Imagining migration: cyber-cafés, sex and clandestine departures in the Casamance, Senegal
Studies of migration are usually about movement, but what about people who aspire to migrate but whose attempts to do so remain largely unsuccessful? The focus of this thesis is not migration per se, but people’s aspirations of transnational mobility. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2005 and 2007 in Ziguinchor, a crossroads town in the Casamance region of southern Senegal, this thesis examines how men and women imagine and attempt to cross international borders. It is important to consider the push and pull factors behind their aspirations: why does their current situation make them want to leave Senegal, and equally, why are they attracted to the West? I use four examples to address the importance of migration in the life-trajectories of Senegalese people. I discuss how some women have turned to online-dating websites in the hope of forming relationships with European men who could lead to a future outside of Senegal. I then consider a group of women for whom sex-work is not just a way of making money but a migration strategy in its own right. Men also aspire to migrate, and using the examples of côtéman (local beach-boys) and clandestine migrants boarding pirogues to the Canary Islands I discuss male strategies for departure. Côtéman claim that ‘making contacts’ with tourists is a means to migrating, whereas unlike the other strategies discussed in this thesis, clandestine migrants do more than just imagine and embark on illegal sea voyages in the hope of arriving in Europe. Whilst there are many similarities between male and female migratory aspirations, we can see very distinct gender differences: women are seeking relationships of dependence on which to base their futures, whereas men only want temporary assistance. These new migration strategies exist within a West African country that has a long and complex history of migrations. Rather than concentrating on the importance of existing migratory networks, however, this thesis discusses very individualised ways of thinking about migration. Some of the choices made by hopeful migrants may appear to be both psychologically and financially irrational, but I show the reasons behind their decisions to invest time and effort into migration strategies that remain largely unsuccessful.