Migration and "in-between" Logistics: Recruiters, Agencies, Brokers and Transport Workers
Date and Start Time 01 July, 2017 at 09:00
This panel follows the trajectories of the formal and informal figures who have organized or guided migration in Africa, past and present, examined from historical, anthropological or geographical angles.
Today large-scale migrations, whether from rural to urban spaces, or within or across states, are perceived as being integral to the African continent. Older studies tended to emphasize coercive "push-factors" such as land pressures, taxation, violent displacement, impoverishment and underdevelopment. More recently scholars have re-conceptualized migration as a more open-ended personal and collective strategy to achieve various development goals. Both the structure and the agency view of migration—mobilities channelled by impersonal forces or within a kin milieu or through ethnic networks—have often overlooked the elaborate semi-anonymous logistics of the in-between.
This panel is interested in following the trajectories of the formal and informal figures who have organized or guided migration in Africa, past and present. The questions that the panel seeks to investigate include: Who were these mediators of mobility, including recruiters, brokers and transport workers? What tools did they employ (for instance, promises, guarantees, degrees of information and misinformation, sorting paperwork, formal and informal contracts, gaining and allocating commissions, and social instruments such as credit)? What was the social organization and transactional economy of these ports of call, transport hubs and points of contact, whether in urban centres or rural border areas? What were migrants' own experiences with and assessments of these relatively opaque but indispensable mediators? Beyond "push-pull": who and what are the strings?
The panel conveners welcome especially abstract proposals with a historical, anthropological or geographical perspective.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
"To Show the British Flag": Dhow Sailors and the Slave Trade in the Making of British Jurisdiction in the Western Indian Ocean
Focusing on encounters between dhow sailors, and British officials in context of abolition in the Indian Ocean in the nineteenth century, this paper highlights how competing understandings subjecthood and jurisdiction shaped emergent ideas about sovereignty in the Indian Ocean.
British abolitionist discourse in the Indian Ocean in the nineteenth century conjoined the slave trade with piracy, using humanitarian arguments to suppress both, whilst turning the Indian Ocean into a "British lake." Reading closely the journals of British naval officers and a court case, this paper argues that the extension of British jurisdiction into the Indian Ocean from Oman to East Africa was not a seamless process, but was marked by illegibility. Naval patrol officers were unable to differentiate between the legal and illegal slave trade in this space. Focusing on encounters between dhow sailors and British officials, this paper highlights how competing understandings subjecthood and jurisdiction in the contested space shaped emergent ideas about sovereignty in the Indian Ocean.
On the Road. Life, Networks, and Diasporas of Caravan Porters in Nineteenth Century East Africa
Using the example of caravan porters, this paper examines the role ‘ordinary’ actors played for the organization of the East African long-distance trade. As the analysis of payrolls from the 1870s reveals they recruited one another among their friends. This led to hidden networks on the road and in cities.
In the second half of the 19th century, East Africa was covered by a dense network of caravan tracks. Domestic trade caravans brought ivory to the Indian Ocean while at the same time European expeditions penetrated the hinterland. The burden of all these ventures rested on the shoulders of human porters. A professional labor force developed around 1850. Tens of thousands of professional porters were soon to be found in caravans all over East Africa.
This paper seeks to explore the organization of porterage in the East African long-distance trade. At first, it distinguishes between the different forms of recruitment at the coast and in the interior and the varying motivations porters from different regions had. However, as the paper will highlight, beyond these rather formal recruiting methods existed hidden networks among the porters. The paper examines payrolls from expeditions in the 1870s. They show that porters recruited one another autonomously, based on the same regional background or shared travel experiences. These recruitment patterns led to ties and networks on the road: acquainted porters formed small kitchen units and shared their food. In cities they lived together in communities and helped each other.
The paper emphasizes the role, 'ordinary' actors such as the porters played for the organization of the East African long-distance trade. Apart from recruiting offices, porters called their friends to join the caravans. These preexisting networks and working bonds shaped the everyday life on the road and affected the life in port cities and caravan hubs.
Organizing Forced Labour, Recruiters in Nyanza Province Early 20th Century.
Forced Labour in Kenya was organized by the Colonial State by delegating the recruitment process to private companies and local headmen. Doing this, the Colonial State remove itself from responsibilities connected to the wellbeing of workers, blaming contracted companies for the abuses.
Forced Labour was the way in which the Colonial State supplied the demand of workers created by capitalistic activities in Kenya. However, neither the state or white settlers were in charge of the process of recruitment and displacement of workers; those activities were delegated to private companies specialized in those practices. The process of recruitment was established through colonial law: private contractors - most of them Indians - were the recruiters, and headmen were in charge of supplying those companies with men of their own community. In this paper, I explore the legal background of Forced Labour and the role played by the different actors involved in it. In the process of recruitment, breaches were common; headmen, recruiters, and officials were involved is those situations. I explain how this practice was more exploitative than the law, and how recruiters were part of this mechanism.
I also explore some reactions I have found in the documents, not just from workers, but also from recruiters who were exploited and tried to escape the Forced Labour machinery. Forced Labour was a major task for the Colonial State, delegating part of the process to private companies helped to continue with the recruiting system, regardless of labour conditions and abuses suffered by the workers. This highlights how little the Colonial State cared about the wellbeing of the workers.
Labour Agents’ Recruiting & Escort Activities Along a Colonial Boundary in North-east Namibia
The paper will explain the recruiting and escort activities by colonial labour agents along a colonial boundary and will provide lessons to contextualize labour recruitment and escort in independent Namibia.
By blending qualitative methods of written sources (both literature review and archival documents) and labour narratives of former contract labourers in Namibia, the paper will explain the recruiting and escort activities by colonial labour agents and will analyze how the colonial boundary impacted on their recruitment and escort missions and what impacts labour recruitments held on the livelihood of the labour agents. Specifically, it asks: who were the colonial labour agents and what were their activities? What impact did the Kavango River as a colonial boundary have on the recruiting and escort activities of the labour agents; how did the local people respond to the activities of these labour agents; what were the impacts of recruitment and escort activities on labour agents livelihood and; what lessons do colonial recruiting and escort activities hold for labour agents and recruitment activities in independent Namibia?
Since there is inadequate research focus on the role and interaction with recruiting agents in labour recruitments in Namibia, this study will help to shed more light on the central role of colonial labour agents on recruitment and mobility of contract labourers. It will also provide lessons helpful to contextualize the roles and activities of labour agents in independent Namibia and will thus make a significant contribution to knowledge on labour recruitment History in Namibia.
This paper has been developed in collaboration with Napandulwe Shiweda.
Contesting borders: Foreign farmworkers and labor recruitment in South Africa's Mpumalanga area (1930s-1960s)
In the 20th century many migrant farm workers arrived in South Africa from other parts of southern Africa. This paper investigates these border-crossings, exploring how migrants’ relationships to law, social networks and the state helped them construct claims around labor, livelihoods and belonging.
Cross-border migrant labor has been a central feature in struggles over political and economic power in Africa. In the case of South Africa, there is a detailed historiography on the links between the apartheid regime, migrant labor and the development of capitalism. Over the course of the 20th century, thousands of migrant workers from Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi arrived in the north eastern region of South Africa and worked on white-owned farms, in addition to the mines. However, we know little about their role in shaping contestations over labor, land and belonging in the South African countryside. This paper explores those contestations by focusing on the dynamics of control and evasion that characterized the position of foreign farm workers in South Africa. It traces the exchanges that took place between government institutions and farming interests, and how these debates animated policy and action. Like black South Africans, workers from South Africa's neighboring countries found themselves under intense surveillance from the state. Yet even as the state tried to classify black farm workers according to blanket criteria, workers redefined their identities through escapes, document forgeries and petitions for recognition of their claims to belonging. Intermediaries of different kinds - labor recruiters, cross-border transporters, political activists, and family and friends in border towns - played a key role in this process. This paper investigates how migrant workers' relationships to law, social networks and the state helped them construct claims around labor, livelihoods and belonging.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.