Transit migrations in Africa. Local and global dynamics, political management and individual experiences

Project accepted by the ANR (National Research Agency) (“Blanc” programme 2006), coordinated by Jocelyne Streiff-Fénart

This project aims to explain transformations in migratory models in light of processes of globalisation. The paradigm of “trans-nationalism”, which has dominated the perception of these transformations in recent years, is only partially adequate for understanding the migratory movements from the African continent. The project centres above all on the bi-polar nature of migration and gives priority to network dynamics, rather than to the relations between systemic constraints and new migratory models. Our project takes into consideration not only the intensification of exchanges and flows, but also State politics and the effects of borders closing. It intends to study the strategies of migrants who live in a liminal situation and to describe the differing interpretations of migratory movements, depending on the territories crossed.

On an empirical level, the diversification of destinations is to be taken into account by integrating South Africa and including differing contexts, mostly urban, between which migrants circulate. The project shall develop a multi-situated methodology. The sites chosen (France, permanent and temporary destination country; Senegal and Mali, departure and transit countries; South Africa, both final destination and doorway to Europe or North America; transit cities: Casablanca and Rabat in Marocco, Nouadhibou in Mauritania, Johannesburg in South Africa) were chosen not only in view of the comparative approach but also because they are bases from which networks are created. The aim is to reconsider paradigms of international migrations in light of the new forms of mobility. This project shall enable to both comprehend and surpass the encrypted traditional categories in this domain (economic immigrants/ refugees; temporary migration/ settler migration; departure, transit and destination zones) that these migrations have engendered. In each research theme, this pioneering approach that puts South Africa into perspective with more traditionally spotlighted destinations in the North, promises unprecedented knowledge. By incorporating fieldwork in southern Africa, the research shall fill the gap in current literature which fails to consider the entirety of the migratory circuit. More broadly, this research aspires to break from two recurring shortcomings in literature concerning migrants in transit: the preoccupation with the sordid, which leads to their representation as merely victims, or conversely a romantic vision that applauds nomadism and exaggerates the entrepreneurial initiatives far beyond their real extent.