Africa in Movement
The first collection of scholarship from Pasiri's network of rising African scholars
A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to be a part of a remarkable workshop which brought twenty young African scholars to Accra, Ghana for the very first in-person meeting of the Program on African Social Research (PASIRI). Hisham Aidi, Zachariah Mampilly and I launched Pasiri two years ago to replicate the POMEPS model of supporting junior scholars and building robust academic networks on the African continent. Collaboration between POMEPS and Pasiri has already produced two fantastic collections published in the POMEPS Studies series: Africa and the Middle East: Beyond the Divides and Racial Formations in Africa and the Middle East: A Transregional Approach. Today, we’re proud to announce the publication of the first volume of essays by Pasiri scholars in the first issue in the new open access series African Social Research — and excited about what’s to come.
First, a word about the Accra workshop, organized in partnership with Afrobarometer. We focused on themes of democratic decline, the rash of coups (especially in West Africa), and changing public attitudes towards democracy. Those trends found depressing echoes in the new wave of the Arab Barometer which revealed dramatic declines in Arab support for democracy and a growing preference for populist leaders who would bend the rules to get things done - a transregional comparison that I plan to write about it in more depth soon. This workshop brought together rising scholars from across the continent - Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and more. We plan to publish those incredibly interesting papers as the second issue of our publication African Social Research in September.
In the meantime, we couldn’t be more excited to announce the publication of the first issue of African Social Research: Africa in Movement (download here). The collection was originally meant to be developed at a workshop organized with Mehdi Alioua of the International University of Rabat, whose journal Afrique(s) en Mouvement inspired the title of our collection. Unfortunately, shortly before the workshop was to be convened in Rabat, it (ironically enough) had to be moved to a virtual format after the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic led Morocco to close its borders. We held it online, instead. Now, we’re thrilled to be publishing our first set of innovative, interdisciplinary papers by scholars from across the African continent about migration across the African continent.
Africa in Movement begins from the premise that discussions of migration in the African context have been distorted by a Global North bias which overly focuses on the political and security implications of the movement of people from Africa into Europe. The politicization and securitization of African migration to Europe has certainly had horrifying human effects, as demonstrated in almost unbearably graphic fashion by the June 24 deaths of at least 23 African migrants trying to cross from Morocco into Spain. Nabil Ferdaoussi, in this collection, anticipated these horrors with his haunting reflections on the “ghosts” haunting those crossings. His close reading of Mati Diop’s award winning film Atlantics is only more relevant in light of what is only the most recent atrocity inflicted on African migrants.
Most of the collection shifts the lens, however, from Africa to Europe migration to Africa to Africa migration, examining population movements within Africa on their own terms rather than only as a prelude to their possible movement on into Europe. Instead of taking their cue from the security and political priorities of the global North, the Pasiri group of scholars insistently focuses on the lived realities of intra-African migration from a wide range of methodological and disciplinary approaches, the institutional adaptations by African states, and the varying forms of diasporic communities established through different forms of migration across the continent. The results are fascinating.
One set of papers in the collection highlights how African states have developed their own approaches to the management of migration, in many cases appropriating and adapting European institutions and covenants to their own purposes. Balkissa Diallo, for instance, highlights the localization of European migration norms in Niger. Salahadin Ali traces how the European Union’s Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative (also known as the Khartoum process) adversely affected the lives of “forced migrants” in Sudan. Itah Patience, in turn, demonstrates that while the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union are trying to promote intra-African migration, security-oriented pressure from external actors like the European Union is actually shoring up authoritarianism and hardening borders. Meanwhile, as Janina Stürner-Siovitz and Lionel Nzamba Nzamba explore, local city actors—at the forefront of migration crises, but long shut out of international decision-making processes—have in places bypassed state-centric policy by creating city networks to grapple with common issues.
Other essays explore migrant communities in their diverse forms. In a paper which took on new life for me after I finally got to spend some time in Accra, Carina Kanbi draws attention to the cultural corridor connecting Lagos and Accra, what she calls Anglophone Africa’s “cities of cool,” and shows how creatives in these cultural hubs are forging a new cosmopolitanism and cultures of conviviality that are shaping cultural flows at the global level. Abdullahi Hassan details the precarious status of small Somali business owners in Cape Town, South Africa using Edna Bonacich’s classic theory of the “middleman minority.” Namhla Matshanda looks at migrant flows into South Africa, with a particular focus on the effects on Ethiopian nationalism. Sarah Koshin’s piece on “diaspora practices” within the Somali community in Zambia looks at how social media technology like WhatsApp has sustained connections back to Puntland.
Such social media technologies are at the center of the innovative essay by Richard Houssou of Arab Barometer, which provides empirical evidence showing how the internet and existing social networks have shaped the contours of African migration . In a novel empirical study of data from 34 African countries, he shows that internet usage strongly shapes decisions to migrate independently of economic conditions or other measures of life satisfaction. His findings speak to the complexities involved in decisions to migrate or to remain at home, and show how the internet and social media could have long-term ramifications for increasing intra-African migration. They resonate with work in the Middle Eastern context by scholars such as Justin Schon, who has explored the role of social media in informing migration decisions by Syrians during the civil war (listen to our conversation here).
I couldn’t be more excited to publish this first of what we hope will be many collections of essays from a rising generation of pan-African scholars. Look out for the second volume in September! And keep an eye out for the ongoing collaborations between Pasiri and POMEPS, as we constantly seek to break down artificial regional boundaries in favor of transregional studies and cross-regional comparisons.
Download African Social Research #1: Africa in Movement here.
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