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Cadernos de Estudos Africanos

versão impressa ISSN 1645-3794

Cadernos de Estudos Africanos  no.23 Lisboa jan./jun. 2012


Marcelino, Pedro F. The New Migration Paradigm of Tran-sitional African Spaces: Inclusion, Exclusion, Liminality and Economic Competition in Transit Countries: A Case Study on the Cape Verde Islands. Saarbrücken, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing. 2011. 152 pages.


Samuel Weeks (Instituto de Ciências Sociais - Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal)


Post-9/11 anti-terrorism policies and economic stagnation in Europe have altered traditional migratory routes from West Africa to the Global North. These factors have not, however, reduced the number of West Africans who still wish to leave their countries in order to seek a better life abroad. Undeterred by threats of deportation, imprisonment, or even death, many continue to undertake the arduous voyage. Pedro Marcelino's engaging book The New Migration Paradigm of Transitional African Spaces examines the role of the Cape Verdean archipelago as a stopping point for continental Africans en route to Europe. Marcelino, a Toronto-based expert in international development, believes that increasingly rigid EU immigration policies have succeeded in 'directing' potential Europe-bound immigrants to countries such as Morocco and Cape Verde. Due to these new restrictions, as well as to tourism-lead economic growth in the islands, a growing number of these Africans from the continent have remained in Cape Verde, a country typically known for its long history of emigration. Many members of this population stay in the islands simply to wait for the right opportunity to migrate to Europe, while for others the country has become an imposed, involuntary 'final' destination in their migratory journeys.

In addition to mainland Africans, Cape Verde has seen a steep increase in the number of part- and full-time European residents, as well as Chinese businesspeople. The former group generally owns holiday homes in the islands, attracted by real estate opportunities, warm weather, and proximity to continental Europe. The later group, especially as proprietors of small shops, has become a visible presence since the early-2000s, tapping into a stable and relatively lucrative market for Chinese goods manufactured to suit local preferences. Astutely, Marcelino notes the striking divergence in how Cape Verdeans refer to these newcomers. Europeans in Cape Verde are known as 'tourists' or 'aid workers' and the Chinese are called 'merchants,' while Sub-Saharan Africans are uniformly referred to as 'immigrants' or more pejoratively mandjaku (the name of a Bissau-Guinean ethnic group). (After mainland Africans protested in downtown Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, against the widespread use of this racist term, Cape Verdeans began calling them 'friends,' a cynical but euphemistic alternative.) Similarly, Marcelino draws attention to the unequal reactions of the Cape Verdean government and media to instances of reputed crime carried out by these populations. In one alarming example of this contrast, a Sierra Leonean national detained at the airport in Praia for carrying 'undeclared' cash (which the police promptly 'seized') was assumed to be part of a nefarious crime syndicate, while a Portuguese engineer who killed a Cape Verdean while driving intoxicated on the Island of Sal served a brief prison term under a suspended sentence.

Through these and other examples, Marcelino thoughtfully considers the islands' initial attempts at making sense of this new migration paradigm, in addition to how the presence of immigrants, continental Africans above all, has forced a wide-ranging national debate on economic development, immigration policy, and the hybridized nature of Cape Verdean identity. To examine these transformations, Marcelino analyzed domestic and international (geo)political discourses and conducted interviews with Cape Verdeans and foreigners residing in the islands. He pays particular attention to popular, elite, and media articulations of tolerance, ethnicity, racism, poverty, illegality, insecurity, and the way in which these relate to the national discussion on identity and citizenship.

Employing Appadurai's notion of the 'ethnoscape,' Marcelino conceptualizes the disparate groups in millennial Cape Verde – immigrants, guest workers, tourists, businesspeople, retirees, et al. – as being reflective of social and demographic realities taking place on a global scale. He states, "[these] newcomers become immediate actors in the national ethnoscape and, eventually partake, however involuntarily, in the nation-building process, whether the nation wants them included or not" (p. 34). He may take this idea a bit too far, however, by repeatedly observing that the archipelago is becoming, as it was during the slave trade, a transitory mid-Atlantic entrepôt for human beings en route to somewhere else. Aside from the reported instances of human smuggling and trafficking in the islands, this comparison seems rather clumsy, especially after Marcelino himself claims that "the vast majority" of those emigrating from Cape Verde do so "on their own initiative" (p. 76).

A more insightful parallel Marcelino draws is how many of his elite and non-elite informants denounce the prejudice that Cape Verdeans encounter in countries such as Portugal and the U.S., yet seem unaware that the African immigrants in their midst face similar challenges. He suggests that the indifferent reception given to continental Africans is partly due to Cape Verdeans' frustration with new EU and U.S. immigration restrictions, coupled with the perception that their country's borders have become increasingly porous. That the migrant population from West Africa is seen as 'stealing' the few available jobs and contributing little to the economy is a reminder of the rise in ethnocentrism and xenophobia that has accompanied the 'development' of national economies in the neoliberal era. In this regard, a sadly notable location is Barraca (meaning 'shack' in Kriolu), an informal shantytown adjacent to the upscale hotels of Boa Vista Island. Matter-of-factly, Marcelino describes this settlement of mostly continental labor immigrants as being "quite possibly one of the country's largest African settlements" (italics added; p. 57). Even the recent downturn in hotel construction on the nearby Island of Sal, where a number of colossal real estate projects remain unfinished, has been blamed on migrants from the mainland. As such, Marcelino laments the readiness with which some Cape Verdeans use the African 'Other' as a means to vent social and economic frustration.

Such attitudes have not gone unchallenged in the islands, as Marcelino is keen to emphasize. He documents many examples of concerned citizens and social media users bringing attention to the difficulties facing both Cape Verdean immigrants abroad and African migrants in the islands, in addition to denouncing instances of police racially profiling alleged African 'criminals.' Mainland Africans too have been adept in organizing themselves to call attention to injustices committed against them, as seen in their well-publicized protest against the xenophobic term mandjaku. Lauding this anti-racist sentiment in the islands, Marcelino adds that "[there] seems to be an understanding among [most Cape Verdeans] about the predicaments faced by African migrants, based on their own experience of migration and the hardships it entails... The national ethos [among islanders] on migration will probably ensure that a degree of empathy will be afforded to new migrants" (p. 124).

Marcelino ends The New Migration Paradigm by offering policy measures that the government could adopt to help integrate continental Africans into Cape Verdean society. Some of these are sound, including infrastructure improvements in shantytowns like Barraca, language and culture courses, and assistance to the informal sector. Others seem a bit dubious, such as his contention that mainland Africans would be better received if the Cape Verdean government ended its policy of allowing visa-free entry to ECOWAS nationals. Regardless, such proposals would help set Cape Verde on a path to embracing the efforts of the enterprising immigrants who have made the islands their temporary or permanent home. In this light, Marcelino's text is a must-read for policy makers in Cape Verde and in other middle-income countries that are attempting to build democratic societies in an age of erratic capital and migratory flows.

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