Becoming Local Citizens: Senegalese Female Migrants and Agrarian Clientelism in The Gambia

by Pamela Kea


Drawing on ethnographic research with Senegalese female migrants in Brikama, The Gambia, this article examines local citizenship and agrarian clientelism. Emphasis is placed on female migrants because of the dearth of ethnographic literature on female migrants in West Africa and to highlight the centrality of female migrants to processes of incorporation, specifically that of agrarian clientelism. Female agrarian clientelist relations are based on a host-stranger dichotomy in which recent migrants are given access to land in the dry season for vegetable cultivation, which is sold in local markets, in exchange for providing unremunerated labor for hosts for the cultivation of rice in the rainy season. It is argued that as mobile citizens these migrants move between different territories or spaces. These may include ethnic territory, descent territory, and/or the “space of the nation,” each with resources, some of which are distinct, some of which overlap. In this sense migrants do not simply move from one physical space to another but also from one group of resources to another. By engaging in the practices and procedures that are central to agrarian clientelist relations migrants become local citizens. In this sense local citizenship must be understood as practice, rather than status. Further, within postcolonial Gambian society such status is subject to ongoing negotiation and struggle. Migrants, in turn, are central to the reproduction of: hosts’ identities; host/stranger dichotomies; the accumulation of wealth through people; agrarian relations; and agrarian clientelism.

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Pamela Kea is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex. Her work focuses on gender, migration, moral and political economy, and the social relations of agrarian production in Senegambia.