African diasporas within Africa

Project description

There is a growing body of research on African diasporas but much less about diasporas within the continent. As policies and attitudes of exclusion become embedded in African states and societies, are we seeing the emergence of new diasporas? What are the impacts of forcible expulsions and voluntary migration on African communities?

Key research questions

  1. Under what conditions are diasporas formed within Africa? (Negative: diaspora as reflection of exclusion and blocked integration/ Positive: diaspora as reflection of strength and pervasiveness of attachments to ‘home’ over distance and time)
  2. Under what conditions do diasporas dissolve within Africa? (Dissolution: where both people of diasporic origin (migrants and their descendants) and those among whom they live no longer acknowledge or recognize any connection to the ‘original homeland’/Dormancy: where the diasporic connections are recognized but not acted upon)
  3. To what extent do members of diasporas within Africa sustain contacts with those outside (in Europe and North America)? Is it possible to identify a centre of gravity for a diaspora – a particular location, class or other segment (e.g. artists, writers, politicians etc.) – that shapes the diasporic consciousness and connections?
  4. Is the growing recognition of African diasporas outside the continent affecting the formation of diasporas within it? How do the ‘external’ discourses of diasporas – especially with diaspora-development and diaspora-conflict connections which are increasingly prevalent – affect both the scale and quality of diaspora formation within the continent?


I took the concept of diaspora as a ‘real’ social form that can be said to exist and can be identified – regardless of the use of the language of diaspora. Hence, the project started with a notion of diaspora derived from the literature:

  • Movement from an original homeland to more than one country, either through dispersal (forced) or expansion (voluntary) in search of improved livelihoods;
  • A collective myth of an ideal ancestral home;
  • A strong ethnic group consciousness sustained over a long time, based on a shared history, culture and religion; and
  • A sustained network of social relationships with members of the group living in different countries of settlement.

On basis of this definition, I explored candidates for African origin diasporas within Africa from anthropological, historical, migration and development literature (both academic and public policy) across the continent.

I identified two African case studies for further research. In each case I explored the following issues, primarily through qualitative fieldwork. Fieldwork can be arranged by considering the three different spheres in which the notion of diaspora may be expected to have some resonance:


Interviews with diaspora members

  • Links with ‘homeland’
  • Identification with ‘homeland’
  • Links with members of diaspora elsewhere

Interviews with key informants – diaspora civil-society organizations

Policy definition

Interviews with government officials, donors, aid officials, NGOs


Literature review, interview with academics, interaction with university

Near the border at Mwinilunga, Zambia. Photograph: Oliver Bakewell

Project lead

Oliver Bakewell, International Migration Institute

Other researcher

Naluwembe Binaisa, International Migration Institute

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Project-related outputs


Bakewell, O. African Diasporas of Lusaka. Presentation at African Studies Association of the UK, September 2014.

Informal presentations with the same title as above at the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research, Lusaka, July 2014; Zambia Discussion Group, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford.

1-2 July 2013. ‘Diasporic landscapes in Africa’, Rethinking Diasporas Conference, Oxford.

7-8 May 2013. ‘African migrants in Africa: reflections on diaspora formation and integration within the continent’, Contemporary expatriate communities in Africa: New opportunities for development in a rising continent? The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.