For Our Brothers and Sisters Out there: Africans in Diaspora
A couple of months ago, I woke up to my phone ringing , it was late at night so I did not get to see the caller ID Because the usual black man stress of the day had knocked me out so I did not bother to check. I reluctantly answered the call believing it was a work related call, the voice and accent I heard did not sound like that of an African or anyone I knew at all. I kept asking “who is this?” in my very deep voice which has a roaring bombardment of Nigerian Accent. First thing that came to mind was “I will not be scammed this night, not me…I will end your business today”.
“Calm down Mr. Man, its Lara…before you start praying for me”. I could recognize this accent; it was the popular ‘innit’ (British accent), Lara is now in the United Kingdom. But the name didn’t quite ring a bell. I had to pull out the childhood memory chest and I finally remembered who Lara was. She was one of my childhood mates that was always fond of pinching me when we were little. I was shocked to hear from her after such a long time, she explained how she got my phone number. It was quite an educative one, her story was that she got my phone number from someone not even related to the family. They had met at some African union meeting in the UK where they were swapping stories about growing up back home and the friends they had grown up with whom they had lost contact with. That brought to me an interesting revelation “Africans really do network away from Africa and there where various avenues through which they do it”
In my short story above, my intention was to pull out the power of connectivity and brotherhood/sisterhood our fellow Africans have developed in Diaspora and the fact that most of my relatives living here in Nigeria do not have my contact details but Lara does and she got it from a fellow Nigerian living in the United Kingdom. Change is constant and as human beings we strive not to remain stagnant, we move from point A to B…..or even to Z to try to leave our footprints in the sands of time in a bid to make ourselves relevant in the world that is to come. For this reason Africans dating back to times before my generation, set out to seek greener pastures, not within their countries or continent, no…but in foreign lands. These Africans now live in a totally different world from what they were born into. Some have their ideologies changed because they had to fit into the new society while some still retain every bit of the African way. At the same time, we also have Africans who were born in the foreign land but still have the African tradition instilled in them. These are Our Brothers and Sisters Out there, The Africans in Diaspora.
The African Union defines African Diaspora as “consisting of people of African origin living outside of Africa, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and building of the African Union” The term African Diaspora was coined in the late 1990’s and is modelled after “Jewish Diaspora”. The original Africans in Diaspora were the African slaves who were taken from the motherland and dispersed throughout Asia, Europe and America during the Arab and the Atlantic slave trades. This act has been recorded to be the largest form of migration in the history of man. Before Columbus’ travels Africans were already in Asia and by 20th century, Africans who were not connected to the slave trade began moving to America and Europe to create new African communities.
Wikipedia categorizes the African Diaspora population as follows:
- African Americans, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latin Americans and Black Canadians – descendants of West African slaves brought to North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America during the Atlantic slave trade, plus later voluntary immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa and their descendants.
- Zanj – descendants of Zanj slaves whose ancestors were brought to the Near East and other parts of Asia during the Arab slave trade.
- Siddis – descendants of Zanj slaves whose ancestors were brought to the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan and India). Also referred to as the Makrani in Pakistan.
Generally, there are two kinds of African Diaspora which are the Historic and the Contemporary Diaspora. In the twentieth century there were several new dispersals from Africa, a continent divided into colonial territories and later into independent nation-states. Unlike their predecessors, whose communities of identity, either as imagined by themselves or as imposed by others, were either ethnic or racial (not to mention sometimes religious). The new African Diasporas had to contend with the added imperative of the modern nation-state, which often frames the political and cultural itineraries of their travel and transnational networks. The “new” or “contemporary” African diasporas, as they are sometimes called, can be divided into three main waves: the diasporas of colonization, of decolonization, and of structural adjustment that emerged out of, respectively, the disruptions of colonial conquest, the struggles for independence, and structural adjustment programs imposed on African countries by the international financial institutions from the late 1970s and early 1980s.
As with the historic Diasporas, the challenge has been to map out the development of these Diasporas and their identities and relations with the host societies. Needless to say, and also in common with the historic diasporas, the contemporary diasporas are differentiated and their internal and external relations are mediated by the inscriptions of gender, generation, class, political ideology, and sometimes religion. Where they differ from the historic diaspora, complicating analysis, is that they have to negotiate relations with the historic Diasporas themselves and also not just with “Africa” but with their particular countries of origin and the countries of transmigration. The revolution in telecommunications and travel, which has compressed the spatial and temporal distances between home and abroad, offers the contemporary diasporas, unlike the historic diasporas from the earlier dispersals, unprecedented opportunities to be transnational and transcultural, to be people of multiple worlds and localities. They are able to retain ties to Africa in ways that were not possible for earlier generations of the African Diasporas. The Diasporas of the late twentieth century were even more globalized than those earlier in the century in terms of the multiplicity of their destinations and networks.
Since the abolishment of slave trade, Africans have found new reasons to settle in Diaspora. In this modern world, there are vast reasons and opportunities that encourage Africans to either leave the motherland or if born there, not want to come back home. The general term for this is what we call “seeking greener pastures”. Africans who have recently left for diaspora have done so because of the conflict in their home countries, war and economic imbalance, to seek better education. When they embark on this journey of self-accomplishment and realization in a new land, they seem to lack the unique sense of brotherhood. Irrespective of their location, Africans make efforts to stick to their African roots and pass tales and traditions of their ancestors to the younger generation of Africans. They create African Unions/Associations in Diaspora, depending on what part of Africa they came from and find a meeting point, something like a watering hole, where Africans from that same region of Africa can come and relate, share stories and Ideas on how they can improve their culture in a different land. Also these unions are set up in foreign lands as a beacon of hope for Africans who feel lost and are stuck with the sense of total displacement.
What do Africans in Diaspora have to offer?
One could say Africans in Diaspora have made an impact on the continent in the sense that African Governments are reaching out to Diasporas. Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa have launched several initiatives to incorporate their diaspora communities as partners in development projects. Several African countries (among them Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda) have established institutions (at the agency or ministerial level) to interact with the Diaspora.
In the aspect of economic development, Some African countries are pursuing policies to develop links with Africans abroad, either to encourage them to return or to use their skills, knowledge or financial capacity to foster African development. There is also a benefit for the country of origin when they allow dual citizenship. They can benefit because their migrants are then more willing to adopt the host country’s citizenship, which can improve their earning potential and thus their ability to send remittances and invest in the origin country.
Looking at how Africans in Diaspora have effected changes in Democracy, studies have shown that some African countries that confer voting rights on their Diasporas, require advanced registration or allow voting in person only. In other countries, voting by postal ballot is also possible. Those who permanently live abroad can register with an embassy or consulate in the country of their permanent residence and can vote there. But the costs involved in registration may be high. For example, South Africa approved voting rights for Global South Africans in 2009, but was unable to register voters in most foreign countries for the 2009 elections. Only some 16,000 voters (out of the estimated 1.2 million South African citizens living abroad) who had been registered well in advance were able to participate in the 2009 elections.
Challenges of Africans in Diaspora
People may often think racism is the major challenge Africans in Diaspora face. Yes, it is a major one, after all, a leopard cannot change its spots. But looking at it from the African perspective, we see that colonization played a very big part in African development. Presently, there is a culture and language barrier in Africa which extends to the Diaspora. This in some way has created a gap in the unification of Africans in diaspora when we speak of the English-speaking African Countries, Portuguese and the Francophone African Countries. As the world advances, technology seems to be a bond…with the newer generation of Africans, with it brings an inherent hope that it would one day lead to ‘One Africa’ in the Diaspora.
In conclusion, the presence of an organized and active global diaspora is influential to the land of origin as well as on the members of the diaspora themselves and the societies in which they live. Their importance in terms of contributions to the development of the different parts of Africa is outstanding, to the extent that it exceeds the international public aid in certain cases, which lots of associations related to Africa were previously known for. The importance of new technologies in the areas of connectivity and Communication in the process of forming a global diaspora cannot be overstated. The emergence of the internet has led to global virtual platforms that support disparate and like groups of Africans in Diaspora to unite, exchange vital information and celebrate their continent.
There is an online movement to collate information on these disparate groups of African Diaspora unions and communities on one platform spearheaded by the Diaspora Community at www.diasporaconnex.com. The intent is to have a one stop shop where the millions of Africans in the Diaspora can go and identify with the association or associations that cater to their needs. The Diaspora Community currently showcases a list of over 400 African Diaspora Associations and Unions, in Europe and North America at http://www.diasporaconnex.com/associations-2/ . It also gives users the opportunity to add any registered associations missing from the list.
The Diaspora Community is a web-based community aimed at guiding Africans in the Diaspora seeking to return to Africa, invest in Africa or crave to know Africa better with a feeling of self-realization by providing opportunities in capacity building of the continent. This is made possible by a platform which connects and creates an avenue for Africans to interact globally with each other through the use of online forums, social media, business listings and news. There is an enhanced awareness of Africa’s business and Economic infrastructure for those who those that want to effectively reach and engage with them.
“When once were dispersions, there now is Diaspora.” Kachig Tölölyan (1996: 3)