Workshop on “Inclusion and Exclusion in sub-Saharan Africa: Migrants’ Challenges in Comparative Perspective”

Workshop on “Inclusion and Exclusion in sub-Saharan Africa: Migrants’ Challenges in Comparative Perspective”

Cori Wielenga, PhD
Senior Researcher at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (Govinn), University of Pretoria

Ahmed Sharif Ibrahim,
PhD Candidate in Anthropology, City University of New York

Aditi Malik, PhD
Assistant Professor of Political Science and Global Studies, California State University San Marcos

In July 2015, we had the opportunity to participate in the final APSA Africa Workshop, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya. The theme of the workshop was “Conflict and Political Violence.” All three of us had been conducting research on this topic—from varied disciplinary perspectives—over the last several years. At the same time, the questions that we had been working on were quite different from each other. As such, the Nairobi workshop provided us with a unique opportunity to engage with research on conflict through a common lens.

Following the workshop, the three of us decided to apply for an APSA Africa Workshop Alumni Networking grant. During our time in Nairobi, we had been struck by the fact that scholarship on conflict rarely engaged with issues of displacement, except when displacement was understood to be a consequence of violence. And yet, we were also aware that sub-Saharan Africa had experienced migrant and refugee crises since the 1960s.

Our common interest in this area—and specifically in questions of a) how migrants navigated these processes in the African context and b) how they carved out places for themselves in host countries—led us to develop a proposal that would examine such themes in depth. We were especially interested in the case of Somali migrants (given the protracted conflict there and the massive displacement of the Somali population from the Horn of Africa into the rest of the continent and beyond), and took a two-pronged approach to our workshop. One half of our group addressed broader trends in migration in sub-Saharan Africa while the other half consisted of scholars whose research is focused specifically on Somalis. We were especially fortunate to receive support from the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (Govinn) at the University of Pretoria who hosted our four-day workshop in May 2016.

The workshop included in-depth dialogue sessions between academics (PhD candidates, junior and more seasoned faculty) from several disciplines as well as a public seminar which brought together scholars and policymakers. During the public seminar, Professor Loren Landau, Director of the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at the University of Witswatersrand, Professor Francis Nyamnjoh from the University of Cape Town, and Dr. Chris Nshimbi from Govinn shared their perspectives on trends and developments with regard to migration in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the challenges that migrant communities face in the region.

Although the workshop generated more questions than answers, what was apparent was the urgent need for more interdisciplinary engagement on questions of migration. Particularly, we felt that greater dialogue between anthropologists and sociologists on the one hand—who are able to gather rich and granular data on these subjects—and political scientists on the other, who are trained to conduct research that identifies broader trends would be necessary for developing a better understanding of the complexities of contemporary migration in Africa. Furthermore, we felt that an interdisciplinary perspective would have much to offer to policymakers.

Since our workshop in May, we have created two work-streams—one, which is Somali-specific and the other, which is broader in scope. On the basis of the research interests of the members of these two work-streams, we are currently developing two panel proposals, which we will submit for consideration to the African Studies Association’s 2017 conference. We hope that the unique group of interdisciplinary scholars we have brought together to engage with this topic will make a meaningful contribution to research on questions of migration, displacement, and place-making in contemporary sub-Saharan Africa.

Alumni who co-organized this workshop:

  • Cori Wielenga, University of Pretoria
  • Ahmed Sharif Ibrahim, City University of New York
  • Aditi Malik, California State University San Marcos

Workshop participants:

  • Sophia Balakian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Abdu Hikam, African Centre for Migration and Society (AMCS), University of Witswatersrand
  • Zaheera Jinnah, African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), University of Witswatersrand
  • Emma Lochery, Université de Liège
  • Nereida Muñiz, African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), University of Witswatersrand
  • Pragna Rugunanan, University of Johannesburg
  • Amanuel Tweolde, University of Pretoria
  • Beth Elise Whitaker, University of North Carolina at Charlotte