Working Paper

Chiefs, Migrants and the State: Mobility in the Ghana-Togo Borderlands

Published 13 May 2016 / By Nathalie Raunet

Back to Publications

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 organizations (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.


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


Nathalie Raunet, IMI, University of Oxford. This paper is based on an MSc dissertation in Migration Studies (Department of International Development, Oxford, 2014-2015). Nathalie has since started a PhD in African Studies at the University of Birmingham (2015-2018) under the supervision of Dr Kate Skinner and Dr Maxim Bolt. Her work explores the influence of traditional chiefs on citizenship and mobility practices in periods of Ghanaian elections in the borderlands between Ghana and Togo. Email:


Download as PDF

If you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is required to read this document, you can download it for free from the Adobe website.