African Migrations: Patterns and Perspectives

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Spurred by major changes in the world economy and in local ecology, the contemporary migration of Africans, both within the continent and to various destinations in Europe and North America, has seriously affected thousands of lives and livelihoods. The contributors to this volume, reflecting a variety of disciplinary perspectives, examine the causes and consequences of this new migration. The essays cover topics such as rural-urban migration into African cities, transnational migration, and the experience of immigrants abroad, as well as the issues surrounding migrant identity and how Africans re-create community and strive to maintain ethnic, gender, national, and religious ties to their former homes.

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1. Overcoming the Economistic Fallacy: Social Determinants of Voluntary Migration from the Sahel to the Congo Basin

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BRUCE WHITEHOUSE

Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, is of modest size by world standards, with a population currently estimated at somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 million. It is also in many respects typical of cities throughout Africa and the global South, characterized by rapid population growth, high unemployment, and shrinking public resources. While this erstwhile somnolent colonial outpost was once (briefly) renowned as the capital of Free France during the Second World War, during the 1990s Brazzaville became remarkable mainly as the scene of recurring violence by ethno-political factions vying for control of the Congolese state and its substantial oil revenues. These conflicts claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands to flee the city. Meanwhile, real income, education, and health indicators dropped sharply (Yengo 2006). The decade of unrest and economic stagnation tarnished Brazzaville’s reputation to the point that in 2003 it was actually named the “world’s worst city” in a global survey conducted by an international human resources firm.1

 

2. Migration as Coping with Risk and State Barriers: Malian Migrants’ Conception of Being Far from Home

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ISAIE DOUGNON TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH BY HELENE GAGLIARDI

Death, starvation, overexploitation, poverty, life sans papier, states’ barriers (arrests and imprisonment), unemployment—just to name a few—are the words most used to redefine migration in order to discourage young Malians from undertaking dangerous trips to Europe or large African cities. What, however, is the real impact of this communication strategy, even coupled with setting up the legal and physical barriers? In fact, we see that in spite of discursive campaigns against migration and small-scale rural development projects to create job opportunities, youth migration from rural and urban Mali is intensifying and the destinations are more diverse. This chapter tries to demonstrate that the policymakers’ discourse on the danger of migration is, in fact, at the core of Malian conceptions of traveling outside their community. In most West African societies, “migration” means a pilgrimage into the wilderness. How, given this grassroots’ understanding of migration, will state policies be able to stop rural and urban movement toward African and European cities?

 

3. Navigating Diaspora: The Precarious Depths of the Italian Immigration Crisis

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DONALD CARTER

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they still sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.

—ZORA NEALE HURSTON, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD

The immigration crisis commands center stage in Europe as reconfigured notions of sovereignty, territory, and community challenge traditional concepts of national and cultural belonging. The advent of this post-national world raises illuminating dilemmas concerning European relations with other nations, especially those from postcolonial Africa (Carnegie 2002; Williams 1991; Malkki 1995).1 In this context of great social and cultural anxiety, different forms of belonging become complicated for members of the African diaspora, as race, gender, and historical legacy render blackness a visible marker of outsider status and as it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate the waters of belonging. This essay explores the new contours of closure in the emergent European Union and the symbolic role of the outsider in the process of reconfiguring ideas of belonging.

 

4. Historic Changes Underway in African Migration Policies: From Muddling Through to Organized Brain Circulation

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RUBIN PATTERSON

This chapter takes a step back and examines the new state of play in Africa with respect to brain circulation or the deliberate attempt among southern nations to utilize emigration to advance their socioeconomic development. Numerous modalities exist that illustrate the existence and dimensions of brain circulation on the continent. Researchers could conduct in-depth case studies of nations and comparative analyses to examine closely the strategies of these nations. Another option for researchers is to ascertain primary data or take existing secondary data on dozens of African nations and apply inferential statistics to analyze their brain circulation strategies. Researchers could also apply statistical analysis to cross-tabulated data or even subject extensive panel study data to analysis. All these approaches are valuable and our collective understanding of brain circulation in Africa would be enriched tremendously if we had a combination of studies applying to each of these approaches.

 

5. Belonging amidst Shifting Sands: Insertion, Self-Exclusion, and the Remaking of African Urbanism

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LOREN B. LANDAU

I have been here for six years, but I don’t think any right thinking person would want to be South African. . . . They are just so contaminated.

—SOTHO MIGRANT IN JOHANNESBURG, 2005

In the diversity of African cities, dynamic and overlapping systems of exchange, meaning, privilege, and belonging are the norm. These systems stem from longstanding patterns of political and economic domination—apartheid, indirect colonial domination, monopolistic party rule (Zlotnick 2006)—enacted across national territories, mixing together groups that might otherwise have chosen more autonomous trajectories. With differences and diversity heightened by recent mobility, Africa’s cities are increasingly characterized by greater disparities of wealth, language, and nationality along with shifting gender roles, life-trajectories, and intergenerational tensions. Through geographic movement—into, out of, and within cities—urban spaces that for many years had only tenuous connections with the people and economies of the rural hinterlands of their own countries are increasingly the loci of economic and normative ties with home villages and diasporic communities spread (and spreading) across the continent and beyond (Geschiere 2005; Malauene 2004; Diouf 2000).

 

6. Securing Wealth, Ordering Social Relations: Kinship, Morality, and the Configuration of Subjectivity and Belonging across the Rural-Urban Divide

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HANSJÖRG DILGER

When Francis Lukio died in Dar es Salaam in 1999, he had been the main pillar of support for his rural and urban extended family.1 When the harvest in his home village failed—or when school fees or hospital bills had to be paid—his relatives relied on Francis’s financial support. Other family members—especially the young men from his patrilineage, but also a couple of his wife’s relatives—were brought to Dar es Salaam with Francis’s help, where he found them a job or paid for their education and training. When Francis passed away at the age of forty, he lived with his wife and their two children in the spacious house he rented in one of Dar es Salaam’s more affluent outer-city areas. His house had also become the home of two of his younger (biological) brothers, one of his nephews, his wife’s sister, and finally a son of his father’s younger brother. All these relatives depended on Francis to varying degrees and were deeply troubled by the long illness he suffered from and which finally led to his premature death.

 

7. Voluntary and Involuntary Homebodies: Adaptations and Lived Experiences of Hausa “Left Behind” in Niamey, Niger

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SCOTT M. YOUNGSTEDT

This chapter explores the important roles played by Hausa communities in Niamey, Niger, in the ongoing creation of the global Hausa diaspora.1 For centuries Hausa have been a “traveling culture” (Clifford 1997) famous for their skills in building long-distance trading networks. Most Hausa of Niger eke out a living through circular migration, raising millet, sorghum, and beans under difficult Sahelian conditions during three- to four-month rainy seasons, and also focusing on labor or trade in the informal economies of Niamey and dozens of other West African cities—many of which have longstanding disapora communities of Hausa settlers—during long dry seasons.

During the past fifty years, Hausa have creatively adapted to post-colonial conditions and global neoliberalism through accelerating rural exodus and long-term or permanent out-migration within West and North Africa and to more distant locations in Europe and North America. An impressive body of literature examines the culturally specific ways Nigerien and Nigerian Hausa experience and navigate transnational processes while establishing communities in Ibadan, Nigeria (Cohen 1969), Accra, Ghana (Pellow 2008), Kumasi, Ghana (Schildkrout 1978), Lomé, Togo (Agier 1983), Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire (Toure 1990), Chad (Works 1976), Morocco (Maghnia 2001), Tunisia (Jankowsky 2001), Libya (Yamba 1995), Sudan (Yamba 1995), Saudi Arabia (Yamba 1995), Paris (Thomas 2006), and New York (Stoller 2002; Youngstedt 2004a), among other places. Indeed, some evidence strongly suggests that are at least as many Nigeriens living outside the country as within it (particularly if this includes first- and second-generation emigrants).

 

8. Strangers Are Like the Mist: Language in the Push and Pull of the African Diaspora

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PAUL STOLLER

Yeow harandang no, nd’a a mana bia, a ga woyma. (Strangers are like the mist; if they haven’t disappeared by the morning, they will surely be gone by afternoon.)

—SONGHAY PROVERB

Issifi Mayaki is a stranger in New York City. Born in a small village near Tahoua in north central Niger, Issifi has lived in New York City for almost twenty years. He comes from a Hausa family of religious clerics who, besides having taught the Koran to the children of the village, have long been engaged in long distance commerce. As a young man Issifi left Niger and took up residence in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, where his father taught him the trading business. He sold watches and traded kola nut. In time, he began to buy and sell African textiles—especially to American diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers. He set up a small African art shop at the Abidjan market. Having heard so much about America, he decided to seek his fortunes in New York City. And so he traveled to New York with a large and valuable inventory of antique cloth, which, due to a misunderstanding and a degree of naiveté, was stolen from him. Stuck in New York City without the resources to return to West Africa, he resiliently found an apartment, got an informal loan, and in no time at all found himself on 125th Street in Harlem, selling audiotapes and compact discs of popular music under the marquis of the Apollo Theatre. In time, he began to invest again in cloth, which he bought from West African suppliers (Stoller 2002). Issifi continues to sell cloth in Harlem. Because trading affords him a decent living, he wears fashionable clothing, uses a Blackberry, and drives a relatively new car—a good life in New York City.

 

9. Toward a Christian Disneyland? Negotiating Space and Identity in the New African Religious Diaspora

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AFE ADOGAME

On July 17, 2005, under the headline “African Church Plans Christian Disneyland,” Scott Farwell of the Dallas Morning News reported that “the Redeemed Christian Church of God—Africa’s largest and most ambitious evangelical church—plans to build a 10,000-seat sanctuary, two elementary school-size lecture centers, a dormitory, several cottages, a lake and a Christian-themed water park in Floyd, Texas.”1 The description of the gigantic development project as a “Christian Disneyland”2 came from one of the church’s senior pastors, though its meaning is ambiguous.

In addition, the concept of a Christian Disneyland of course evokes the famous American theme park in Anaheim, California, built and marketed as “the happiest place on Earth.”3 Walt Disney’s words at its dedication ceremony on July 17, 1955, are quite instructive: “To all who come to this happy place—welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America . . . with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” Occupying over 160 acres, Disneyland has now been replicated as Disney World (in Florida), Tokyo Disneyland, and Euro Disneyland (now called Disneyland Paris).4 That Farwell’s article appeared on the fiftieth anniversary of Disneyland’s official opening is striking given that the original Disneyland in Anaheim and the under-construction North American Redemption Camp of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Texas will boast extensive acres of domesticated landscapes and a myriad of facilities. Such wide-ranging attractions are important for leisure and tourism, but they also partly carry religious, spiritual, ecological, and social import. Beneath the façade of aesthetics within these facilities lie crucial negotiations that have been enacted via layers of economics, culture, religion, and identity. I contend that place-making processes and space reproduction or appropriation rarely operate in a social vacuum; they are often entangled in the intricate politics of negotiation by different actors, including policymakers, social/cultural/political pressure groups, and local interests; and they are conditioned by a multiplicity of local, contextual, and global factors. In the case of minority groupings—diaspora and new immigrant religious communities in particular—the dynamics of such concerns as power and identity, which often shape emplacements and the invention of new ritual places in host geo-cultural contexts, are essential to understanding the politics of belonging, place-making, and translocality.

 

10. International Aid to Refugees in Kenya: The Neglected Role of the Somali Diaspora

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CINDY HORST

This chapter focuses on the neglected role of transnational assistance provided within refugee communities in understandings of international aid to refugees in Kenya.1 It builds on earlier work that argues that international aid systems that provide relief aid or technical assistance to refugees fail to respect the complex gift-giving norms in refugee communities (Harrell-Bond et al. 1992, Harrell-Bond and Voutira 1994, Harrell-Bond 2002). I maintain that it is important to look not only at social norms of gift-giving, but also at actual and current social practices within refugee communities. In the Dadaab camps of northeastern Kenya, assistance is provided not just by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and various NGOs but also by Somalis within and outside the camps. Furthermore, an unknown but considerable number of refugees do not reside in the camps but live in Nairobi, by and large unassisted by the international community (Campbell 2006; Lindley 2007b). A large proportion of these urban refugees survive through remittances sent to them by relatives in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.

 

11. The Feminization of Asylum Migration from Africa: Problems and Perspectives

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JANE FREEDMAN

One of the accepted characteristics of contemporary migratory flows from Africa to countries of the global North is “feminization.” The newness and extent of this feminization are matters of some debate, but one area where there is a clear increase in women migrants is in asylum migration. This growth comes at a time when governments in many states are introducing increasingly restrictive and repressive policies with regard to asylum seekers. Regarded as “false” refugees by much of the media and public opinion, asylum seekers are more and more often seeing their claims rejected by the authorities who determine national refugee status. In addition, restrictions on the welfare and social rights of asylum seekers and increasing use of detention, dispersal, and deportation have made the living conditions for many asylum seekers particularly difficult (Bloch and Schuster 2005; Valluy 2005). While supposedly gender neutral, these policies may have specific gendered impacts that are ignored by policy makers but that may lead to particular insecurities for women seeking asylum. Further, women may adopt specific strategies for seeking asylum in order to try to conform to the particular constructions of who is a “real” refugee. A gendered analysis of the way that asylum seekers are constructed through asylum determination procedures shows that although in some circumstances it may now be easier for a woman to be granted refugee status on the basis of gender-related persecution, this is dependent on her ability to conform both to an appropriate image of the “convention refugee” and to representations of proper modes of “female” behavior.

 

12. Migration as a Factor of Cultural Change Abroad and at Home: Senegalese Female Hair Braiders in the United States

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CHEIKH ANTA BABOU

Hair braiding has become the leading profession of Senegalese female immigrants in North America.1 It is also embraced by male immigrants working as managers of hair salons. This scorned profession that was traditionally reserved for women belonging to endogamic craft corporations (castes in Senegal) has become in the diaspora a highly sought after and valued career, attracting Senegalese of all genders, ethnic groups, and social statuses. Through an examination of the experience of Senegalese female hair braiders in Anderson (S.C.), Atlanta, New York, and Philadelphia, and their roles in their communities of origin in Senegal, this paper explores the issues of caste, gender, class, and money, and investigates how life in the United States has affected “traditional” views of these concepts.2 I argue that economic power and changing societal values among immigrants are gradually undermining traditional bases of gender roles and social hierarchies abroad and at home. In Senegal, notions of gender and social status are shaped historically by local Islamic culture, professional occupation, and genealogy, which assign women and men from different families and ethnicities specific positions in society. But these categories of caste, gender, and class are increasingly contested at home and more so abroad, especially among the young and highly educated. In addition, several factors linked to legal status, the family, and the sociopolitical and cultural context in the host country affect the life of immigrants. Changes in these variables are echoed by the immigrant’s behavior. In the diaspora, economic success is becoming the defining element of social status, and the gendered conception of work is giving way to pragmatism, where the prospect of earning a comfortable living tends to trump all other considerations.

 

13. What the General of Amadou Bamba Saw in New York City: Gendered Displays of Devotion among Migrants of the Senegalese Murid Tariqa

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BETH A. BUGGENHAGEN

Moments after the shaykh disappeared behind the darkened windows of his SUV and his driver began to pull out of the Marriott Marquis Hotel, a frantic young man in a patchwork cloth ensemble bolted from the crowd. He threw his lanky body across the hood of the car as it pulled into the dense theater-going traffic of Times Square. As he and several others who clung to the doors of the slow-moving vehicle were pulled away and consoled by other adepts, the SUV cut off a group of European tourists on the sidewalk, mostly older women. Near them stood a large group of Senegalese women, resplendent against the bitter, grey November day in layers of iridescent pastel fabrics and gauzy scarves, who had ushered the shaykh and his security entourage out of the hotel. Stunned by the scene they had just witnessed, the European women turned toward the Senegalese and asked, “What play was that?”

The tourists’ confusion was confounded by the fact that the Marriot Marquis Hotel was also home to the Broadway Marquis Theater.1 What they had just witnessed was the last scene in the production honoring Modou Kara Mbacke Noreyni, a renegade leader of the Senegalese Sufi order Tariqa Murid, known popularly as the “le Général de Bamba,” referring to the founding figure of the Murid way, Amadou Bamba. What they may not have understood were the performative aspects of the frantic young man’s antics and that, although the women appeared to be in theater costume, looking quite conspicuous in midtown Manhattan—where suits of dark, somber colors were the norm—they too were displaying a certain sartorial acumen, a performance central to their devotional practice. These gendered performances of devotion had everything to do with a Muslim soteriology, or doctrine of salvation. As the young man sought to absorb the baraka (Arabic, religious grace) of his departing spiritual guide, a quality transmittable through objects, like texts, cloth, prayer beads, or even in this case a car, women sought tuyaaba (Wolof, religious merit),2 through good or wholesome acts such as alms, hospitality, or even their sanse (Wolof, sartorial skill). Their objects of adornment were objects of grace, and as such making them visible through bodily display both pointed to and constituted their religious merit. In this performance, women embodied the idea of jekk (Wolof, elegance) promulgated in Modou Kara’s sermon that day. Being elegant has been associated with conveying the dignity of the lineage (Mustafa 2006: 180), yet in the context in which Kara used it, elegance takes on meanings such as piety, purity, and upright behavior. Elegance had become the slogan of Kara’s religious and political movement in and out of Senegal. Here, elegance marked notions of tahara (Arabic, purity) central to his claim of moral authority and political leadership in Senegal’s political terrain, where political leaders have been increasingly subject to intense moral scrutiny for their corrupt and repressive practices in a sobering economic climate.

 

14. Toward Understanding a Culture of Migration among “Elite” African Youth: Educational Capital and the Future of the Igbo Diaspora

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RACHEL R. REYNOLDS

Starting in the mid-1990s, I have had several informal conversations with older teens and young adults in the United States whose parents had emigrated from Nigeria. With a few notable exceptions, these youth speak little to no Igbo, despite their parents’ own fluency, and despite having been raised in a closely watched and carefully monitored immigrant home. More formally, my recent work has investigated why and how being raised in an immigrant family affects children’s choices in education. One particularly surprising finding in studies of language education choice was that all students in an Igbo language course at the college level were children of Igbo people living in the diaspora. That is, they were largely second-generation children of immigrants or members of the “1.5 cohort,” those born in Nigeria but who relocated to the United States at a young age.

In a conversation with these five students, I asked why obtaining a bit of fluency in Igbo would be helpful to them. All agreed it would bring them closer to family in Nigeria and abroad; one discussed plans to work in a family import-export business, while another said she wanted to practice medicine in her parents’ home area. Soon, however, the students began to talk about what it was like to return to a home that some of them had never or only rarely seen and how their lack of linguistic knowledge in Igbo (and various Nigerian Englishes) was both troubling and inconvenient. Another student responded that lack of cultural knowledge was a problem, telling us how he was “cut” on his wrists as a child by a grandmother, holding his arms up for everyone to see, but that he didn’t know what these ritual marks meant. I also asked if these students knew how to conduct kola ceremonies, which are short ceremonies—given often—which welcome important guests to the home or that celebrate special occasions. The students nodded vigorously for a few seconds, and then one explained that he knew the motions of breaking the kola nut. However, he said that he wanted to know more about the kola ceremony, asking what verbal content might mean in its deeper linguistic and visual symbolism.

 

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