Geographies of unease: witchcraft and boundary construction in an African borderland

Cherry Leonardi, Elizabeth Storer, Jonathan Fisher

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African borderlands – such as those between South Sudan, Uganda and Congo – are often presented by analysts as places of agency and economic opportunity, in contrast to hardened, securitized borders elsewhere. We emphasize, however, that even such relatively porous international borders can nevertheless be the focus of significant unease for borderland communities. Crossing borders can enable safety for those fleeing conflict or trading prospects for businesspeople, but it can also engender anxieties around the unchecked spread of insecurity, disease and economic exploitation.

Understanding this ambiguous construction of borders in the minds of their inhabitants requires us, we argue, to look beyond statist or globalizing discourses and to appreciate the moral economies of borderlands, and how they have been discursively and epistemologically negotiated over time. Narratives around witchcraft and the occult represent, we argue, a novel and revealing lens through which to do so and our study draws on years of fieldwork and archival research to underline how cartographies of witchcraft in this region are, and have long been, entangled with the construction of state political geographies, internal as well as international.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102442
Number of pages11
JournalPolitical Geography
Early online date13 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Africa
  • Borders
  • Boundaries
  • Epistemologies
  • South Sudan
  • States
  • Territory
  • Uganda
  • Witchcraft


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