Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Borderlands in Africa are areas that foster mobility and cross-border trade. Especially in case of monetary differentials across countries, porous borders represent opportunities in terms of economic prospects. Analysing mobility in border studies through the prism of the state or state institutions seems to take for granted that state officials are the main or most legitimate authority acting upon mobility in borderlands. In this paper I argue, by using the structure and agency lens to analyse mobility in borderlands, that state officials are not the only authority influencing mobility nor are they regarded as the only legitimate authority concerning mobility. Focusing on the Ghana‒Togo borderlands, I show that traditional chiefs have historically participated in the regulation of mobility whether under colonial rule or after independence. Building on contemporary ethnographic studies, I demonstrate that traditional borderland chiefs are gatekeepers at the crossroads between state borders, borderland villages’ limits, and regional organisations (ECOWAS promoting free movement and WAEMU). In this position of power and according to their interests, borderland chiefs are both a competing authority to the state in terms of cross-border livelihoods and smuggling, but also indispensable allies acting as mobility gatekeepers. Mobility practices can be influenced by borderland chiefs who negotiate state structure according to their interests. This paper maintains that chiefs are important actors that should not be overlooked in the study of mobility in Africa.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date





1 - 24


Borderlands, Africa, chieftaincy, mobility, gatekeeper, structure, agency