Regions 2050

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The forces that define the contemporary condition as Anthropocene, such as global warming, wars and migrations, resource extraction, species extinction or pandemics, are more volatile, indeterminate and unpredictable because they are planetary. In Africa in particular, these dynamics have unleashed new spatial reconfigurations. They are reshaping internal and external borders while paving the way for novel forms of mobility at multiple speeds. In the process, old regional formations are remade and unmade while new ones are emerging. Mapping these dynamics and their various determinants calls for an urgent reformulation of a whole set of assumptions, categories and concepts which have until recently served as the bedrock of scientific inquiries into processes of regionalization.

The aim of this multi-regional research program is to unlock the paradoxes of regionalization in a continent historically shaped by porous borders and mobile spaces. The program straddles the traditional divide between African Francophone, Anglophone and Lusophone scholarly communities, one of the main lines of fragmentation within continental academia. It also transcends the divide between Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, thus opening up potential linkages with the Mediterranean and the Arab world in general. It reconnects the African continent to its multiple elsewheres, including the Southern Atlantic and Indian Oceanic worlds.




The tension between political economy and cultural dynamics has been at the heart of studies of regional factors in global transformations. Whether in comparative politics or international relations (IR), regionalism has mostly been apprehended in terms of the opening of markets, a key dimension of the changing international political economy and world order. As a result, the social, cultural and imaginary dimensions of spatial relations and the spatial components of political, economic, cultural and institutional dynamics have hardly been the object of proper assessment, let alone theorization. Furthermore, approaches to the regional have remained tied to the history of the nation-state while the main agency has often been attributed  to impersonal macro-forces such as bureaucracies, markets and formal institutions.


These limitations are nowhere as evident as in Africa where the mismatch between regionalism as initiated by states and policy-makers and regionalisation as social processes initiated from below by non-state or informal actors, local communities and cross-national networks has been overwhelming. Notions of “region-ness” have often been reduced to matters of economic cohesiveness, trade and cooperation among states and other formal actors. Yet, recent historical, anthropological and geo-environmental research has shown the extent to which societies had always dealt with uncertainty through circulation. In the African context, trans-local networks and various informal cross-border actors have been key drivers in the remapping of territorial formations.


As flows of various kinds (people, goods, technologies, and ideas) intensify, borders are gradually shifting. The dominant form of space is no longer one of places but rather one of flows. In this space of flows, places are increasingly defined by their position within networks.  The result is the emergence of a continental space in which mobility can no longer be seen as movement between fixed locations and territories. Space is more and more mobile and borders ever more porous. This evolution has led to an increasing tension between the fixity imposed by the states and the mobility driven by the motion of flows.


Through careful descriptive and empirical research, this program hopes to show how various types of movements result in the creation of different types of places, boundaries and connections and networks, contributing therefore to original and at times unexpected modes of de facto regionalization in contemporary Africa. Building on the distinction between several forms of movement or nobilities, we hope to better understand the tensions and conflicting dynamics between local spatial strategies based on circulation, routes and connections, networks and flows on the one hand, and on the other State and elite-driven modes of regionalization whose main foundations are national sovereign territories. 




SCIENTIFIC COORDINATORS: Mehdi Alioua and Felwine Sarr


The Sahel, the Sahara and the Mediterranean form a single space of movement which should be considered as a continuum. The Sahara in particular should be seen as “the second face of the Mediterranean” and as such interpreted as a space of connection rather than of insulation.

In this Cluster, we focus on informal practices and commercial exchanges which perform connective functions across this region.  We look into various ways in which the cross-border networks revolving around specific connective sites and portals foster the emergence of new and unofficial spatial orders. Particular attention is devoted to markets and small towns. Markets in particular are critical in connecting small towns with their rural hinterlands. Rurally sourced goods flow through historically established small towns and regional markets to national and international markets. How are market places and networks created? What role do social networks play in their creation?  To what extent their creation and the way they operate is shaped by the hybrid forms of governance and the unfolding dynamics of para-statehood or even statelessness?

The multiplicity of forms of mobility and circulation is the other focus. Underlying various modes of circulation are myriad forms of local and situated knowledge’s. How are they constituted and disseminated? Under what conditions are they deployed and with what effects? How do routes and trails emerge and how are such knowledge’s cemented? What are the interconnections and similarities between different forms of movement? What groups or communities propel what types of movements and according to the availability of what types of resources? To what extent is the alleged dichotomy of sedentary and nomadic mobility challenged and combined with more open conceptions of space and place?




. ALUEDE Jackson (Anchor University, Nigeria)

Border Towns and Markets as Pathways to Regionalization in the Sahel: An Analysis of Mobile Space and Porous Borders

BJARNESEN Jesper (The Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala University, Sweden)

Soft infrastructures of Labour Mobilities Across and Between Secondary Cities in West Africa

 CHEIKH BA (WISER, Johannesburg, South Africa)

Construire une écologie des savoirs sur les eaux sahéliennes: le cas du fleuve Sénégal

DAKHLI Leyla (Centre Marc Bloch, CNRS, France)

Abdelkader l’Algérien, un paradigme pour penser le refuge comme construction d’espace frontaliers familiaux et transrégionaux

. LABRUNE-BADIANE Céline (AIHP-GEODE, Martinique, France)

Afro-diasporic Imaginaries and Territories

LAINE Jussi (Karelian Institute, University of Eastern Finland, Finland)

Borders and Borderings in the Euro-African Area

NAJI Salima (Architecte DPLG, CJB, Morocco)

Relation entre mobilité, architecture, agriculture et changements climatiques

 PAGANO Chiara (University of Pavia, Italy)

Genealogies of a Sahelo-Mediterranean Internal Frontier. Politics of Space and Identity in the Making of the Tripolitanian-Tunisian-Algerian Borderscapes 




SCIENTIFIC COORDINATORS: Rogers Orock, Joshua Walker and Lys Alcayna-Stevens


 One of the largest eco- or bio-regions in the world, the Congo Basin constitutes a large portion of Africa’s biodiversity and is shared by more than 7 territorial nations. With 300 million hectares of land covered by tropical forests (99 percent of which is primary or naturally regenerated), it is the second largest tropical forest area in the world. It is also the single largest peatland complex in the world, storing a significant amount of forest carbon. The Congo Basin forests have, for centuries, performed a significant role in the global carbon cycle (services such as flood control and climate regulation at the local and regional level). The wealth of carbon stored in their abundant vegetation further serves as a buffer against global climate change. 

The Congo Basin is also a unique freshwater ecosystem supporting hundreds of millions of people in areas as diverse as the provision of food and materials or trade and exchange. It is also a crucial part of regulating Earth’s water cycle. The Basin is among the three prominent convective regions that dominate global rainfall climatology during transition seasons. A remote sensing analysis of its forests reveals that the Basin is at a threshold as it experiences consistent patterns of reduced vegetation greenness and decreased water storage. This hydro-climatic shift is partly the result of extreme droughts, mechanized logging, rotational agriculture and expanding human activities.

In this Cluster, we aim to test the concept of eco- or bioregion. We intend to build on the work that has already been done in by Earth science research to map the Basin’s forest and water ecosystems. Using phenology patterns and light regimes derived from MODIS (Moderate Resolution Image Spectometer), they have identified 8 distinct forest types, including mangroves and swamps. These distinct forest types are important bio-physical barriers which have isolated distinct species. But they also operate as nodes of connection which allow patterns of species coexistence to emerge. What this coexistence might entail for a multi species understanding of regionalization will be at the center of our inquiry.

We also build on the work done on regional hydrology and hydrodynamics of the waters in the Basin, which shows the extent to which future climate change and land use are likely to affect the overall C cycle of the Basin while increasing CO2 evasion. This will be mapped against the various ways in which indigenous communities have developed a long and intricate relationship to natural ecosystems while deriving their livelihoods and essential natural resources from this environment. In this Cluster, we will use a combined methodology: collection of new data where it is possible, reworking and reinterpretation of existing data, conducting targeted research in specific locations.



Regions2050: Mobility, Extraction, Circulation Part 1:


Regiosn2050: Mobility, Extraction, Circulation Part 2:


Eight Ways to Think About Unsettlement Part 1:


Eight Ways to Think About Unsettlement Part 2:


Southern Oceanicity:


The Packed Suitcase – Living with Deportability:




. ABE Claude (Catholic University of Central Africa)

Border Towns and Markets as Pathways to Regionalization in the Sahel: An Analysis

of Mobile Space and Porous Borders

 . GESCHIERE, Peter (University of Amsterdam)

Historical and Anthropological Perspectives on the Forest of West Central Africa

 . GRABLI, Charlotte (CIRESC, CNRS, France and The Department of African

American Studies, UCLA)

“The musical pathways of regionalization in the Congo Basin.”

HUNT, Nancy Rose (University of Florida)

“Listening and Transcribing, Time and Sounds: Anthropological Practice and A

Generational Historiography for a Wide Congo Basin”

. INAKA, Saint José Camille (WISER, Johannesburg, South Africa)

“Regionalization from below: Informal cross-border trading in the Congo basin”

. INOGWABINI, Bila-Isia (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences)

Biodiversity, ecology, freshwater and climate change and sustainability

. Alcayna-Stevens, Lys (Harvard University)

'Epidemic winds: Embodiment, mobility and interconnection in the Congo Basin'

 . MATHYS, Gillian (Ghent University)

Centring lakes in the margins of the Congo Basin: ‘Undoing’ the colonial territorial


 . TONDA, Joseph (Université Omar Bongo, Faculté de Lettres et Sciences

Humaines, Département de sociologie.)

 “Éco-région comme éco-culture. Une approche anthropologique du Bassin du






SCIENTIFIC COORDINATORS: Pamila Gupta and Euclides Goncalves


Regionalization processes in Southern Africa will be placed within the broader Southern Hemispheric context (South Atlantic and Indian Ocean in particular). With Eastern Africa, Southern Africa is one of the two main maritime gateways to Asia. Furthermore, it is located at the center of a chain that connects seas and continents while bridging the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. To a large extent, these connections form a sub-global web that reflects unfolding shifts in the pathways of globalization. This Cluster will examine how these shifts are currently perceived, understood and represented, the ways in which they work as a potential alternative to the global North and how they enable the movement of people, goods and ideas.

               Through careful descriptive and empirical research, we hope to show how these various types of movements result in the creation of different types of places, boundaries and connections and networks, contributing therefore to original and at times unexpected modes of de facto regionalization. Building on the distinction between several forms of movement or mobilities, we hope to better understand the tensions and conflicting dynamics between local spatial strategies based on circulation, routes and connections, networks and flows on the one hand, and on the other State and elite-driven modes of regionalization whose main foundations are national sovereign territories.




                . AUERBACH Jess (University of North West, South Africa)

Opening the Bowl: An Ethnography of Two Undersea Internet Cables in the South   Atlantic and Indian Ocean

               . DE ARAUJO Caio Simoes (WiSER, Johannesburg, South Africa)

The Temporalities of the Shoreline: Histories and Ethnographies of Decline and Ru ination (Mozambique)

               . GASTROW Claudia (University of Johannesburg, South Africa)

               Tracing the Socialist Atlantic: Angola’s Cuban Remains

               . LEHMAN Jessica (Durham University, U.K.)

               Different Depths: Marine Cultural Heritage and the Ocean Environment

               . MPOFU-WALSH Sizwe (WISER, Johannesburg, South Africa)

               South Africa, Antarctica and the Southern Ocean: Problems and Prospects

               . POMBO Pedro Manuel (Goa University, India)

 A Preliminary Approach to Porous Futures in Indian Ocean Africa: Oceanic Flows and Insular Socio-Ecologies in Mauritius”

               . TJIRERA Ellison (University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia)

Unraveling Socio-Oceanic Cartographies of the Namibian Coast via Lüderitz and Walvis Bay






               The aim of this Cluster is to examine the co-production of technologies and spatial orders across Africa. It focuses on two techno-scientific assemblages in the domains of health and environment, namely, datafication (or quantification) and remote sensing (satellite and drone imaging). While asserting that assemblages are seamless webs that do not overlap with countries, politically defined regions or even continents, the Cluster inquiries into the ways in which these assemblages shape the forms and practices of evidence-making that impact governance and the production of space. In turn, the Cluster examines how technologies are shaped by their deployments and usages in particular sites.

In more depth, the Cluster studies how the assemblages of datafication and remote sensing re-define what health is, what environment is, and how the two may be related to each other. We seek to understand how these re-definitions shape governance at various scales, making it necessary to pay attention to the political economy of technical assemblages, the development of which brings to light the multiple relations between techno-science, political territories and spatial configurations.

To pursue its core investigation, the Cluster explores how these two assemblages foster forms of belonging and being in the world that partly reinforce and partly undermine the conventional belief that people are somehow naturally divided into nations and that such entities even have their own territories. We engage this belief by asking what imaginaries for a better future the two assemblages (and their related categorizations of people) are imbued with. Who is meant to belong to these better worlds? And how is this related to spatial configurations?






Carbon metrics: Extractive science, sustainability indicators and environmental markets in the Central African forests (Gabon) 

. EYENGA Georges

Drones, Digitization and Space in technopolitics of care in Cameroon and Ghana


Seeing like a satellite: remote sensing, environment capture and (de)terrialization in Sudan


Making ecological states through datafiction: Sudan and the global discourse of degradation


Digitalised Remittance Flows: Enhancing Healthcare Access, Utilisation and Expenditure Among Migrant-Sending Households in Zimbabwe

. MERRON James Lawrence

Drone Stories in Southern African Border Regions: Shifting Down


Health Registers in the Gold Coast, Ghana (1920-1956)

PARK Songi

Techno-scales in Times of Pandemics of Unprecedented Scales


Data-Driven Governance and Spatial Analyses of Development in Ghana





               Achille Mbembe

               Principal Investigator


  Najibha Deshmukh

               Program Manager


               Bronwyn Kotzen

               Design & Communication


               Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh

               Podcast & Digital Operations


               Phumeza Majola

               Digital Operations


  Adila Deshmukh

               Finance Manager


               Sarah Nuttall

               Director of WiSER  













WiSER, 6th Floor Ward Building, Wits University, Johannesburg 2050

Najibha Deshmukh, Program Coordinator