Mobile Misfortune


  • Henrik Vigh University of Copenhagen, Denmark



Migration, nullification, deportation, illegality, and cocaine


This article examines how the emergent cocaine trade in Bissau, the capital of the west African country of Guinea-Bissau, has become entangled with and trickled into the life worlds, hopes and fears of the city’s many impoverished young men. The article is divided into two parts. While the first part looks at the predicament of youth and the hope of migration in Bissau, the second illuminates the anguish of deportation and the despair of being forcefully ‘displaced back home.’ Following in the footsteps of the young men that seek to navigate the cocaine trade, in order to obtain better lives for themselves and their families, it shows how involvement in the cocaine trade is both a curse and a catalyst. Though trading the drug may facilitate migration and mobility, generating social being and worth in the process, it is an activity that is haunted by the threat of deportation and the termination of the mobility it enables. This article, thus, looks at the motives and manners in which young men in Bissau become caught up in transnational flows of cocaine. It shows how motion is emotively anchored and affectively bound: tied to and directed toward a feeling of worth and realisation of being, and how migration from the global South often has negative potentiality as an end-point via the ascription of illegality and condition of deportability that shade it.


Abdullah, Ibrahim (1997): ‘Bush Path to Destruction: the origin and character of the Revolution-ary United Front (RUF/SL)’, Africa Development, 22:3-4, 45-76.

Adams, Richard (2003): ’International migration, remittances, and the brain drain’, Policy Re-search Working Paper 3069.

Ahmed, Sara (2004/2013): The cultural politics of emotion. New York: Routledge.

Andersson, Ruben (2014): Hunter and Prey: Patrolling Clandestine Migration in the Euro-African Borderlands. Anthropological Quarterly vol. 87(1), 119-149. doi: 10.1353/anq.2014.0002

Bayard, Jean-François (1993): The State in Africa: the politics of the belly. London: Longman.

Berman, Morris (2006): Coming to Our Senses. In Global Aesthetics, ed. J. E. Jacobs. Decatur: Millikin University.

Cohen-Mor, Dalya (2013): Fathers and Sons in the Arab Middle East. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Drotbohm, Heike (2014): ‘The Reversal of Migratory Family Lives: A Cape Verdean Perspective on Gender and Sociality pre- and post-deportation’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 41:4, 653-670. doi: 10.1080/1369183X.2014.961905

Ferguson, James (1999): Expectations of modernity: Myths and meanings of urban life on the Copperbelt. Los Angeles: Uni. of California Press.

Ferguson, James (2006): Global shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order, Durham: Duke University Press. doi: 10.1215/9780822387640

de Genova, Nicholas P. (2002): ‘“Migrant illegality” and deportability in everyday life’, Annual review of Anthropology, 419-447. doi: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.31.040402.085432

Goffman, Erving (1959): The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Doubleday Anchor Fortes, Meyer (1984): ‘Age, Generation, and Social Structure’, D. E. Kertzer & J. Kieth (eds): Age and Anthropological Theory, London: Ichaca.

Heidegger, M. (1996). Being and time: A translation of Sein und Zeit. New York: SUNY Press.

Hoffman, Danny (2006): ‘Disagreement: dissent politics and the war in Sierra Leone’, Africa To-day 52:3, 3-22. doi: 10.1353/at.2006.0029

Hoffman, Danny (2011): The war machines: Young men and violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Durham: Duke University Press. doi: 10.1215/9780822394488

Husserl, Edmund (1913/2012): Ideas: General introduction to pure phenomenology London: Routledge.

Hydén, Göran (1983): No Shortcuts to Progress, London: Heinemann Educational.

Jackson, M. (2012): Lifeworlds: Essays in existential anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. doi: 10.7208/chicago/9780226923666.001.0001

Meillassoux, Claude (1978/1981): Maidens, Meal and Money: capitalism and the domestic community, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Lucht, Hans (2011): Darkness before daybreak: African migrants living on the margins in Southern Italy today, Los Angeles: University of California Press

Mbembe, Achilles (2001): On the Postcolony, Berkeley: University of California Press

Mutsaers, Paul (2014): ‘An Ethnographic Study of the Policing of Internal Borders in the Netherlands Synergies Between Criminology and Anthropology’, British Journal of Criminology 54:6. doi: 10.1093/bjc/azu033

O’Brien, Donald B. C. (1996): ‘A Lost Generation? Youth, Identity and State Decay in West Africa’, R. P. Werbner, R. P. & T. O. Ranger (eds): Postcolonial identities in Africa, London: Zed Books

Peutz, Nathalie (2006): ‘Embarking on an Anthropology of Removal’ Current Anthropology, 47:2, 217-241. doi: 10.1086/498949

Reeves, Madeleine (2010): On Edge: Tools for an Anthropology of Precarity, 6th Annual Confer-ence: The Social Life Of Methods, 31 August-3 September, St Hugh's College Oxford

Richards, Paul (1995): ‘Rebellion in Liberia and Sierra Leone: a crisis of youth?’, O. Furley (ed): Conflict in Africa, London: Tauris Academic Publishers

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1956): Being and Nothingness: an essay on phenomenological ontology, New York: Philosophical Library.

Schuster, Liza & Majidi, Nassim (2015): Deportation Stigma and Re-migration, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 41:4, 635-652. doi: 10.1080/1369183X.2014.957174

Utas, Mats (2003): Sweet Battlefields: youth and the Liberian civil war, Uppsala: Uppsala Univer-sity Dissertations in Cultural Anthropology.

Williams, Phil (2002): Transnational organized crime and the state. Cambridge studies in international relations, 85, 161-182. doi: 10.1017/cbo9780511491238.009

Vigh, Henrik (2003/2006): Navigating terrains of war: Youth and soldiering in Guinea-Bissau, Oxford: Berghahn books.

Vigh, Henrik (2006b): ‘The colour of destruction: On racialization, geno-globality and the social imaginary in Bissau’, Anthropological Theory, 6:4, 481–500. doi: 10.1177/1463499606071598

Vigh, Henrik (2008): ‘Crisis and chronicity: Anthropological perspectives on continuous conflict and de-cline’, Ethnos 73:1, 5-24. doi: 10.1080/00141840801927509

Vigh, Henrik (2009): ‘Wayward migration: on imagined futures and technological voids’, Ethnos 74:1, 91-109. doi: 10.1080/00141840902751220

Vigh, Henrik (2009b): ‘Conflictual motion and political inertia: On rebellions and revolutions in Bissau and beyond’, African Studies Review, 52:2, 143-164. doi: 10.1353/arw.0.0171

Vigh, Henrik (2012): ‘Critical States and Cocaine Connections’, Mats Utas (ed): African Conflicts and Informal Power: Big Men and Networks, Zed Books: London.

Vigh, Henrik (2014): La Marge au Centre: sur les réseaux, la cocaïne et le crime transnational à Bissau, Socio, 1:3, 289-313. doi: 10.4000/socio.705






Motion and Emotion