BioJatin Dua is an assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. His research explores maritime piracy in the Indian Ocean, focusing on processes and projects of governance, law, and economy along the East African coast. His current book project examines maritime piracy in the Western Indian Ocean within frameworks of protection, risk and regulation by moving between the worlds of coastal communities in northern Somalia, maritime insurance adjustors in London, and the global shipping industry. He has published in the Journal of East African Studies, Middle East Report, and the Journal of International Criminal Justice and contributes regularly to media outlets, such as Al Jazeera, on issues of maritime piracy and governance in Somalia and Kenya.
As locales that clog, constrict, and otherwise “choke” the flow of goods, bodies, and capital, maritime straits, such as the Bab-el-Mandeb, a key maritime chokepoint connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, are sites of intense control and anxiety for policy planners, militaries, and global commerce. Yet, little is known about the daily forms of circulation and governance that occur at these places and the enmeshments of landscapes, histories, and legalities that facilitate both mobility and its interruption across this narrow strait. This project proposes an ethnographic investigation of navigation in order to understand how a chokepoint is constructed in daily practice as a simultaneous space of opportunity and risk. By moving between medieval Islamic treatises on navigation, contemporary technologies and infrastructures of mobility and interdiction and ethnographic encounters at ports and at sea, this project highlights the materiality of oceanic mobility, including the human and non-human energies and encounters that are central to processes of circulation and exchange. In doing so, this project shows how chokepoints are constructed and contested, as much as they are geographically and geo-politically self-evident. Forged through the interactions of translocal and local processes, the Bab-el-Mandeb helps us understand the formative imbrications between economy and governance and risk and opportunity in the contemporary world and geographies of interaction that move across the divides of Asia and Africa, legal and illegal, and onshore and offshore that remain central to concepts of polity and mobility.