Houser on Gaibazzi and Bellagamba and Dünnwald and eds., 'EurAfrican Borders and Migration Management: Political Cultures, Contested Spaces, and Ordinary Lives'

Paolo Gaibazzi, Alice Bellagamba, Stephan Dünnwald, eds.
Myra Ann Houser

Paolo Gaibazzi, Alice Bellagamba, Stephan Dünnwald, eds. EurAfrican Borders and Migration Management: Political Cultures, Contested Spaces, and Ordinary Lives. Palgrave Series in African Borderlands Studies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 307 pp. $159.99 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-349-94971-7; $159.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-349-95691-3.

Reviewed by Myra Ann Houser (Ouachita Baptist University) Published on H-Atlantic (January, 2021) Commissioned by Bryan Rindfleisch (Marquette University)

Printable Version:

Moving the Borders: A Review of EurAfrican Borders and Migration Management

Paolo Gaibazzi, Alice Bellagamba, and Stephan Dünnwald’s EurAfrican Borders and Migration Management adopts as its basis the 1920s French term EurAfrique. The contributors to this edited volume seek to understand how Europeans and Africans have responded to the idea of a “border” between the two continents. They focus, especially, on recent framing and construction of borders, as well as their impact on individuals’ lives. Altogether, they contribute to the Palgrave series that seeks to build a “theoretical interpretation of African borderlands” (p. 1). It should also be noted that this book is an outgrowth of the African Borderlands Research Network, which began its current iteration in 2011 and seeks to connect Europeanists and Africanists (albeit mostly based in Europe) working on trans-Mediterranean migration. In this the book largely succeeds, though it lacks an Afrocentric viewpoint that could better explain both the perspective and qualitative experience of Africans moving to Europe. The research network contains work by Africanist scholars but very little in the way of perspectives from Africa. Thus, an important link in this migration history remains missing. In framing the book, the editors organize their sections into four parts: “Framing EurAfrican Borders,” “Places,” “Actors,” and “Lives.”

“Framing EurAfrican Borders,” naturally, seeks to understand recent histories of delineation between Europe and Africa. The authors argue that the current “migrant crisis” is not just a tide of Africans trying to immigrate across the sea. “European borders indeed contributed to the dynamic and the drama of the moments,” they argue. The Arab Spring, then, set off migration discussions not by creating more repressive conditions from which to leave but by collapsing North African “gatekeeping” regimes that had previously worked with European entities, given “how much of Europe’s southern border is already in Africa” (p. 4). The authors then turn their attention to how recent developments in the Schengen Zone have attempted to make the space more inclusive internally, while also making it more exclusive externally. Thus, the text examines borders imposed from the “inside out,” rather than perimeters broken externally (p. 5). This includes discussions of Frontex, “border-induced displacement,” external and transnational diasporas, and a narrowing of definitions concerning the 1951 Convention on Refugees that changed statuses from “refugee” to “asylum seeker” and finally to “illegal migrant” for the 1970s onward (pp. 31, 36). The authors compellingly argue that the European Union, individual countries, and private entities have moved the line for Africans during recent decades. The current “migration crisis,” then, reflects not a heightened exodus from Africa but a heightened awareness and restriction from Europe.

Moving through “Places,” the authors choose case studies in Ceuta and Melilla, Bamako, and other spaces within Mali, to demonstrate the ways the Mediterranean has been “spatially disaggregated” to create borderlands (p. 63). Within their analyses of these specific places, the authors discuss the performance of nation-state boundaries through defense and high technology, expulsion and ghettoization, and distinctions in the ways that different EU members regulate their boundaries. Regulation includes an examination of differences in Spanish and French concepts of immigration and citizenship. Similarly, in the “Actors” section, the work moves through Libya and Italy, the Italian consulate in Senegal, Cameroon, and spaces of exodus after the Arab Spring. Many of these case studies contain a discussion of the historical trajectory of such borders.

The “Lives” section provides the most profound and human portion of the book. It moves through a discussion of fisherpeople living and working in the Mediterranean, people who are victims of human trafficking from the Horn of Africa through the sea, and undocumented workers in Mali and Italy. In crafting these stories, the authors cover refugee status, family reunification and disruption, and university students. They do this from a rich variety of sources that includes interviews and archives, and they seek a better understanding of how power and autonomy have worked within this context. They continue, through the conclusion, the  discussion of how the EU has tightened restrictions on immigration in the post-1990s era, when the EU and individual nation-states tightened visa restrictions. The authors argue that this led people to increasingly take “irregular” routes to reach Europe (p. 221). Finally, there is an assessment on how global security changes following September 11, 2001, led to an increase in discussions on “public order” and “homeland security.” This presents a vibrant picture of how individuals continue to live and work across ever-changing and ever-restricted borders.

Interestingly, these four sections all do without introductions or conclusions, which presents a flow that at times elides its individual sections in favor of the larger theme of examining “border” as a social and political construct. Thus, the authors argue that current “migration crises” are less a reflection of changing African geopolitics than of European border expansion. Such a line is likely familiar to scholars working on issues of demarcation during colonialism and decolonization. In closing, David B. Coplan explains that “Not that long ago, the phrase ‘border between Europe and Africa’ would have evoked puzzlement. No more: that phrase is now universally understood to refer to the Mediterranean and the fearful realization by Europeans that its waters no longer protect ‘Fortress Europe’ from uncontrolled African immigration; that the ‘enemy is on the beach’” (p. 283). Despite adapting the term EurAfrique as its basis, it is clear from Gaibazzi, Bellagamba, and Dünnwald’s work that such thinking largely remains rejected within the Mediterranean itself.

Citation: Myra Ann Houser. Review of Gaibazzi, Paolo; Bellagamba, Alice; Dünnwald, Stephan; eds., EurAfrican Borders and Migration Management: Political Cultures, Contested Spaces, and Ordinary Lives. H-Atlantic, H-Net Reviews. January, 2021. URL:

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