Panel 14

Migration TO Africa: movements and concepts

Panel organisers: Martin Doevenspeck, University of Bayreuth, Germany and Asaf Augusto


Scholarship on international migration is dominated by concepts that focus on South-North migration. In the global political and economic context since the World War II, other population movements such as South-South, did not feature much in mobility studies. In Post-independence Africa, factors such as economic decline and political instability reinforced an existing understanding of Africa as ‘sending continent’, despite its long and complex migratory dynamics. However, new geo-economic dynamics had encouraged new forms of migration, among them, for example, Chinese migration to Africa and Portuguese migration to former colonies on the continent. Established migration theory struggles to explain these new mobility patterns. For this panel we invite papers that empirically and conceptually analyse historic and recent migratory dynamics TO Africa.

Approved abstracts panel 14

1. Forced migration from Europe. Polish refugees in British colonial East and Central Africa (ca. 1942–50)

Author: Jochen Lingelbach, Centre for Area Studies/ Institute for African Studies, Leipzig University, Germany.

During and after World War Two, a group of about 20,000 Polish refugees lived in camps in the British colonies of eastern and southern Africa (mainly in Uganda, Tanganyika and Northern Rhodesia). The refugees came from eastern Poland and were initially deported to Soviet labour camps in 1940, released in 1941 and hosted by the British colonial governments from 1942 onwards. Most of them were relatives of soldiers fighting in the Polish army under British command against Germany. After the war, when Poland became Soviet-dominated, most of the refugees were reluctant to return to their home-country. The colonial administration was, however, eager to get rid of them and granted only few of them permanent residence in Africa. Until 1950 most had left the colonies again and resettled elsewhere.

In my paper I will narrate the history of these refugees and analyse their social position and interaction with different actors of the hosting colonial societies. While it was never their intention to move to Africa, the Polish refugees became nevertheless part of their host societies.  Their social position was neither clearly colonizer nor colonized, but differed according to the perspectives of the actors. While they were privileged by their close relation to the Polish Army and their whiteness, they were nevertheless marginalized as refugees and Eastern Europeans. They thus found themselves at the edges of colonial whiteness.

Despite the intention of colonial officials to isolate the Poles and minimize their interaction with members of the hosting societies, numerous informal interactions with Africans, European settlers and parts of other diaspora groups evolved. This little-known episode may serve as a reminder of the role of Africa as a safe haven for Europeans, but it is also shows the differences in regard to African refugees fleeing the opposite way.

2. Labour migrations to Africa: the case of Italian and Chinese workers on hydropower dams in Cameroon (1949-1984)

Author: Williams Pokam Kamdem, University of Dschang, Cameroon.

In 2012, Cameroon launches the third cycle of development of its hydroelectric potential. The construction of the Memve’ele, Lom Pangar and later Mekin dams is entrusted to Chinese companies which then bring in Chinese workers and engineers, in addition to Cameroonian workers. The cohabitation between these two categories has given rise since then to various forms of socialisation, of learning and even sometimes to tensions.

However, this is not the first experience of using foreign labour on hydropower projects in Cameroon. Indeed, in the absence of local expertise, African countries have often used foreign companies and workers to design, build and maintain some infrastructures. In Cameroon, from 1949 to 1953, Italian workers helped to build the Edea dam. Later, between 1977 and 1984, Chinese workers participated in the construction of the Lagdo dam.

The aim of this proposal is to question the conditions as well as the consequences of these migrations of foreign workers in Cameroon. In an empirical approach and relying on archival sources in particular, this article traces these two experiences, emphasizing on their contexts, on the adaptation processes of these foreign workers and on their relations with local workers.

3. African Diaspora Returing. From brain waste to brain gain?

Author: Ketil Fred Hansen, University of Stavanger, Norway.

Based on in-depth interviews with ten Cameroonians who have lived in France for long time (2-21 years) and returned to Cameroon lately, this paper discusses reasons for returning. Particularly, various forms of racism experienced in France was central for many as the prime push factor for returning, while prime pull factor was, more obviously maybe,  lack of family and close friends.

The paper discusses these issues in relation to mainstream migratory theory, especially the neo-classical perspectives and structural theories.


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