Heidi Østbø Haugen
University of Oslo
Human smugglers have conveniently become the villains of European narratives about undocumented migration from Africa. Brokering High-Risk Migration offers a compelling ethnographic study of migration brokerage in Cameroon. The monograph describes the business of brokerage, but more importantly, it elucidates the cultural and social patronage dynamics in which relations between prospective migrants and self-proclaimed enablers of migration are embedded. Knowing that deceit and failed emigration ventures are common, why do Cameroonians place their trust in migration brokers? Alpes addresses this question from different vantage points throughout the book: Those of the aspiring migrants, their families, the brokers themselves, and the European consulates that accept or reject visa applications. From the perspective of the people who desire to go abroad – to 'fall bush', as Cameroonians say − the distinction between state and non-state mediation, and relatedly legal and illegal migration, bears little significance. For example, brokers are experienced as more reliable than European consulates in delivering actual migration opportunities in return for the money they collect. As internationally connected and worldly-wise people, migration brokers can be well-respected in their communities. However, there is an ever-present suspicion that the broker feigns his ability to deliver access to international travel ‒ that he is a 'feyman' who cheats his clients. The structural inequalities that give rise to migration brokerage rarely translate into overt conflicts between brokers and disenchanted clients: Migration is understood as a high-risk endeavor, and the distinction between a powerful broker and a feyman may remain ambiguous even after people lose money in unsuccessful emigration attempts. By taking the ethnographer's perspective 'from below', this book challenges dominant understandings of power and legitimacy in African migration.