Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - Moorings: Indian Ocean Trade and the State in East Africa

Friday, July 6
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Kadamba, Lower Ground Floor

Ever since 9/11, the Kenyan coast and the Indian Ocean beyond have become flashpoints for national and international security. Governments and international organizations have assumed that the predominantly Muslim merchants and sailors of the coast with longstanding commercial and social ties to Somalia, the Middle East, and South Asia are complicit with militant groups such as Al-Shabaab. As a result, the contemporary dhow trade has become subject to increased regulation and restriction. Rather than taking a presentist view of these security concerns, I contend that they have emerged from of a deep-rooted anxiety over the long history of trade and social relations in the Indian Ocean as these networks challenge to state sovereignty.

Focusing on encounters between participants in the dhow trade and multiple regulatory regimes in coastal Kenya and the wider Indian Ocean world, I demonstrate how state attempts to regulate these trades have been maneuvered by merchants and sailors who often rework these networks in the shadow economy where the lines between legal/illegal, licit/illicit trade are blurred. I argue that sovereignty is constantly negotiated through these encounters, ultimately leading to increased insecurity for both, government and participants of these trades. This project traces historical continuities and discontinuities as participants of the dhow trade encountered British colonial authorities, Kenyan and Indian state officials, and international authorities. I analyze the historically bounded, mutually constituted relationship between states and shadow economies, arguing that these contestations over control of the dhow trade are a vantage through which to understand how sovereignty is negotiated. 

Nidhi Mahajan

Tufts University, United States


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1 - Moorings: Indian Ocean Trade and the State in East Africa

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