Mobilising African Diasporas as Agents of Change
A Comparative study of the encounter between African states and their diasporas
Often migrants do not cut all ties to their countries of origin, but continue to engage themselves in their homelands. In doing so, migrants contribute to alleviate poverty and participate in the transfer of ideas, knowledge and practices to their countries of origin. Within the past decade, this phenomenon has come to the attention of a number of actors that, for different reasons, are all reaching out for diaspora communities as agents of development and change. Governments of sending and receiving countries, as well as international development institutions are currently in a process of attempting to involve migrants in development processes in their countries of origin. The emergence of the diaspora as a new and powerful position within the international development field represents a reconfiguration of development thinking and practice that has not been adequately explored. Likewise it represents a reconfiguration of the relationship between states and citizens beyond the boundaries of the nation-state.
The research programme explores the relationship between migrant organizations and sending states. The programme is guided by the following research questions:
- What state policies have been formulated and implemented by African states in order to mobilise and involve their diasporas?
- Why and how do migrant associations engage themselves in their countries of origin, and around what intensions, visions and loyalties are they organised?
- What is the working relationship between migrant associations and homeland states, and how do migrants engaged in migrant associations perceive and respond to homeland policies?
- These questions will be explored in four African contexts: Tanzania, Ghana, Burundi and Rwanda. These cases have been selected for comparison as they represent different migration histories and political relationships between the diasporas and political authorities in countries of origin. Apart from regional difference – ranging from East to West Africa – the cases span from the pro-active stance of the Ghanaian government, the more hesitating approach of Tanzania to the post-conflict cases of Burundi and Rwanda, where Burundi is seeking to include the diaspora, while Rwanda represents the other end of the scale, characterised by antagonism and exclusion.
Through longitudinal ethnographic fieldwork and comparison between cases, the research programme will contribute to the existing research in relation to four overall issues:
- It sheds light on the mobilisation and involvement of African migrant associations in countries of origin. In studying the practices, principles and loyalties around which migrant associations are formed, the programme adds new insights to the understanding of how notions of community, belonging and identity are currently being constructed among African migrants.
- It explores the process whereby African sending states reach out for their diasporas – something that has mostly been explored in a Latin American and Caribbean context. Studying African sending state policies towards their diasporas is particularly relevant, as several African states have started a process of mobilising and involving their diasporas in the affairs of the homeland.
- It explores the relationship between migrant associations and political authorities in sending countries as complex and ambiguous and thereby adds new knowledge to the study of the relationship between diasporas and nation-states. In focussing on the construction of diasporas as agents of change through particular discourses and transnational practices, the programme highlights new trends emerging within the international development field.
- It sheds light on the sending of collective and socio-political remittances and thereby looks beyond the narrow focus on financial remittances that has characterised most migration-development research and policy development within the past decade.
The research programme is made up of Simon Turner (focusing on Burundi and Rwanda), Nauja Kleist (focusing on Ghana) and Peter Hansen (focusing on Tanzania) who all work with local universities and research institutions in their respective fieldwork sites. The programme is funded by the Danish Research Council for the Social Sciences (FSE).