Capital in the Borderlands: Smugglers, Investors, and Frontier Urbanism in Ethiopia

Daniel Thompson
Anthropology and Heritage Studies
UC Merced

“Capital in the Borderlands” explores how border management strategies shape urban life and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa. Borders are exclusionary sites, as portrayed in media coverage of European and North American migration “crises” and efforts to stem them. However, borders are also sites where relationships, exchanges, and sometimes immense profits are made. This book traces connections between borders’ exclusionary and connective aspects as they shape people’s lived worlds in Jigjiga, a borderlands city and regional capital. It focuses on the dual effects of new controls imposed since 2010 along Ethiopia’s border with the self-declared Somaliland Republic: restrictions on local trade and mobility have created avenues for transnational investment by a globalized Somali diaspora. Drawing on over two years of fieldwork in Ethiopia and among Somalis in the United States, the book follows “contraband” traders, Ethiopian business elites, and diaspora capitalists across multiple types of borders. It traces their mobilities, relationships, and economic exchanges to where they intersect in a bustling regional city. Through an ethnography of what locals term the urban “cultural economy,” the book considers how geopolitical borders configure moralities, responsibilities, and market practices—and connects a borderlands market ethnography to broader thinking about twenty-first century African urbanisms.