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Migrants and Strangers in an African City

Exile, Dignity, Belonging

Bruce Whitehouse

Publication Year: 2012

In cities throughout Africa, local inhabitants live alongside large populations of "strangers." Bruce Whitehouse explores the condition of strangerhood for residents who have come from the West African Sahel to settle in Brazzaville, Congo. Whitehouse considers how these migrants live simultaneously inside and outside of Congolese society as merchants, as Muslims in a predominantly non-Muslim society, and as parents seeking to instill in their children the customs of their communities of origin. Migrants and Strangers in an African City challenges Pan-Africanist ideas of transnationalism and diaspora in today's globalized world.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

The cover of a book like this one often contains a fundamental falsehood: the notion that the author is single-handedly responsible for having dreamed up and expressed the ideas recounted within. I never appreciated the fallacy of this notion as much as upon...

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Introduction: Exile Knows No Dignity

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pp. 1-23

In the heart of West Africa’s arid Sahel region, on a dusty plain a few hours’ drive north of the Niger River, lies a community of several thousand inhabitants. I call this community Togotala, although that is not its real name. It is a large village— more of a small town...

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1. The Avenue of Sergeant Malamine

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pp. 25-57

Quite little is known about the life of Malamine Camara. He was born in Senegal around the mid-nineteenth century, served as a soldier for France, and died young, probably in his thirties. His brief career in colonial service, however, made a tremendous...

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2. Enterprising Strangers

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pp. 58-91

From the beginning of my Brazzaville research, I tried to understand why West Africans went there at such expense and often physical risk. What was the city’s attraction to them? Answers were unsatisfying, and migrants’ life histories rarely seemed to indicate...

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3. Among the Unbelievers

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pp. 92-115

“Hold fast to prayer,” Vieux Diallo counseled me as we walked back into the market from the nearby zawiya, the modest Sufi mosque, after the midday prayer. “All the other things, family, wealth, will abandon you at the grave,” he said...

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4. The Stranger's Code

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pp. 116-148

On the morning of Christmas eve, in 2005, I was conversing with a friend in his shop when three Congolese men in civilian clothes suddenly entered. One rapped loudly on the counter and bellowed, “Séjours et recensements, s’il vous plait.” They were apparently...

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5. Transnational Kinship

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pp. 149-179

“Any West African who marries a Congolese is not one of us,” Vieux Diallo declared to me bluntly one day during a conversation at his tailor shop. Congolese women, he went on to say, were interested only in money and would abandon their foreign husbands...

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6. Children of Exile

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pp. 180-201

Although some of the circumstances surrounding the incident are uncertain, this much is clear: on a Sunday afternoon in mid-December 2005 Papa Doucouré was shot. He was driving a friend’s car in a northern district of Brazzaville and allegedly failed to stop...

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Conclusion: The Anchoring of Identities

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pp. 203-220

There is an expression in the Bamanan language: “Yirikurun mèn o mèn ji la, a tè kè bama ye,” which translates as “However long a log may float in the water, it will never become a crocodile.” This adage is part of everyday discourse in Mali and even inspired...

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Epilogue: Displaced Dreams

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pp. 221-224

In the second decade of the twenty-first century Brazzaville faces uncertain prospects. The city cannot offer the economic opportunities it once did, as Kinshasa has largely supplanted it as a regional commercial hub. In an ironic reversal of its former situation...

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Appendix 1: Notes on Methods

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pp. 225-228

If the methodological challenges facing James Ferguson (1999) in the Copperbelt seemed unusual at the close of the twentieth century, they have become more familiar today to anthropologists studying contemporary patterns of social change...

Appendix 2: Survey Results

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pp. 229-233


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pp. 235-246


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pp. 247-268


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pp. 269-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780253000750
E-ISBN-10: 0253000750
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253000811

Page Count: 286
Illustrations: 5 b&w illus., 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 793166150
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Migrants and Strangers in an African City

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Transnationalism -- Social aspects.
  • Congo (Brazzaville) -- Religion.
  • Congo (Brazzaville) -- Commerce.
  • West Africans -- Congo (Brazzaville) -- Social conditions.
  • Congo (Brazzaville) -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
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