Imaginaries of Opportunity

Imaginaries of Opportunity: Regional Migration and Humanitarian Urbanisms in East & Central Africa

Léonie Newhouse


This new research project will examine the ways in which large-scale humanitarian interventions reshape regional migration patterns, economies and social relations. In recent decades, there has been a significant shift in the spatial strategies of humanitarian operations, in large measure due to securitization of humanitarian operations. In these centers of humanitarian activity, a mosaic of privatized and highly controlled spaces re-inscribe the social divisions between aid professionals, service staff, aid beneficiaries and migrants. At the same time, a parallel process of urban transformation from below, takes place as people from around the region move to these cities to seek protection, opportunities or employment. For migrants from countries neighboring humanitarian interventions, the chimera of earning in dollars or euros often outweighs the substantial physical risks entailed in migrating to, and working in an area of acute distress. The project will focus on the experiences of migrants to these urban centers, exploring how ideas about risk and opportunity shape migration choices. The project seeks to contribute to theorizing emergent urbanisms and migration from the vantage point of the global south by providing important empirical data about contemporary regional migration dynamics of Eastern and Central Africa. In addition, the study will provide a complex reading of the intersection of chronic joblessness and the opportunities that spring up in the shadow of humanitarian interventions, thus contributing to our understandings of humanitarian urbanisms and the political economy of hyper-precarious work in East and Central Africa.