us to rethink or reconsider the arbitrariness of borders.
Recent literature on African borders, informality and migration focuses on the potential role of political borders as the key architecture of mobility. This chapter makes the case for considering national borders as vital sites in the construction of social geographies in Africa that focus on mobility, informality and regional integration. This chapter argues that there is a need for border studies that address cross-border issues and borderlands in ways that provide meaning to the largely invisible aspects of border spaces. Drawing on conceptual debates and empirical work on bordering processes, mobility and regional integration, this chapter addresses the tension between opening borders up for increased mobility and intensification of border control measures aimed at increased border securitization.
Cambridge Core - African History - Politics and Violence in Burundi - by Aidan Russell
This article advances a subaltern geopolitics of sovereignty production at the borders of the DR Congo – the supposedly most fragile – and South Sudan – the youngest state in Africa. Moving beyond critiques of representing postcolonial statehood and sovereignty in terms of ‘lack’ and ‘failure’, we localise and ground analysis by drawing on Butler’s figure of the ‘petty sovereign’‘ to analyse the agency of border officials at the DR Congo/Rwanda and the South Sudan/Uganda border who we refer to as ‘sovereignty entrepreneurs’: officials who, tasked with managing and controlling the border, in constant face-to-face negotiations and closely linked to resource competition prescribe, set and decide on the terms and conditions of border crossing. It is argued that in the context of the DR Congo and South Sudan, where the states’ claims to territorial sovereignty face similar internal and external challenges, the border work of sovereignty entrepreneurs, characterised by the ability to tax, threaten and discipline with impunity, represents a form of sovereign power that renders the state’s capacity to act excessively visible at its borders.
In his classic The African Frontier,1 Igor Kopytoff provided a powerful explanation of the processes of pacification and inculturation of precolonial African peripheries. For Kopytoff, the frontier was “an area over which political control by the regional metropoles is absent or uncertain”.2 Kopytoff’s understanding of frontier is essentially one of a politically constructed space: “The frontier is above all a political fact, a matter of political definition of geographical space”.3 His work is primarily motivated by this distinctive understanding of peripheral African spaces and places. In this chapter, we draw attention to the analytics that can be garnered from Kopytoff’s work on the frontier, which allows understanding contemporary political dynamics in some parts of the African continent. We are primarily interested in a discussion of the logic or rationale of governing that shapes present-day African frontiers. In other words, we propose using Kopytoff’s heuristics of the African frontier, but apply them in empirical contexts different to those where Kopytoff did in his original work: postcolonial, not precolonial, Africa is our empirical site. In order to achieve this, we first develop a typology of the political frontier and illustrate it with two case studies from eastern Ethiopia and northern Benin.
Full-text available
The WAI-ZEI paper at hand reviews the literature on (African) borders, mobility theory and border crossings in West Africa. By doing so, a setting for the generation of 11 hypotheses towards understanding open internal borders and cross-border activity in the context of a regional integration process is provided. Commencing with a summary of the definitions of the theories of (liberal) intergovernmentalism, constructivism and new regionalism, the conceptual framework for comparing the Benelux-Schengen Process in the EU and ECOWAS is established.
Full-text available
This study of Basotho attitudes towards and meanings of the Lesotho-South African border along the Caledon River valley, next to what is historically known as the Conquered Territory in the eastern Free State, derails the long history of struggle and co-operation between the Basotho and the white inhabitants of the Free State. Analysis of the specific nature of the how of commodities, trade, labour, and contraband over the Caledon River border bridges during the past ninety years demonstrates that the Caledon is a political rather than an organic social boundary, and that the river itself is the centre of a cross-borderway of life, paradoxically both obstructed and united by 'international' border stations. The conflictive history of postindependence Lesotho politics reveals how profoundly attitudes towards and relations with South Africa, and specifically the border communities of the Free State, are implicated in every aspect of the country's national existence. The lack of any effective sovereignty for Lesotho has problematic implications for the maintenance of border controls and restrictions on immigration from Lesotho in the post-apartheid period. In practice the border posts can operate with neither credible efficiency nor neighbourly openness, because the border is not an international political or economic boundary and control point but rather a business. Political integration of Lesotho into South Africa in some form is seen as inevitable, notwithstanding the desire and efforts of either or both the Lesotho and South African governments to prevent it. What 'the Basotho' ultimately want, independence or no independence, is the continuing development of the Caledon Valley's organic multi-racial way of life. SADC's military intervention in 1998 revealed deep fissures in Lesotho society. Ironically, military intervention to stabilize Lesotho's political situation appears to have accelerated the movement towards eventual incorporation.
Border residents in the Yoruba-speaking Shabe region along the Bénin-Nigeria international border have relied on transborder trade as a source of income since the border was first established by French and British colonial governments. Over the past 20 years, however, economic change in the region has significantly reduced transborder traffic and its accompanying income-earning opportunities for local borderlanders. Border residents have subsequently forged a strong sense of “border identity.” This identity emerges primarily in contexts of transborder exchange and is based both on residential claims to the region and on borderlanders' perceived rights to participation in transborder trade.
It didn't Happen at Berlin
  • Katzenellenbogen
  • Simon
Katzenellenbogen, Simon. 1996. " It didn't Happen at Berlin " in Paul Nugent and A.I. Asiwaju, eds., African Boundaries. London: Pinter: 22-37.