Katri Merikallio chairing the panel discussion on Tiedekulma stage, University of Helsinki. Prof. Liisa Laakso on the far left. Dr. Petri Hautaniemi on the far right. Dr Päivi Pirkkalainen second from the right.

Diaspora important in peace building

In preparation for the book Diasporas, Development and Peacemaking in the Horn of Africa, published by the Nordic Africa Institute and Zed Books, researchers from eight countries studied the role of the diaspora in Europe and Northeast Africa.

"The diaspora is quite a challenging research subject. We tried to develop new research methods in our book as we wanted to study the diaspora as a 'democratic force' and how it affected e.g. Somalia and Ethiopia", Petri Hautaniemi, one of the editors, says.

Hautaniemi is a former senior researcher in development studies, currently working as a senior adviser in development policy at the Finnish Foreign Ministry. The other editor of the book Diasporas, Development and Peacemaking in the Horn of Africa, professor Liisa Laakso, is dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki.

More light on the diaspora

"The concept of diaspora seems to gather a lot of interest at the moment. Several European research projects on the global diaspora show that it is an important political issue. Also the African Union defines the diaspora as the sixth 'geographic' region in the African continent", Prof. Laakso says.

People who have fled from e.g. Somalia collect funds for their homeland, engage in development aid projects, and take part in a democratic dialogue.

"In weak states, the diaspora seems to replace the state as a peace builder. Thus, the diaspora is an important aspect of global governance. One could say that it fills in some gaps that a malfunctioning national state creates", Prof. Laakso says.

"But one has to remember that the diaspora from the Horn of Africa is quite a diverse community. It's not acting in a univocal way", Dr. Hautaniemi adds.

Different views create conflict

When members of the diaspora move back to Somalia, their return tends to be temporary. Returning to one's homeland is usually quite a complicated matter, Päivi Pirkkalainen, who has interviewed Finnish Somali diaspora members, stressed at the first of the seminars in Helsinki.

"The views on how a state should be re-built usually differs between the diaspora and the people living on the country", Dr. Pirkkalainen says.

"The relation between the returning diaspora members and 'locals' in Somalia is not free of tensions due to competition. Also, when the returnees realise that there's a lack of services they desire, in addition to security concerns, they tend to move back", senior researcher Maimuna Mohamud, who has conducted interviews with returning diaspora members, concludes.

Read all tweets from the seminars below.

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