Accepted paper:

Moving or staying? Traders navigating between promising destinations and complicating policies


Ute Röschenthaler (JGU Mainz)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the paths through which African traders obtain knowledge of promising trading places when they intend to travel abroad to purchase products and why they decide to travel whereas they could also place their orders by phone calls or online.

Paper long abstract:

Mobile African traders are active in all corners of the world. Some of them regularly travel across the globe to inspect trade goods, factories and plantations before they order products and ship them to the respective destinations. Recent communication and transfer technology would allow traders after the establishment of initial contacts to stay in their offices, order and inspect their trade goods online. This would save means and time that they could invest in strengthening their social and distribution networks. Many traders indeed organize their business like this, others however regularly travel to faraway destinations, visit trade fairs and trading partners. This paper examines the practices of African traders and their motivations to travel (or to stay at home); how they obtain knowledge of promising trading places, choose their destinations, cope with often complicated policies of obtaining travel documents and manage to purchase trade goods such as fabrics, tea or building materials abroad, often in Asia. Based on research on African trade networks in several African and Asian countries, this paper shows that traders are confronted with increasingly complicated migration policies. Nevertheless, they are in a rather privileged situation as soon as they have accumulated enough capital that allows them to travel and invest in trade goods; at the same time, they continue facing the risk of losing their capital in their ventures due to trickery, unfavourable policies or unforeseen misfortunes.

panel Anth54
African global travellers: (dis)connections, policies, and imaginations [CRG Africa in the World]