A Scientific Initiative on/for Border Abolitionism

Node 09 - Caravan

Work in progress

February 2023 - March 2024

Mauritania - Chami

Gold routes, circulation, and migratory centralities on the western Atlantic route

This ethnographic caravan project explores how gold transforms the social and spatial configurations of the Atlantic migration route, linking Senegambia to Mauritania, Morocco, and the Canary Islands.

In the Sahara, until recently, gold was synonymous of trade, crossings and historical events. From the Middle Ages until the colonial period (Grégoire and Pellerin, 2019), gold was traded extensively between the southern and northern Sahara (Coquery-Vidrovitch, 2016). Mined in the great deposits of the African kingdoms (such as Mali), it was transported and resold on the shores of the Mediterranean and made the fortunes of the major Mediterranean political blocs. However, the discovery in the mid-2000s of several deposits in the heart of the Sahara has reshuffled the political, social and migratory cards in this area (Chevrillon-Guibert, Gagnol, and Magrin 2019).

Beginning in Sudan, the Sahara has been the subject of a veritable gold rush, attracting a range of groups and individuals in search of precious minerals and transforming the spatial structures of the contemporary Sahara more widely (Chevrillon-Guibert and Magrin 2018). From the east, this new rush has gradually moved westwards (Gagnol, Ahmet Tchilouta and Afane 2022), as far as Mauritania and affecting all the states in the region in different ways. Today, gold mining is a transnational reality, involving multiple ways of crossing borders, moving around and accumulating resources along migration routes.

This ethnographic caravan project seeks to examine the way in which gold, as a ‘resource’, transforms the social and spatial configurations of the Atlantic migration route, linking Senegambia to Mauritania, Morocco and the Canary Islands. Based on the existing literature on the subject, three main objects, at the heart of the logics of solidarity, can be explored and give rise to an interesting cultural and scientific manufacture.

The first relates to the actors on this migration route and their links in the circulation and distribution of migratory resources (Streiff-Fénart and Poutignat 2006). Drawing on ideas developed in previous months, in addition to the associative worlds and collective organisations that people on the move can build to overcome the order of borders, we need to look at the way in which professional and economic spaces (fishing, trade, gold panning) constitute spaces where alternative forms of sharing, alliances and cooperation are played out in the making of the movement (Drury 2019). To what extent do the figure of the fisherman, like that of the goldminer, help to establish relays and links along African migration routes (Schaub 2012)?

The second question relates to the places and spaces occupied by these different players (Counilh and Simon-Lorière 2011; Choplin and Lombard 2008; Streiff-Fénart and Poutignat 2008). The sea, the desert and the city constitute different geographical landscapes and influence the way in which actors come together, live and carry out their activities. From the point of view of migration routes, the succession of these different landscapes and places forms the mesh on which the economic, migration and social cooperation and practices that interest us take shape. Based on the Nouakchott-Chami-Nouadhibou axis and on the urban materiality of certain activities (Gagnol, Magrin, and Chevrillon-Guibert 2020; Taleb 2015), the aim is to understand the way in which actors invest places and how these places define the landscape of this migration route.

The third aim is to examine the forms of materiality at the heart of migration routes. The link between resources, actors and routes brings into play various forms of circulation of objects and techniques and reveals networks of exchange. The aim is therefore to understand the ways in which these materials both support movement and provide original entry points for understanding the ways in which migration routes are constructed.

Places: Nouakchott (Mauritania / academics-stakeholders) – Chami (Mauritania / gold mining district) – Tamaya (Mauritania /gold mining site) – Nouadhibou (fishing port and location of departure for Canary Islands)

In collaboration with: Mauritania: Mauritanie Perspective – AMPEF (Association Mauritanien pour l’Education de filles) – DAR Mauritanie Khadamat

GNWs: In the different Mauritanian locations, activities around participative filming will be developed. In particular, the film Mainland, produced by the Visual Sociology Workshop, on departures to the Canary Islands and local solidarity networks (MAIN-LAND) will be used as an elicitation device to carry out three workshops in which different groups involved in the topic of migration and solidarity will participate.


C. Cassarini, L. Queirolo Palmas (researchers), J. Gonzalez Morandi (film – maker)