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, 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 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.





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 knowledges. 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 knowledges 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?





. ALUEND Jackson (Anchor University, Nigeria)

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

. BA Cheikh (WISER, Johannesburg, South Africa)

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

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

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

. DAKHLI Leyla (Centre Marc Bloch, CNRS, France)

Abdelkader l’Algérien, un paradigme pour penser le refuge comme construction despace 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






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.





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: Angolas 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 (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








               This Cluster will focus on the various technological devices which are reshaping both forms of governance and the spatial connections within Africa. The Cluster will also examine the ways in which technological possibilities and constraints foster new senses of belonging and of the world, as well as the flows and forms they generate.  The social lives of specific technological artefacts and devices will be explored as well as the way they reconfigure senses of self and identity in the continent. With what myths, desires and symbolic capital are they imbued? What types of hybrid and connected spaces are they producing? What regimes of non-national sovereignty are they making possible? What segregated worlds are they fostering? Bottom-up techno-social innovations and other forms in which value is circulated will be privileged. Such will be the case of financial technologies.

               Finally, the Cluster will inquire into the proliferation of instruments, data and indicators and their role in the emergence of hybrid forms of governance in the Continent. The use of metrics is extending to various aspects of social, cultural and economic life. Trust in numbers and in devices is part of a shifting cognitive landscape and valuation structures that are fast becoming key aspects of African life. To what extent these new tools of knowledge and power are reconfiguring regionalization processes will be a key issue.






. Georges EYENGA

Drones, Digitization, Space and Care Policies in Africa: The Technological Experiences of Algo Drone in Cameroon and Zipline Drone in Ghana


The Question of Identity in Sudanese Technoscapes: Comparing People and Government Assemblages, Their Fluid Loyalties and Competing Desires


Seeing Like a Chinese Satellite over a Post-revolutionary State: Sensory Media, Environmental Management and (De)Territorialization in Sudan

. Johannes MACHINYA

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

. James Lawrence MERRON

Drone Stories in Southern African Border Regions: Shifting Down

. Samuel NTEWUSU

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

. Songi PARK/Morisho NENE

Techno-scales in Times of Pandemics of Unprecedented Scales

. Alena THIEL

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


               Sarah Nuttall

               Director of WiSER






            Mehdi Alaoui

               Universite de Rabat (Morocco)


               Euclides Goncalves

               Kaleidoscopio (Mozambique)


               Pamila Gupta

               University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)


               Rogers Orock

               University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)




               Richard Rottenburg

               University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)


               Felwine Sarr

               Duke University (USA)


               Joshua Walker

               New York University (USA)












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

Najibha Deshmuk, Program Coordinator