EASA, 2008: EASA08: Experiencing diversity and mutuality

Ljubljana, 26/08/2008 – 29/08/2008


Mobility, transnational connections and sociocultural change in contemporary Africa

Location 4
Date and Start Time 28 Aug, 2008 at 09:00


Tilo Grätz (FU Berlin) email
Dmitri Bondarenko (Institute for African Studies) email
Petr Skalník (University of Hradec Králové) email
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Short Abstract

The workshop addresses contemporary migrations inside Africa and of Africans to Europe, America or elsewhere, their consequences with regard to issues of citizenship, ethnicity, religiosity, new opportunities and aspects of socioeconomic change induced in the respective home and host societies.

Long Abstract

Mobility is a central feature of African societies, creating supra-regional social, political and economic connections and new transnational spaces. The latter also extend beyond the continent, by way of migration of Africans to Europe, North America or elsewhere, the constitution of Diaspora communities and various modes of integration of Africans into the world economy 'from below'. The workshop addresses the political and cultural dimensions of these migratory links with regard to issues of citizenship, ethnicity, religiosity, and aspects of socioeconomic change in the home and host societies.

The workshop consists of two sub-sessions.

1. African migration to Europe: enhancing transnational spaces

- Migration of Africans to Europe, including flight, refuge; barriers or modes of integration/disintegration

- Europeans' perception and acceptance/rejection of African newcomers in every-day practice of communication

- Factors promoting or preventing immigrants' adaptation in Europe (educational and professional background, language skills, family status, laws and policy)

- Communication with home regions, African Diasporas as network communities within host societies, Diaspora churches

2. Migration, social mobility and moralities

- Issues of spatial and social mobility inside Africa

- Aspects of social change induced by migration, its moral evaluation in various societies

- 'Neotraditionalism', the revival of Africans' interest in 'authenticity', 'truly African' religion, lifestyle) as a reaction to new realities

- Africans' visions of the West and globalisation as catalysts of changes in their own societies

Presenters are requested to send an extended abstract two weeks prior to the conference.


Slavery and emancipation in the haalpulaar society (Mauritania): the influence of migrants of servile origin on social renogotiation

Author: Olivier Leservoisier (Lyon II)  email
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Long Abstract

Slavery is still a very topical issue in Mauritania with the latest official abolition of slavery dating back to 1981 and more recently the Mauritanian National Assembly adopting, on August 8th, 2007, a law criminalizing the slavery. The aim of this paper is to analyse the role of migrants on the emancipation of groups of servile origin. After a brief presentation of the essential discriminations that the descendants of slaves are facing today, I will focus on the various kinds of resistance that these forms of discrimination produce.

In this perspective, I will show how the political action of subordinate groups reveals the influence of international actors in local political arenas. Hence, international migrants not only support financially the political goals of social movements, but they also influence the local political imagination by introducing new ideas and strategies. Thus, an increasing number of subordinate groups have been to claim an equal share of political power in the name of the principles of equality, dignity and individual competence. Their demands are not limited to participation in the new political structures of the municipality, but they also aim to be represented in the traditional powers of the village.

The example of the village of Djeol (in the Senegal River Valley) will illustrate that power relations between social groups occur not only at the village level, but may well involve a broad network of agents (youths, migrants, administration employees), different transnational spaces (Europe, Africa), and forms of political imagery. These converging factors contribute to the ambivalence of political practices.

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Author: Riccardo Ciavolella (CNRS/EHESS)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper analyses the political meanings of mobility for some pastoral Fulani groups of south-east Mauritania. Anthropological literature has traditionally attached a "culture of mobility" to Fulani peoples because of their nomadic origins. Nevertheless, contemporary practices of mobility are not related to pastoral life any more. They rather correspond to a strategy for dealing with the state. For example, mobility could represent a form of rejection of political authorities (i.e. a refugees' escape from "ethnic cleansing" in 1989) or a tactic to bypass the state (i.e. urban-rural and transboundary mobility). But in some cases, national and international mobility of these marginal groups is extremely restricted. In this sense, their practices of mobility are linked to political logics of inclusion and exclusion from formal and substantial citizenship.

This paper discusses this topic in relation to some current crucial dynamics:

- the impact of political decentralisation and "glocal" ethnoscapes in producing ideologies and practices of neo-traditionalism;

- the creation of a "Transboundary region" in the Karakoro river basin between Mauritania and Mali, with the support of ECOWAS;

- the exclusion of the Mauritanian Fulani refugees in Mali from the plan of repatriation announced by the new "democratic" regime;

- and the exclusion of Fulani groups form transnational networks of solidarity in comparison to other neighbouring groups, such as the Soninke, that have historically gained from international migration.

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Saharian "borderline"-strategies: transnational mobility of Tuareg (Ishumar) between Niger, Algeria and Libya

Author: Ines Kohl (Austrian Academy of Sciences)  email
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Long Abstract

The movements of the Ishumar in this transnatonal field are no cyclic or other "traditional" movements of nomads with their livestock, but situativ bordercrossings of "new modern" nomads, who move in the Libyan-Algerian-Nigerian borderland without papers, identity-cards or passports. The Triangle-Villages Ghat in Libya, Djanet in Algeria and Arlit in Niger are outstanding corners in the new created inner-saharian space of agency. All this three borderland-villages inherit a central position from which the "off-road" routes begin and end. The protagonists operate beyond national loyalities, cross state borders illegally and move in a space of transit with strategies of avoidance in order to pursuit their activities of trading, smugging and migration.

In this paper I will describe (1) the ways, challenges and dangers of the (illegal) bordercrossings and the life in the space of transit, (2) the several strategies Ishumar use in order to move freely in the borderland and (3) the changings in their traditional conceptions of norms and values.

The term Ishumar, orignally 'unemployed persons', meanwhile characterizes a new way of life.

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Here and there: presence and absence among Hausa migrants in Belgium and urban Niger

Author: Sébastien Lo Sardo (Brussels Free University)  email
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Long Abstract

Due to economical migration, long distance trade and global Islam, Southern and Central Niger witness intense population movements, at both transregional and transnational levels. Besides human displacement, money, media and material goods circulate through the same channels. As a result, urban and rural spaces are not only deeply interconnected but also filled with material, visual and discursive fragments of distant 'elsewheres' - i.e. West African cities, North-America, Europe, Middle-East and Eastern Asia. Through appropriation in everyday life, these foreign artifacts orient local practices and perceptions of the world. Beyond the processes of local appropriation, my aim is to analyze such dynamics through a multi-sited ethnography that tracks the ties connecting distant places, persons and communities.

In Niger, researches have been conducted among Hausa migrants in urban centres and within the rural areas from which they originated. Fieldwork has also been carried out in Belgium within the Nigerien diaspora Drawing on experiences of migration, this paper explores how, despite distance and absence, migrants continue to be active in their homelands through flows of artifacts, money, information or the building of houses. Concurrently, it examines how, through similar mediations, past homelands pervade the daily life of migrants at collective, emotional and cognitive levels.

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"Nerves!": struggling with immobility in The Gambia

Author: Paolo Gaibazzi (Zentrum Moderner Orient-Berlin)  email
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Long Abstract

In the face of the increasing importance of transnational migration for Africa and Africans, a large number of subjects in the sending contexts do not or cannot migrate. Even if willing they may lack socioeconomic resources or fail to obtain visas due to restrictive immigration policies in the West and elsewhere. How do they live transnational migration and policy making? Which social and cultural practices have such processes engendered in the sending contexts?

The paper analyses the so-called "nerves syndrome" in The Gambia which mainly concerns young men aspiring to migrate; it does so by paying particular attention to Soninke communities, one of the most travelled peoples in the country. "Nerves" is part of a larger vocabulary through which youths speak of their frustrated aspirations of migrating and progressing socially. However, rather than seeing it as a simple result of the juxtaposition between push factors in Africa and tight migration policies in the West, the paper looks at the "syndrome" as a complex phenomenon stemming from the historical articulations between geographical and social mobility. The phenomenon condenses concepts and bodily experiences of masculinity and work, wealth and consumption, success and failure, morality and destiny, some of which become contested topics in the public sphere. The picture is further complicated by models and imaginaries about success and cosmopolitan experience circulated by migrant activities and networks.

The paper therefore elaborates on the contradictory ways in which transnational migration effects socio-economic inequalities, performs and strains solidarities, and produces cultural change.

Local perspectives on transnational relations of Cameroonian migrants

Author: Michaela Pelican (University of Cologne)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper discusses local perspectives on international migration and the role of the family in the migration enterprise. The focus will be on south-south migration, namely from Cameroon to other African countries and China. The presentation is based on a joint research project with colleagues and students of the Universities of Yaoundé (Cameroon).

As in many African countries, international migration has become a major concern for large parts of the population of Cameroon. While western countries still feature as preferred destinations, many Cameroonians have turned to other, more easily accessible options. Most common is migration to neighbouring countries, such as Gabon, which has less bureaucratic requirements. Alternatively, some Cameroonians have chosen South Africa in the hope of making a quick fortune and subsequently a way out of Africa. A few individuals have opted for China - with mixed results. In all these migration enterprises the family plays a crucial role, both in the preparation of the journey and with regard to transnational exchange relations (i.e. distribution of remittances, spiritual and moral support). However, besides mutual support, these relations are also characterised by secrecy and suspicion.

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The 'CUDA' associations in West Cameroon : between autochtony and transnational virtual communities

Author: Jean-Pierre Warnier (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)  email
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Long Abstract

Over the last fifteen years, the kingdoms and other societies of West Cameroon have fostered the development of local associations. Their acronym is made of the first letters of the society's name followed by 'CUDA', meaning 'Cultural Development Association' (ex. : MACUDA for 'Mankon Cultural Development Association'). Their goals are manifold : promoting local development, lobbying in favour of the local community, enhancing the power of their leaders in national or local politics, etc. However, thanks to the internet, they came to assume another role of growing importance : they assimilate transnational diasporas and maintain them within the virtual limits of their kingdom or community of origin - especially as regards transnational elites. This role, in its turn, has taken up a new dimension with the booming politics of autochtony before and after the UN Declaration on the rights of autochtonous peoples (October 2007). In the context of contemporary Cameroonian politics, these associations increasingly tend to mediate citizenship at the local and transnational levels, to achieve the closure and exclusiveness of local identities, and to give access to globalized resources. The paper will analyze the dynamics of those associations in the context of local politics and transnational migrations.

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Africans in Moscow: foreign churches as a factor of socio-cultural adaptation or non-adaptation

Author: Ekaterina Shakhbazyan (Institute for African Studies)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper is based on the field evidence collected in 2007 and 2008. In spite of the fact that the present research is limited to the Moscow megapolis, we believe that, although probably with some minor reservations, the situation in Moscow can be projected on other Russian megapoleis in which the overwhelming majority of African migrants is concentrated.

Among the great variety of factors that influence the migrants' socio-cultural adaptation process (educational and professional background, language skills, family status, financial position, interrelation with the accepting socio-cultural milieu, etc.), the factor of religion stands prominently. This factor includes not only the role the beliefs as such are playing but also the possibilities for performing the cult in the host country and the part the religious organizations (Churches in the case of Christians) play as a means of the migrants' integration and co-operation. The role of the foreign Churches to which the majority of the African Christians living in Moscow belong is estimated in the paper as dualistic: On the one hand, they promote the adepts' keeping of their original identities (not religious only but socio-cultural in general as well) what can give them the feeling of psychological comfort, while on the other hand they can also move the migrants further away from the norms and values accepted in the Russian society, thus complicating the process of their adaptation.

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Dynamics of migration and development cooperation between Sub-Sahara-Africa and Germany

Author: Nadine Sieveking (Georg-August-University Göttingen)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper addresses the way in which migration in the space between Sub-Sahara-Africa and Europe is conceptualised from the point of view of German development cooperation. In spite of the growing interest in the link between migration and development, German development cooperation has so far been reluctant to get fully engaged in this discussion. Existing return programmes and pilot projects involving African diaspora organisations indicate a way to deal with the issue, but so far this approach has not been systematically mainstreamed into the broader country strategies. Moreover the agenda of German development cooperation is not homogeneous and diverging positions illustrate a quite tense relation between restrictive immigration politics and the recognition of migration as a development potential.

The proposed paper is based on ongoing research for a study commissioned by the German Ministry for development cooperation, including fieldwork in Ghana and Mali. It focuses on the interface between German development agencies and local actors, analysing the way how specific aspects of migration dynamics (gendered, age-related, and regionally specific pattern) and their supposed root causes are articulated and linked to development processes. With respect to the empirical case studies it is argued that the various ways to approach and understand migration reflect different visions of development. This is shown by contrasting examples from Ghana and Mali, which illustrate different patterns of mobility. The examples indicate that the relation between migration and development is highly ambiguous - it has to be contextualised in order to understand its dynamics.

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Socio-cultural and political change in a transnational group: the Konkombas (Ghana/Togo)

Author: Giulia Casentini (University of Pavia)  email
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Long Abstract

I would like to analyse the socio-political transition of a transnational group, the Konkomba people, focusing on the building of their ethnic identity in order to have access to land ownership and citizenship rights.

The Konkombas are settled along the northern part of the Ghana/Togo border and they represent a good example of what a so-called "acephalous" group in transition could be, owing to their struggle to emancipate themselves by obtaining their neighbours' chieftaincy institution.

In this landscape the construction of identities becomes a political tool in order to establish who should be included or excluded from citizenship rights.

The issues around ethnicity, belonging and autochthony assume a specific character in this border zone: in Ghana the Konkombas are said to be "non-indigenous" coming from Togo, as well as in Togo several authors affirm that they are believed to come "originally" from Ghana.

Which are today the mutual relations and perceptions between members of a group that has been divided as part of two different nation-states during the colonial era?

Which are the answers to the needs of a minority group in transition held by Ghana and Togo since their different colonial heritage (British in Ghana, French in Togo) and their current political systems?

With my research I would like to highlight the contemporary interactions between transnational Konkombas and, consequently, trying to find out what is the role of the border in building ethnic identities furthermore in defining and re-defining the access to citizenship rights.

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Transnationalism and social mobility through the performing arts in Senegal

Author: Hélène Neveu Kringelbach (University College London)  email
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Long Abstract

One of the youth's preferred routes towards social mobility in Senegal is to become a performer in one of the numerous neo-traditional troupes that have flourished since the 1960s. The profession emerged with the creation of the National Ballet, set up in 1961 to act as a cultural ambassador for Senegal and contribute to nation-building. As the national project weakened, the genre was re-appropriated by neighbourhood and hometown associations to embody local identities and take advantage of the global success of 'African performance'. With each tour, many performers settled in the host countries, often benefiting from already established transnational connections.

This paper explores some of the ways in which 'artistic' mobility has affected sociocultural change in Senegal. For example, the successful careers of migrant artists has challenged the traditional perception of praise-singers and other performers as persons of a lower social status. In this predominantly Muslim society, it also raises acute questions of morality, particularly where women performers are concerned. Finally, it inevitably sustains the imagination of non-migrants and makes immobility problematic in a social environment often hostile to those who are reluctant to leave or do not 'make it' abroad.