Subjects of Empires/Citizens of States:
Yemenis in Djibouti and Ethiopia
By Samson A. Bezabeh
Oxford University Press, 2016
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This fine study of Yemeni migration in the Horn of Africa by a
brilliant Ethiopian scholar should be a wake-up call for the entire
field of Indian Ocean studies. In a powerful critique of tired and
overused concepts like ‘hybridity,’ ‘transnational flows,’ and
‘cosmopolitanism,’ which have been routinely used to convey a sense of unity of the Indian Ocean world, Samson Bezabeh brings the state back in–and politics.”–André Wink, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“Samson Bezabeh builds on Aihwa Ong and others to show how migrantnetworks and ‘cosmopolitanism’ in the space of flows of the Indian Ocean, are deeply structured by territorial powers of empire and state. His case of Yemeni traders in Djibouti is fascinating in its
own right and wonderfully executed. In Bezabeh’s hands it is turned
into an eloquent and important argument of taking state formations
seriously and refuse the facile opposition of flows versus hierarchies
that has marked much of migration studies, and of Indian Ocean studies as well.”–Don Kalb, Central European University, Budapest
Although the Horn of Africa was historically one of the earliest
destinations for Yemeni migrants, it has been overlooked by scholars,who have otherwise meticulously documented the Yemeni presence in the Indian Ocean region. Subjects of Empires/Citizens of States draws on rich ethnographic and historical research to examine the interaction of the Yemeni diaspora with states and empires in Djibouti and Ethiopia from the early twentieth century, when European powers began to colonize the region. In doing so, it aims to counter a dominant perspective in Indian Ocean studies that regards migrants across the region as by-products of personal networks and local oceanic systems, which according to most scholarship led to cosmopolitan spaces and hybrid cultures. Samson Bezabeh argues that far from being free from the restrictions of state and empire, these migrant communities were constrained, and their agency structured, by their interactions with the institutions and relations of states and empires in the region.
Elegantly combining theoretical readings with extensive empirical
findings, this study documents a largely forgotten period in the
history of Yemeni migration as well as contributing to the wider
debates on class, citizenship, and ethnicity in relation to diaspora
groups. It will appeal to specialists in Middle East studies and to
those who study the Indian Ocean and Horn of Africa regions, as well as to migration and diaspora studies scholars, nongovernmental
organizations, and policy makers concerned with the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden region.