West African post-slavery and liminal diasporic egalitarianism

AMIS lecture by anthropologist Dr Paolo Gaibazzi, currently Associated Researcher at the ZMO-Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin.

Gaibazzi’s lecture will trace the “afterlife of slavery” (S. Hartman) not only over time but also across space, by asking how migrant transnationality sustains in/equality in post-slavery West Africa. It builds in particular on ethnographic fieldwork in the Gambia and with migrants from the Gambia and surrounding countries in Angola.

The Gambia and the Western Sahel at large is a region of intense mobility, where slavery is nominally dead but often lives on in hierarchies based on free/slave origins and in other less visible forms of inequality. While post-slavery hierarchies may travel along migratory circuits, West African migrants in Angola explicitly uphold a spirit of egalitarianism.

The presentation describes the cultural and political-economic conditions of “exile” that support migrants’ egalitarian ideas and relations, while also anchoring them to their ancestral places where hierarchies hold sway. Migrant transnationality thus frames egalitarianism as liminal, diasporic inversion of the social order prevailing at home, thereby helping to reproduce the latter.

Far from suggesting a rigid and static model of social reproduction, however, the presentation will also spotlight diasporic egalitarianism’s potential for rupture. It will conclude by offering preliminary reflections on the recent Ganbana movement, an anti-slavery, pro-equality movement in the Soninke-speaking milieu, that is highly transnational in nature and unprecedented by the intensity of the conflicts that have ensued.

The lecture is linked to the launch of Lotte Pelckmans' new GCRF-UKRI project on Slavery, Diaspora Mobilisations and Protracted Rural Displacements from Kayes, Mali.

Chair Lotte Pelckmans, Advanced Migration Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Discussant Dr. Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, Assistant Professor Global Refugee Studies, Aalborg University.

Everyone is welcome!

Short Bio

Dr Gaibazzi, has published on migration and border governance in West Africa and in Southern Africa, as well as on Europe’s externalization policies vis-à-vis Africa. He has a longstanding interest in West African post-slavery, and has worked on the role of fate, fortune and contingency in the economy.

After obtaining his PhD from the University of Milan-Bicocca (2010), he has held positions as Lecturer of Anthropology at the University of Latvia, and as Researcher at ZMO-Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient, in Berlin. He is the author of Bush Bound: Young Men and Rural Permanence in Migrant West Africa (Berghahn 2015), an ethnography of immobility and social reproduction in rural Gambia. He has subsequently worked on West African Muslim traders in Angola. In addition to publishing extensively on migration and border regimes in Africa and the Euro-African zone, he has worked on economies of fate, fortune and contingency in Africa.

His interest in West African post-slavery is long-standing and cuts across his research projects.