Forging African Communities: Mobility, Integration and Belonging
Edited by Oliver Bakewell and Loren B. Landau
London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018,321 pp.
Through human mobility, identities and communities are forged. This is the central message of Forging African Communities, and the editors use the metaphor of the "forge" deliberately, playing with the words double meaning. First, to forge is to build or create, "transform[ing] ... existing material into new, potentially unrecognizable forms that nonetheless build on past histories" (3). This sense highlights the emergence of new possibilities, while also acknowledging the continued importance of what came before. But to forge is also to fake, falsify, and misrepresent--actions that, the editors argue, are "often central to migrants' experiences and strategies" (4). Both senses of the metaphor imply agency: as they move across multiple sites and scales, people actively make and remake communities and themselves.
This edited volume presents pieces from scholars across a variety of disciplines--including development studies, demography, sociology, and anthropology--that illustrate community building and self-making through mobility in African contexts. Africa, the editors suggest in their introduction, holds particular relevance for this kind of exploration because the fragility of states and formal institutions on the continent means that people are especially likely to move and integrate in informal ways that are poorly understood and often overlooked. This premise aligns with the book's focus on looking beyond official policies to examine empirically how migrants actually join communities, and how members of host communities participate in this process.
The book is divided into three sections. The first, "Agents of Integration: Decentring Policy and the State," questions the policy--and state-centric assumptions evident in much of the literature on migrant "integration." Instead, the chapters in this section focus on migrants' perspectives and explore how official policies may sometimes lead to unintended results. In chapter 2, Hovil examines the situation of Burundian refugees in Tanzania, where a seemingly generous offer of citizenship from the Tanzanian government introduced new forms of precarity, since it was contingent on relocating away from their areas of settlement and thus threatened to disrupt social ties. This example shows how formal membership, such as citizenship, does not...