P001 – Brokering Africa’s Extraversion: Ethnography and Governance in Global Flows of People and Things
10 July, 14:00-15:30

Beuving Joost / Radboud University Nijmegen
Alpes Jill / VU University Amsterdam


Africa’s ‘extraversion‘ in the world (Bayart, 2000) advances through the globalized circulation of things and people. Brokers are therein key figures as they stand at the crossroads of local and global dynamics. With brokers we refer to any person who fulfils the role of gatekeeper in delivering access to a desired object or objective, such as citizenship, money or goods. Taking often place in sites of (attempted) government intervention, brokers in Africa intervene in processes of appropriation and are thus contested figures. In legally charged language they can therefore be referred to as criminals, swindlers, touts, smugglers or traffickers. Simultaneously brokers are also crucial cultural figures onto whom widely shared aspirations and expectations are projected — the “voleur imprenable,” “démarcheur,” or “feymen”. In this panel we seek to turn attention to what ethnography can bring to the understanding of brokers as legally contested yet culturally grounded actors, in particular with a view to raising critical questions about the governance of sites of brokerage. Papers will explore the social practices and trajectories of African brokers, as well as their respective connections to instances of state authority and legal regimes. We aim to move beyond statist perspectives (Scott 1999) and look at brokers as actors whose everyday actions are structured in ongoing social and economic relations, as well as in cultural frames of reference.

L’extraversion de l’Afrique et ses intermédiaires: ethnographie et gouvernance des flux mondiaux de personnes et de biens
« L’extraversion » de l’Afrique (Bayart, 2000) se poursuit par la circulation mondialisée des biens et des personnes. À la croisée des dynamiques locales et mondiales, les intermédiaires y jouent un rôle capital. Nous appelons ici intermédiaires, les courtiers qui fournissent des moyens d’accès à des objectifs désirés, tels que la citoyenneté ou la richesse. Opérant souvent dans les sphères de règlementation gouvernementale, ces intermédiaires interviennent dans les processus d’appropriation et sont donc des personnages contestés. Le langage légal peut criminaliser ces intermédiaires en les désignant comme des escrocs, des rabatteurs, des passeurs ou des trafiquants. Cependant, les intermédiaires – tels que le voleur imprenable, le démarcheur et le feymen – sont aussi des personnalités admirées, car ils sont des symboles des aspirations culturelles et économiques en Afrique. Dans ce panel, nous allons étudier de manière ethnographique ces intermédiaires – acteurs à la fois légalement contestés et culturellement ancrés- en vue d’analyser les sphères d’interaction entre intervention gouvernementale et courtage en Afrique. Les contributions porteront sur les pratiques et les trajectoires des intermédiaires, ainsi que leurs liens avec des régimes étatiques et juridiques. Nous voulons dépasser une vision étatique (Scott 1999) et regarder les intermédiaires comme des acteurs dont les actions quotidiennes sont structurées par les dynamiques sociales et culturelles.

Paper 1

Meddeb Hamza / European University Institute, Florence, Italy

Brokers and Bureaucrats. Second hand car traders and copper traffickers in Tunisia under and After Ben Ali’s Regime

Both second hand car traders and copper traffickers are figures of intermediation and integration of the Tunisian economy into the globalization. Standing at the crossroads of local and global dynamics, they are operating in the margins of the law to supply the local market with second hand cars or to allow access to wealth through illicit exportation of copper. Far from developing their activities against or outside the State, those brokers sought constantly to maintain arrangements with senior officials of the security services, the administration and especially with the “presidential family” of Ben Ali, which used to control the entire sectors of the illicit economy, in order to secure their traffics. The fall of the regime put an end to the arrangements that used to regulate the economy eliminating some of the traffickers and boosting the competition between old and new traders over resources. This contribution aims at exploring the social practices and trajectories of those Tunisian brokers as well as their capacity to adapt and to connect to state authority in a context of political change and uncertainty. Through an ethnography of their everyday actions and interactions with State officials in the port of Tunis, this contribution aims at exploring the participation of this “pariah capitalism” (M. Weber) to the Tunisian extraversion.

Paper 2

Khan Mohammad Guive / University of Lausanne, Switzerland

“Burkina émergent” made in China : Mass consumption and extraversion management

This paper aims to underline the role of mass consumption in the governance of extraversion in Burkina Faso (BF), through ethnographic materials collected in motorcycle sector (2010-13). Importation of motorcycles from China has increased in BF since 2000. They are much cheaper and replaced those previously imported from France and Japan. Initially, Chinese motorcycles were sold by well-established trading companies. The expanding market has then attracted a new generation of African transnational traders who become the major motorbike importers. The motorcycles industry was used to be a rent-seeking sector for Burkinabe elites. The government had taken measures against fraud and smuggling of the sector until 2008, which have however become inactive after 2011. Illustrating with profiles and trading strategies of these traders; the accumulation process of entrepreneurs developing business around motorcycles; and the evolution of management of this sector in relation to the political context, I argue that the BF government has developed some tolerance vis-à-vis these small traders – brokers – because they are crucial to provide access of motorcycles – which makes numerous lucrative activities possible to the popular class. The evolution of the government measures and the possibility of many traders participating in the once-privileged sector reflect not the change of extraversion management but rather the political role of mass consumption – a sign of development for Burkinabe

Paper 3

Richter Line / University of Copenhagen

Brokering in the borderlands: Malian men en route to Europe

Based on ethnographical fieldwork among Malian migrants along the migration route from Mali through Algeria, Morocco and onwards to Europe, this paper investigates the social positions that these migrants move in and through. I will zoom in on the Malian travel brokers in Algeria and Morocco, who acts as gatekeepers or, more fittingly, as gate creators for the young Malian men who try to move into the European Union to which they cannot gain legal entry.
The paper unfolds how young Malian men move in and out of social and political positions, while navigating in unstable terrains (cf. Vigh 2006). The paper’s argument is divided into three parts. Firstly, I will show how the distinction between the “migrant” and “broker” is elusive and shifting, which enables us to understand brokerage more as a strategy than as a position in the clandestine migration endeavors. Secondly I will argue that this type of brokerage is made possible by the specific political configurations of the migrant community that is permeated by an all-encompassing temporariness and “ad-hocness” of migrant-life. Thirdly I will argue that these political configurations are contingent upon the practices of the state authorities which create a certain space for the migrant communities that can be seen as “public secrets” (cf. Taussig 1999).

Paper 4

Haugen Heidi Østbø / University of Oslo

From pioneers to professionals: African brokers in a maturing Chinese market place

Brokers have played a key role in the short history of African trading communities in China. In the late 1990s, the first Africans to settle in the commercial hub of Guangzhou were Nigerians controlling the trade in used vehicles and spare parts with Chinese secondhand depots. At the time, deficient commercial infrastructure in mainland China compelled foreign merchants to source goods via Hong Kong. This changed as more Africans set up as agents. They made the market legible to itinerant traders and customers at home, offering accommodation, food, money transfer and storage, interpretation, logistics services, and contacts to wholesalers and factories. Brokers could initially charge commission both from Chinese producers and African customers. However, they experienced a double squeeze as the market matured: Clients became more familiar with Guangzhou’s trading economy and paid them less or cut them out completely. And the costs of being based in China mounted as immigration control tightened. Based on ethnographic fieldwork between 2009 and 2014, this presentation explores these changes. Some brokers have moved towards trading on their own by investing previous gains into a business. Others seek to control larger parts of the value chain by setting up production, warehouses, and wholesale outlets. Brokering is professionalized. Among those unable to compete, some have chosen to return to their home countries, while others remain in China hoping that their luck will turn.

← Back to list