Mbembe’s “management of the multitudes” and Farah’s Crossbones

In “Necropolitics” Achille Mbembe discusses what he refers to as the concept of “management of the multitudes” (34) within contemporary warfare. For Mbembe, the management of the multitudes within areas ravaged by resource extraction is analogous with “brutal attempts to immobilize and spatially fix whole categories of people or, paradoxically to unleash them, to force them to scatter over broad areas no longer contained by the boundaries of a territorial state” (34, emphasis mine). Mbembe then goes on to discuss how this dispersal results in the creation of categories such as “rebels,” “child soldiers,” and “victims or refugees” (34). We have seen the formation of these categories in novels such as Graceland and Sozaboy, in which the characters live in terror in an environment controlled by greed for power and/or natural resources.

In Nuruddin Farah’s Crossbones, we also see the concept of the management of the multitudes, this time within the context of the Somali civil war and the Somali-Ethiopian conflict. In the novel, one of the ways the management of the multitudes occurs is through diaspora. Farah depicts how Somalis have been forced from their homes and scattered to regions such as Puntland in northern Somalia, Djibouti, and Minnesota. In one scene in which Jeebleh, Malik and Dajaal are driving around Mogadishu, we also see the way that the management of the multitudes has resulted in the total devastation of the city. Mbembe writes, “Here, a set of dirt alleys leading in a maze of dead ends. There, hummocks of rubble accumulated over the years through neglect and lack of civic maintenance; kiosks, mere shacks, built bang in the center of what was once a main thoroughfare, now totally blocked” (80). In this scene, Dajaal states, “ ‘How this city could do with the return of law and order in the shape of a functioning state!’ ” (80). These examples show how the state of warfare in Mogadishu creates a deserted and disordered wasteland. Using warfare to dominate the people and force them to flee from the city leads to a situation in which even the idea of Mogadishu as a place of familiarity to return to all but ceases to exist. More specifically, this passage suggests that war has so altered the landscape that the Mogadishu of former residents’ memory has been dramatically and permanently changed.  Here, hyper control of the city through violent coercion implodes on itself, leading to a different extreme- a complete lack of organization of the urban environment, almost to the point of Mogadishu as no longer discernible as itself.

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