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Translocality in the Sahel-Sahara Region

The project focuses on the phenomena of translocality that link the Sahara and the Sahel region with the Maghreb and coastal West Africa. It deals with a space that can be perceived historically as a unit but is rarely treated as such in contemporary research.
Two of the three sub-projects (3.1. and 3.2.) are concerned with migrations of a modern kind that bring members of mobile pastoral groups – the Fulbe-Wodaabe from Niger and the Tuareg from Mali and Niger – to several countries of West and North Africa, and in particular to urban centres. The third sub-project is devoted to the journeys of Senegalese traders, pilgrims, craftsmen, and fishermen to Mauritania and Morocco. All sub-projects focus on an analysis of the interaction between migrants and the urban population, and the social phenomena produced by this interaction. The nature and social relevance of difference and foreignness are a key issue in the investigation. The general idea is that foreignness can constitute a basis for fixed status relationships and exploitation but it can also result in relatively open and egalitarian relationships.
The comparative scheme uniting the sub-projects 3.1. and 3.2. is built on the assumption that the traditional mobile life of these pastoralists could equally be described as ‘translocal’, in as much as it is characterized by their continual movement between and participation in different socio-cultural spheres, and that this original translocality influences their modern migrations and the forms of exchange they establish with their urban vis-à-vis. The sub-project 3.3. is principally concerned with the prevailing forms of sociability in the relationships between migrants and local populations, and more specifically with the question of whether memories of slavery, on the one hand, and the resentment resulting from the collaboration of sub-Saharan Africans in the colonial conquest of Mauritania and Morocco, on the other, have an effect on these forms.

project publications

Modern nomadism. The Fulbe-Wodaabe of Central Niger in West African urban centres

Elisabeth BOESEN

Important coastal centres such as Abidjan and Dakar are the primary destination of the modern migrations of the Wodaabe, who form part of the Fulbe population dispersed all over West Africa. The research project is based on the assumption that Wodaabe migrants market their "foreignness” in these urban centres, that is, that the specific quality of the products and services offered there lies basically in the fact that the Wodaabe originate from a foreign and dangerous, albeit blessed hinterland. Our hypothesis is that foreignness – understood as a social and cultural quality – is constitutive of the relations between migrants and the coastal population, and that this state of foreignness cannot simply be overcome by permanent contact but will be maintained and, as it were, institutionalized. A remarkable specificity of the Wodaabe travels is the fact that they are first and foremost a female affair. The nature and efficiency of female social networks and the question of whether there are distinctive female forms of communicating foreignness are central aspects of the research.

Modern Tuareg Migrations


The project deals with the present-day migrations of the Tuareg people from
Mali and Niger. Since the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s and the rebellions of the 1990s, migration as refugees or as migrant labourers has become an integral part of the Tuareg way of life. Long-distance trade, a time-honoured Tuareg occupation, was modernized during that period and extended in range. Although most drought and war refugees remained close to home, both economic migration and trade extend far beyond the Tuareg lands to the coastal cities of West Africa and the Maghreb, or the Arab peninsula. This research aims to describe the social and cultural transformation and adaptation of Tuareg society in these newly-inhabited spaces, as well as the consequences of such change for the communities at home. A further question will be how internal and external relations are shaped in the context of the wider West African and Maghrebin diaspora. How and to what extent the 'traditional' Tuareg pastoral nomadic identity influences modern migrations, and how far they consequently differ from those of their sedentary neighbours remains to be seen.

Appropriation of space and dynamics of relationships: Senegalese in Morocco and Mauritania


The main focus of this research project is the constitution of translocal social spaces between Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco by Senegalese traders, pilgrims and craftsmen during the 20th century.
Recent research conducted on translocality shows how economic, social, and cultural spaces are created by transborder contacts. This project attempts to view the process from the perspective of Senegalese agents. The primary concern is the relevance of sociability to the constitution, reinforcement and dissolution of these translocal spaces.
Sociability in this context refers to different forms of interaction produced by both a sense of togetherness and of resentment, the origins of which lie in the memories of slavery and the role played by sub-Saharan Africans at the time of the French colonial conquest of Morocco and Mauritania in the 20th century.