In this field note, Marcia C. Schenck reflects on her ongoing involvement with Princeton University’s Global History Lab courses in Kakuma refugee camp. Through courses in global history, she argues, camp residents are not only given access to academic knowledge but also empowered to produce compelling historic narratives by using their location advantage; migration experience; and understanding of life in the camp.
Welcome to the website of the research network on African Migration, Mobility, and Displacement, AMMODI! AMMODI is a Collaborative Research Group (CRG) under the Africa-Europe Group for Interdisciplinary Studies (AEGIS), which hosts a growing number of thematically defined collaborative groups. The AEGIS website hosts a page for AMMODI and there you can find a full list of our members, comprising a broad selection of migration scholars within different academic fields, as well as other information about our CRG.
This site features the AMMODI blog, which publishes easily accessible contributions for advancing our understanding of African migrations, mobilities, and displacements in all their diversity. The blog contributions are ordered into three thematic categories; Research notes, Policy notes, and Field notes, which are described in more detail on the site. The site also features a page called “AMMODI recommends”, where we have started a collection of links to sites and institutions treating similar issues, as well as a section on recent publications, which we hope that our members will help us fill. On the sidebar, we have gathered relevant blogs, events, and postings in the hope that AMMODI can contribute to the increased visibility and dissemination of the wealth of research and other activities relating to this central theme in global social and political life today.
Below, we elaborate on the thematic motivation and delimitation of the network, and on the most immediate objectives in establishing this platform.
We hope the site will be useful for inspiring reflection and collaboration across spheres and disciplines, and we encourage you to participate in the dissemination and production of relevant insights, contacts, questions, announcements, and suggestions.
The AMMODI coordinators, Jesper Bjarnesen & Franzisca Zanker
Migration, mobility and displacement have been, and continue to be, key dynamics and practices shaping African social, political and economic as well as physical landscapes. African migration, mobility and displacement intersect with fundamental societal issues on national, regional and global scales, from securitization processes to generational conflicts, from the politics of belonging to urban and rural infrastructures, and from labour market configurations to the technology of refugee camps. In all their diversity, these movements are at the forefront of political changes affecting African futures both on the continent and in other parts of the globe. This AEGIS collaborative research group aims to bring together research on African migration, mobility and displacement, in order to refine, elaborate, and communicate its findings in an interdisciplinary manner, acknowledging the growing relevance of these themes in the years to come.
As a platform for cross-disciplinary migration research, AMMODI has the potential to contribute nuanced analyses of African migration to both an academic and non-academic audience. A broader historical, political and socio-economic contextualisation of current trends is crucial in challenging and tempering the current tendency to criminalise and persecute migrants from the global South.
Migratory practices underlie social, cultural and political life on the African continent, with intra-continental migration regimes accounting for the overwhelming majority of African migratory movements. From pre-colonial and colonial strategies of disengagement from oppressive authorities, to pastoralist lifestyles and circular labour migration regimes, the ability to relocate has been a valuable resource for people on all levels of society. Interaction with newcomers is often culturally attuned towards integration, but xenophobic attacks against migrants also occur today, as in the past, resulting, for example, in mass expulsions of immigrants in the first decades of post-colonial rule. The journeys, choices and trajectories of (aspiring) migrants affect daily economic, social, and political life in complex ways in migrant-sending, transit and migrant-receiving localities.
Not least since the European “refugee crisis” in 2015, African trans-continental migration has become a central concern for European policy makers and politicians. Poverty-induced migration from Africa to Europe is widely interpreted as a voluntary category of movement, affecting European nations in negative ways. But in fact, African trans-continental movements have become increasingly heterogeneous in terms of destinations as much as in forms of travel and residence. African migration to the United States, Canada, Australia but also the Middle East and China has been rising steadily over the past two decades, with migrants ranging from highly skilled specialists to low-skilled workers and irregular migrants.
In light of the continent’s projected population growth in the coming decades, concerns are raised about the potential increase in numbers of African migrants towards the global North. Much more significant, however, are the responses by African states and populaces to the increased pressure on state services and infrastructure, but also to the productive potentials of the world’s youngest demographics.
Within the diverse field of migration research, growing attention is being directed towards shorter moves and everyday mobilities. These lines of inquiry lend themselves well to the study of long-standing practices of circular and temporary mobilities within and across African states, ranging from pastoralist nomadism to internal and transnational seasonal labour mobility. Other forms of mobility include translocal fosterage practices, students travelling for higher education and even the regional and cross-continental mobility of armed combatants. Increasing attention is being paid to how technologies help or hinder mobility and how mobility affects generational conflicts. Moreover, mobility studies also highlight the relevance of networks including to the transnational diaspora.
Regional organisations such as the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have for long acknowledged and facilitated the value of various forms of regional mobilities and the African Union is moving closer to an African passport and opening all borders within the continent to free movement.
Several of these mobilities relate to the historical and contemporary significance of borderlands, which potentially brings this CRG into promising conversation with the dynamic and productive work of the ABORNE network.
According to the most recent figures from UNHCR, a third of the worlds internally displaced persons are located in Africa. In addition, most of the world’s refugees reside here. Civil wars, humanitarian disasters and climate change-induced repercussions force people in Africa to move. But while these immense challenges tend to be framed in a language of dependency on (and critique of) international interventions, the most comprehensive refugee protection policy exists not in the global North but in Africa, including the Kampala Convention, dedicated to internally displaced persons.
Scant attention, furthermore, is paid to the many forms of everyday displacements affecting people across the continent, including both urban and rural evictions and dislocations generated by states and/or multinational and national corporations. Whether forced movements cross national borders; occur within states; or within districts and municipalities, the experiences leaves entire groups of people traumatised and vulnerable. However, the same repercussions apply for those unable to move. Involuntary immobility thus play a significant role in the dynamics of forced displacement.
Finally, the significant grey zones between what is often squarely categorised as voluntary and involuntary moves – refugee and “economic” migration – are rarely as evident when seen from the perspectives of migrants themselves. Internally displaced people and international refugees do possess some degree of influence and authorship of their journeys, as much as many aspiring labour migrants see no other option than leaving their homes in search of better options.
By including both voluntary and involuntary trajectories within the same platform, and acknowledging that they are not dichotomous, AMMODI aspires to offer a more migrant-centred account of contemporary movements, documenting those that fall outside the purview of humanitarian frameworks.
The proposed aims of the CRG
- To facilitate the exchange of information on scholarly debates on migration, mobility and displacement in Africa (projects, events, venues) within Europe
- To work especially on finding the overlaps and tensions between the debates on migration, mobility and displacement
- To promote collaboration between relevant researchers within Europe and Africa and strengthen networks especially in Africa
- To enhance the visibility of this topical cluster within the European African Studies landscape and beyond, and thereby to deepen AEGIS as a network
- To disseminate AMMODI work to the broader public in light of the significance of the topic in current affairs.