Amanda Poole, Department of Anthropology, presented a paper titled “Ransoms and Remittances: Eritrea as a Gatekeeper State” at the African Studies Association Annual Conference in Washington D.C., November 17 – 19, 2011.
The African Studies Association annual conference is the largest gathering of Africanist scholars in the world. The theme of the 2011 conference was “50 years of African liberation,” and scholars were invited to reflect on the complex unfolding of history during the past five decades in Africa.
The paper was part of a panel titled “Post-Liberation Eritrea: 20 Years Anniversary.” This session involved an international panel of scholars who were invited to critically examine the challenges of forming a nation-state in Eritrea in the last 20 years, as ex-guerrilla fighters transformed into state-managers following independence from Ethiopia. These articles are currently being revised for submission to a special issue of Africa Today.
Amanda Poole’s paper addresses the question of state-making in relation to out-migration from Eritrea. The escape of citizens from Eritrea has potentially been a source of challenge to state authority in the country. However, this paper argues that the Eritrean state has developed new strategies of gate-keeping that operate in and through transnational kinship networks, porous borders, and the aspirations of citizens to escape civil service as state agents themselves. This paper draws from fifteen months of ethnographic research on refugee resettlement in the Eritrean lowlands to explore new configurations of power and belonging in the Eritrean gatekeeper state. The “gatekeeper state” (Cooper 2002) is a theory describing the marked continuities in state-society relations throughout the late colonial and post-colonial periods in Africa, involving a system of governing in which the patrimonial state sits astride narrow channels of wealth creation. While they control the major circulation of citizens, funds, and resources, these states are potentially threatened by socio-economic networks that operate outside the range of state control – within and across national borders. This paper rethinks the gatekeeper state in contemporary Africa through examining the micropolitics of gatekeeping in Eritrea, particularly around the circulation of citizens via illegal emigration and the capture of ransoms and remittances from those who leave.