Tubali's trip : rethinking informality in the study of West African labour migrations

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This article focuses on the work and travels of Tubali, a Hausa-speaking migrant from the region of Tahoua in the Republic of Niger. In a journey that lasted four years and took him across Niger, Nigeria, Cameroun, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo, Tubali operated in contexts usually characterised as “informal”: he travelled without documents or work permits, and was supported by institutions that elude state control and yet grant access to financial resources, travel support and employment opportunities to travellers unable or unwilling to follow official avenues. These migrants rely on the operation of relationships that, in Tubali's case, are mostly impromptu, formed on the basis of shared ethnicity, religion and region of origin. This article interprets Tubali's trip in relation to the meanings attributed to this way of working and travelling in Tahoua's society. It investigates the conceptual and political consequences of characterising these migrants' practices as “informal” and discusses analytical alternatives.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-100
JournalCanadian Journal of African Studies
Issue number1
Early online date5 Sep 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Tahoua, Ader, West Africa, Niger, Hausa, migration, informal economy