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Respatializing Federalism in the Ethiopian Borderlands:


From Contraband Control to Transnational Governmentality


Daniel Thompson 

Assistant Professor, UC Merced


Wednesday, February 17, 2021 | 12–1:30PM

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Amidst the global War on Terror, Western states’ security projects have extended controls over migration beyond territorial borders. Borders have proliferated and shifted as “border externalization” initiatives that stop migrants before they reach the borders of wealthier countries or divert them into third countries on the peripheries of Europe or North America. Euro-American security measures have impacted Africans’ international mobility, reproducing what some analysts describe as a “global apartheid.” In this talk I will suggest that, from the vantage point of eastern Africa’s borderlands, these narratives focused on Western security and migration restrictions only tell part of the story. New dynamics of border securitization have in some cases facilitated African politicians’ efforts to “externalize” borders in the opposite direction as they seek to control US- and Europe-based diaspora populations in new ways. Authorities in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State (SRS) have instrumentalized the decentralization of border security to address two longstanding regional security problems: the persistence of “contraband” cross-border trade and political opposition among diaspora Somalis. Drawing on fieldwork in the Ethiopia-Somalia borderlands and the US, I show how crackdowns on contraband trade formed part of a broader reconfiguration of governance that involved efforts to “governmentalize” diaspora Somalis and attract them to invest in Ethiopia. The talk offers a transnational perspective on the intertwined issues of political decentralization and border regulation in the Horn of Africa, and connects “local” borderlands changes to the transnational landscape of Somali diaspora lives and livelihoods.


For more information contact Professor Christina Torres-Rouff,

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