A departure from Wrong's usual work, Borderlines is a pacy legal thriller that probes the value of international justice.

Her book tells the story of a young lawyer, Paula Shackleton, who agrees to help the fictional African state of North Darrar with a bitter border arbitration case. Though the dispute is loosely based on Eritrea and Ethiopia, Wrong explained that she chose to invent two African states to emphasise that borders are being challenged all across Africa—and again and again, attempts an international arbitration raise similar issues and fail to provide lasting solutions.

Wrong views international justice as “fundamentally unsuitable” for border arbitration. Western lawyers, discussing the fine details of borders in places like The Hague, too often seek what they view from afar as a just and fair outcome. What is really needed is an agreement that works on the ground: “a peace settlement is a political deal”, she argued, and needs to be treated as such.

The novel also delves into the complexities and hardships of life under despotic regimes, where official policies stifle independent ideas and close off opportunities for advancement. Dim economic prospects in the Horn of Africa contribute largely to the current migration crisis. Eritreans alone made up more than one-quarter of the migrants who have travelled to Europe in 2015.

About the speakers

Michela Wrong is an award-winning international journalist who has covered events across the African continent for Reuters, BBC, Financial Times and International Herald Tribune. She writes regularly for the Spectator and Foreign Policy magazines. Her first non-fiction book, In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz, won the PEN James Sterne Prize for non-fiction. I Didn’t Do It for You focuses on the Red Sea nation of Eritrea and It’s Our Turn to Eat tells the story of John Githongo, a Kenyan whistle-blower. Borderlines is her first novel.

The Transitions Forum is a series of projects dedicated to the challenges and possibilities of radical political and economic change.