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Accepted Paper:

House-building as infrastructures of mobility: the rising of the “local” diaspora neighborhoods in Mek’ele  
Giuseppe Grimaldi (University of Trieste)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the involvement of the tigrayan diaspora in the urban change of Mek’ele (Ethiopia), focusing on the rising of the “diaspora neighborhoods”. Built from abroad but inhabited from locals, these spaces can be framed as transnational infrastructures that shape new routes in the region.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I will focus on the rising of the “diaspora neighborhoods” in Mek’ele, the capital of Tigray region (Ethiopia). In particular, I take in consideration the diasporic commitment in the house-building process, disconnecting it from “homecoming” projects, and linking it to the regional routes of the region.

After the 1991 takeover of the TPLF (Tigray people’s liberation front) in Ethiopia, the government promoted specific programs to encourage diaspora participation. The institutional aid in housebuilding programs led many Tigrayans abroad to organize associations (mahber) and build new districts.

Laying in the convergence of political representations, economic flows and modernization rhetoric, the city of Mek’ele represented often the only possible building-choice to mediate the local instances of the diaspora coming from all over Tigray. Hence, homecoming projects were often far from home. This discontinuity activated new patterns of mobility in Tigray region: the success of diaspora housebuilding projects was (and still is) strictly dependent from the local diasporic networks, often far from Mekele. At the same time, they are frequently the main beneficiaries of the new houses. Once ready, in most cases, there is no stable return from abroad. Hence, the “diaspora neighborhoods” of Mek’ele, mainly inhabited by locals, cannot be merely connected to the homecoming projects.

The diaspora housebuilding process can rather be considered as an infrastructure inaugurating new routes in the Horn, as an hub that creates connections among dispersed networks. This process, based on transnational immobility, reveals its social effectiveness as an unsettled technology of local mobility.

Panel P132
The winding roads: infrastructures and technologies of (im)mobility
  Session 1