- Borders and Borderlands as Resources in the Horn of Africa
Forged in the midst of colonialism, contemporary African state borders are argued to be superficial, arbitrary, and even the source of many political and economic problems. Though not dismissing these points, Dereje Feyissa and Markus V. Hoehne present in this edited volume a perspective on state borders that is based not on the adverse effects of these borders, but on their [End Page 104] potential to serve the people that live in their immediate vicinity. State borders, in short, are analyzed as a kind of resource. The geographic focus of this volume on the Horn of Africa is particularly interesting because, unlike the rest of the continent, state borders there have been and continue to be subject to change.
The book is divided into eleven chapters, nine of which are case studies, with each illustrating a different facet of how individuals and communities transform borders into a concrete resource. The editors’ introduction binds the contributions together by sketching the overarching theoretical framework in the form of a typology of resources. The last chapter, written by the seasoned Africanist Christopher Clapham, critically assesses the merits of such an analytic approach and ends on a rather skeptical note, for in his view, seeing borders as a resource may distract from the more pressing task of looking for potential alternatives to the current border configuration and the problems it implies.
In relation to the broader literature, this book is intended to offer an alternative perspective from those that present state borders as inimical remnants of colonialism and those that see borders becoming increasingly irrelevant in the era of globalization. Central to Feyissa and Hoehne’s perspective is the conceptual shift from the center to the periphery, anchored in the idea of borderlands, the ambient territory located on both sides of the border. In addition to this spatial shift, this volume differs in the actors that are emphasized. What is usually relegated to the margins of state-centered narratives is here placed at the center, as the people in the borderlands—the borderlanders—constitute the primary actors, and the government only takes a secondary role. The reason for this, the editors say, is their attempt to move away from a discourse focused on what borders do to people and instead draw attention to “what the people have done to the borders,” thereby illustrating “what they have made out of living in the borderlands as fields of opportunities” (p. 11). It is thus the interaction between borderlanders and state borders that forms the analytic bedrock for the case studies in this volume.
Casting borders as a resource, of course, leaves a wide array of possibilities in regard to the specific form they can take. Indeed, a quick glance at the table of content confirms this, as the case studies are diverse in both the people studied and the ways borders are conceptualized as resources. To organize this diversity, the editors provide a typology that apportions resources into four categories: economic, political, identity, and status/ rights resources. The first is based primarily on two factors: differences between state economies and cross border social ties. Situated between two economic zones and therefore able to act as brokers, borderlanders stand to profit from price differences—as in taxes, interest rates, and so on—that are created by divergent policies in the separate yet contiguous national economies. Cross-border social ties, in turn, form the underlying infrastructure on which such transactions are based. Together, these factors form a robust theoretical basis, which, unfortunately, cannot be said of the other three [End Page 105] categories in the typology. The ideas of political, identity, and status/rights resources are indeed reflected in the case studies, but Feyissa and Hoehne do not provide the theoretical attributes that undergird such concepts. In the absence of this, it is difficult to distinguish how these three categories in the typology differ.
However, what this volume may lack in its theoretical framework...