Panel 16

Navigating the interstices: commerce flows from Europe to Africa — and back

Panel organisers: Pedro Figueiredo Neto, ICS – ULisboa, Portugal and Ricardo Falcão, CEI-ISCTE-IUL, Portugal.


Though mainstreamed as a one way route — ‘going up North’—, the fact is that the mobility of many African migrants is often circular, constantly oscillating between Europe and Africa. Those involved in commerce, venture in perilous routes in order to bring to the African continent all sort of second-hand goods from which they gain good margins (from cars, trucks and spare parts, to technology and others). They also render other migrants’ services (money remittances, courier) and satisfy their families desires for imported products (from food to beauty products).

However, routes represent more than simple commerce, barter and/or livelihoods. These constitute a leitmotif for family gatherings, the strengthening of ethnic/national/religious networks’ and belonging, the improvement of social status, sometimes mere adventure (a ‘rite de passage’ for those returning).

Upon return, other products are brought to Europe such as African arts and crafts or local produce to satisfy the demand of the nostalgic diaspora, or even tobacco to feed into parallel distribution chains. If the routes towards Europe are getting increasingly difficult, the same is true when going South. African migrant traders need to circumvent conventional norms, and negotiate the interstices of a complex web of bureaucracy and law, often impregnated with arbitrariness.

Such phenomena not only challenge African migration assumptions’ but also shed light on the ambiguous and often counter-productive policy of border shut down.

This panel invites empirically grounded and theoretically driven contributions that deal with reverse flows from Europe to Africa. We welcome contributions that pay close attention to how mobilities and networks are weaved through these flows of people, goods and ideas from North to South —and back—, and how these form a constant interplay between the grabbing of new business opportunities, the circumvention of regulations, and its re-capture by the bureaucratic tentacles.


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