Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Why aspiring migrants trust migration brokers: the moral economy of departure in Anglophone Cameroon


In the face of restrictive migration policies, migration brokers in emigration countries sell services that are meant to facilitate departure projects. Not all aspiring migrants who give money to migration brokers are able to travel. This article asks how aspiring migrants in Anglophone Cameroon understand and deal with the potential for deceit by migration brokers. The analysis is based on sixteen months of fieldwork conducted between 2007 and 2013, predominantly in the town of Buea. By studying the social effects of European migration management through the lens of norms and values in a place of departure, the article argues that migration brokers cannot be understood exclusively as actors who are instrumental for the realization of migration trajectories. In a context where European migration management frustrates aspirations for global citizenship, migration brokers are also dealers in hopes for global belonging. Relations of trust between brokers and aspiring migrants are articulated through local terms such as ‘dokimen’, ‘feymen’ and ‘big men’. The article's two case studies examine relations between migration brokers and aspiring migrants within a broad social framework that includes family dynamics, as well as with a temporal perspective that stretches beyond the initial moment of failed departure.


Face aux politiques de migration restrictives, des intermédiaires de la migration vendent des services destinés à faciliter les projets de départ dans les pays d’émigration. Les candidats au départ qui versent de l'argent à des intermédiaires de migration n'ont pas tous la possibilité de voyager. Cet article s'interroge sur la manière dont les candidats au départ au Cameroun anglophone comprennent et gèrent la possibilité d’être trompés par les intermédiaires de la migration. L'analyse s'appuie sur seize mois de travaux menés sur le terrain entre 2007 et 2013, principalement dans la ville de Buea. En étudiant les effets sociaux de la gestion de la migration européenne sous l'angle des normes et des valeurs dans un lieu de départ, l'article soutient qu'on ne peut pas comprendre les intermédiaires de la migration exclusivement en tant qu'acteurs dont le rôle est instrumental pour la réalisation de trajectoires de migration. Dans un contexte où la gestion de la migration européenne frustre les aspirations à une citoyenneté mondiale, les intermédiaires de la migration sont aussi des marchands d'espoir d'appartenance mondiale. Les relations de confiance entre les intermédiaires et les candidats au départ s'expriment à travers des termes locaux tels que « dokimen », « feymen » et « big men ». Les deux études de cas de l'article examinent les relations entre les intermédiaires de la migration et des candidats au départ dans un large cadre social qui inclut la dynamique familiale, ainsi que sous une perspective temporelle qui va au-delà du moment initial de l’échec du départ.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

M. J. Alpes (2012) ‘Bush à tout prix: the knowledge economy of emigration in Anglophone Cameroon’, African Diaspora 5 (1): 90115.

M. J. Alpes (2014) ‘Imagining a future in “bush”: migration aspirations at times of crisis in Anglophone Cameroon’, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 21 (3): 259–74.

B. Anderson (2012) ‘Where's the harm in that? Immigration enforcement, trafficking, and the protection of migrants’ rights’, American Behavioral Scientist 56 (9): 1241–57.

R. Andrijasevic (2010) Migration, Agency and Citizenship in Sex Trafficking. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

J.-F. Bayart (2000) ‘Africa in the world: a history of extraversion’, African Affairs 99 (395): 217–67.

J. Beuving (2013) ‘Playing information games: démarcheurs in the second-hand car markets of Cotonou, Bénin’, Social Anthropology 21 (1): 222.

J. Carling (2002) ‘Migration in the age of involuntary immobility: theoretical reflections and Cape Verdean experiences’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 28 (1): 542.

K. L. Chin (1999) Smuggled Chinese: clandestine immigration to the United States. Philadelphia PA: Temple University Press.

J.-P. Daloz (2003) ‘“Big men” in sub-Saharan Africa: how elites accumulate positions and resources’, Comparative Sociology 2 (1): 271–85.

J.-P. Daloz (2005) ‘Nigeria: trust your patron, not the institutions’, Comparative Sociology 4 (1–2): 155–74.

J. B. Endeley (2001) ‘Conceptualising women’s empowerment in societies in Cameroon: how does money fit in?’, Gender and Development 9 (1): 3441.

D. Fassin (2005) ‘Compassion and repression: the moral economy of immigration policies in France’, Cultural Anthropology 20 (3): 362–87.

J. Ferguson (2006) Global Shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order. Durham NC: Duke University Press.

P. Konings (1996) ‘The post-colonial state and economic and political reforms in Cameroon’ in F. Jilberto and A. Mommon (eds), Liberalisation in the Developing World: institutional and economic changes in Latin America, Africa and Asia. London: Routledge.

K. Koser (1997) ‘Social networks and the asylum cycle: the case of Iranians in the Netherlands’, International Migration Review 31 (3): 591611.

J. Lindquist , B. Xiang and B. S. A. Yeoh (2012) ‘Opening the black box of migration: brokers, the organization of transnational mobility and the changing political economy in Asia’, Pacific Affairs 85 (1): 719.

D. Malaquais (2001) ‘Art de feyre au Cameroun’, Politique Africaine 82: 101–18.

V. Mazzucato and D. Schans (2011) ‘Transnational families and the well-being of children: conceptual and methodological challenges’, Journal of Marriage and Family 73: 704–12.

A. Mbembe and J. Roitman (1995) ‘Figures of the subject in times of crisis’, Public Culture 7 (2): 323–52.

B. Ndjio (2009) ‘Migration, architecture, and the transformation of the landscape in the Bamileke grass fields of West Cameroon’, African Diaspora 2 (1): 73100.

F. Nyamnjoh (2011) ‘Cameroonian bushfalling: negotiation of identity and belonging in fiction and ethnography’, American Ethnologist 38 (4): 701–13.

J.-P. Olivier de Sardan (1999) ‘A moral economy of corruption in Africa?’, Journal of Modern African Studies 37 (1): 2552.

M. Pelican (2012) ‘International migration: virtue or vice? Perspectives from Cameroon’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39 (2): 237–58.

C. Piot (2006) ‘Jeux de frontière: la loterie des cartes vertes au Togo’, Politique Africaine 101: 171–80.

C. Piot (2010) Nostalgia for the Future: West Africa after the Cold War. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.

J. Salt and J. Stein (1997) ‘Migration as a business: the case of trafficking’, International Migration 35 (4): 467–95.

E. P. Thompson (1971) ‘The economy of the English crowd in the eighteenth century’, Past and Present 50: 76136.

J. Torpey (1997) ‘Coming and going: on the state monopolization of the legitimate “means of movement”’, Sociological Theory 16 (3): 239–59.

A. Triandafyllidou and T. Maroukis (2012) Migrant Smuggling: irregular migration from Asia and Africa to Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

N. Van de Walle (2001) African Economies and the Politics of Permanent Crisis, 1979–1999. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 31 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 279 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 11th April 2017 - 25th July 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.