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Fall 2021
Poverty, Violence and Migration in the Red Sea Region

This online lecture series showcases new research into the historical causes and contemporary dynamics of structural poverty, political violence and large-scale migration in the Red Sea Region. The invited speakers each recognize the continuing importance of longstanding intra-regional connections, and their lectures shed light on the ways that the coping strategies currently pursued at individual, household, community, and state levels are shaped by the legacies of past practices.

This lecture series is organized by Dr. Steven Serels of the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient.


Nisar Majid

London School of Economics

The Horn of Africa (and Somalia) has a long history of famine and humanitarian crisis. These catastrophic outcomes reflect structural poverty and endemic political volatility and conflict, as well as the influence of more proximate factors, such as extreme climatic variability. These factors are also associated with high-levels of rural-urban migration and forced displacement (locally, regionally and globally) in an often traditionally highly mobile population. Migration, forced or not, has historically occurred within the Red Sea region as an inter-connected arena.  Recent years have seen renewed engagement of Gulf States in the Horn, including in food security (investments in land) and maritime security (investments in ports). These investments (by Gulf states) are part of a wider regional political marketplace, in which state competition in the Gulf is playing out in the Horn. This paper focuses on Somalia and examines how a political marketplace analysis can help to explain the persistence of structural poverty, and long-term displacement.



Presentation: The Political Marketplace and Mass Displacement: Somalia in the Red Sea Arena

Wednesday, October 13

17:30 CET (Berlin)

Nisar Majid began working in Somalia in the late 1990s and since then has worked across the Somali territories of the Horn of Africa as well as within the Somalia diaspora. His early working life was focused on early warning, food security and livelihood analysis, whereas for his PhD he explored aspects of Somali transnationalism. In 2017 he co-authored the book Somalia Famine: Competing Imperatives, Collective Failures, 2011/12, and has published a wide range of policy reports and research studies over the last ten years. He joined the LSE Conflict Research Programme, managing the Somalia programme, in mid-2018.


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Marina de Regt

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Marina de Regt is Associate Professor at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She specializes on gender and migration in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa with special attention for Yemen and Ethiopia. She is the author of Pioneers or Pawns: Women Health Workers and the Politics of Development in Yemen (Syracuse University Press 2007), and she published extensively about migrant domestic workers in Yemen.

In this presentation Marina de Regt will share the preliminary findings of a research project about so-called “muwalladin” (people of mixed descent) in Yemen, carried out under the auspices of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies with funding of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The study focuses specifically on Yemenis of mixed Yemeni-African descent. Since the start of the civil war in Yemen, stigmatization and discrimination on the basis of one’s family background has increased and so have racist practices against people of African descent. What are the main social, economic and security challenges that Muwalladin are facing since the outbreak of the war? How are Muwalladin navigating their identities in war-torn Yemen? And which role do gender and generation play?

Presentation: Stigmatization, Stereotyping and the Struggle to Belong: Yemenis of African Descent in Yemen

Wednesday, October 20



Presentation: The Maritime Edge: Marine Harvests, Subsistence and Mobility in the Premodern Red Sea

Wednesday, October 27

17:30 CET (Berlin)

Roxani Margariti

Emory University

Roxani Eleni Margariti is an Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Emory University’s Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies.  Her research focuses on medieval maritime history, economic and social networks, and the material culture of maritime societies of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.  She is the author of Aden and the Indian Ocean Trade: 150 Years in the Life of a Medieval Arabian Port (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), a study of urban topography and commercial institutions at the Yemeni port from the 11th to the 13th century, based primarily on Arabic and Judaeo-Arabic sources and archaeological and environmental data. She is currently completing a monograph entitled Insular Crossroads: the Dahlak Archipelago, the Red Sea and Indian Ocean History, in which she examines the biography of a maritime polity located at the margins of larger states of the medieval and early modern Middle East and East Africa.

Ancient accounts of the Red Sea include the figure of the ichthyofagi, the “fish-eaters” inhabiting the Sea’s shores and islands.  This vaguely defined people are often (though not always) portrayed as primitive and impoverished both culturally and materially, a correlate of the alterity assigned to them. The construct in its variations across Greek and Roman sources has received a lot of scholarly attention and is to be compared and contrasted with descriptions of maritime harvesters in the region by medieval authors.  These portrayals also raise a host of questions about the realities of subsistence and the dynamics of resource exploitation and mobility in this generally arid and eminently maritime region in pre-modern times.  What was the nature, extent and impact of exploitation of marine resources in the southern Red Sea?  How long-lived and continuous were practices such as fishing, pearl-diving, and the harvesting of other luxury marine goods (ambergris, tortoiseshell) and what shifted in the geographies of exploitation of such resources through time? What can we learn from instances of competition and conflict over maritime space and its potential?  What drove mobility and circulation across Red Sea shores and islands before modernity?  Focusing primarily on the case of the Dahlak Archipelago, this paper addresses these questions and seeks to contribute to a periodization of poverty, violence, and migration in the Red Sea region.


Khalid Mustafa Medani

McGill University

Dr. Khalid Mustafa Medani is currently associate professor of political science and Islamic Studies at McGill University, and he has also taught at Oberlin College and Stanford University. Dr. Medani received a B.A. in Development Studies from Brown University, an M.A. in Development Studies from the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on the political economy of Islamic and Ethnic Politics in Africa and the Middle East. Dr. Medani is the author of Black Markets and Militants: Informal Networks in the Middle East and Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2021) and he is presently completing another book manuscript on the causes and consequences of Sudan’s 2018 popular uprising and the prospects for Democracy in that country. In addition, he has published extensively on civil conflict with a special focus on the armed conflicts in Sudan and Somalia. His work has appeared in Political Science and Politics (PS), the Journal of Democracy, the Journal of North African Studies, Current History, Middle East Report, Review of African Political Economy, Arab Studies Quarterly, and the UCLA Journal of Islamic Law. Dr. Medani is a previous recipient of a Carnegie Scholar on Islam award from the Carnegie Corporation of New York (2007-2009) and in 2020-2021 he received a fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to conduct research on his current book manuscript on the democratic transition in Sudan. 


Presentation: Domestic and Transnational Factors in Sudan’s 2018 Popular Uprising and the Challenge of Transition from Autocracy to Democracy

Wednesday, November 3

17:30 CET (Berlin)



Presentation: Gulf land investments and the politics of disruption in central Sudan

Wednesday, November 

17:30 CET (Berlini)

Awet Weldemichael

Queens University

The explosion of maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia in the 21st century was so enigmatic to many that its origins had to be located in the deeper history of the region. The quest for such historical explanation to the contemporary problem was laced with pervading notions of enduring poverty across time and space along the Somali coast. This paper offers a critical re-reading of historical explanations that link presumed shipwrecking in the 19th century Somali shores to maritime predation in the 21st century Somalia. Without discounting the role of real poverty, it argues that the foreign creation and perpetuation of poverty amidst domestic plenty fuelled violence – and, to some degree, migration.

Dr. Awet Weldemichael is a Professor in the Department of History at Queens University. He holds a PhD in History and an MA in African Studies both from UCLA. His research focuses on the political economy of conflict in the Horn of Africa and its adjoining waters. He is the author of Piracy in Somalia: Violence and Development in the Horn of Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2019) and Third World Colonialism and Strategies of Liberation: Eritrea and East Timor Compared (Cambridge University Press, 2013).



Presentation: International, Local Norms and Ethiopian Migration to the Gulf Countries: Some Critical Reflections

Wednesday, November 17

17:30 CET (Berlin)

Asnake Kefale

Addis Ababa University

Dr. Asnake Kefale is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Addis Ababa University. Formerly he was Director of Research and Publications at the Forum for Social Studies (FSS), a policy think tank in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Asnake’s research interests include the politics of development, governance, federalism and migration. He is the co-editor of Youth on Move: Views From Below on Ethiopian International Migration (London: Hurst and Company, 2021)

The main purpose of this paper is to critically examine Ethiopia's migration to the oil-rich Arab Gulf countries in light of international and norms. The rate of international migration from Ethiopia is still comparatively lower than the sub-Saharan Africa average. There has been, however, a recent increment in the outward migration of Ethiopians. The country has been also a host of a large number of refugees from neighbouring countries. In the last few years due to internal instability, a large number of people have become internally displaced.


The oil-rich Arab Gulf countries are major destinations for Ethiopian migrants. The majority of migrants to the gulf countries are irregular and their purpose of migration is to work in these countries and support themselves and their families. I contend in this paper that Ethiopian irregular migration to the gulf countries challenges in many ways global and local norms. At the global (international) levels, the irregular migration of Ethiopians to the gulf countries challenges global norms of migration which emphasizes safe and orderly migration. At the local level, the migration of predominantly young girls and women to distant countries to raise money and support their families challenges local norms which are historically dominated by patriarchy. Even if migration management bodies in Ethiopia and abroad promote what they call regular (legal) migration and invest resources through bilateral and multilateral arrangements, migration to the Gulf countries predominantly remains irregular.

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