Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Dreaming in Dhaka: a postscript on the Global Forum on Migration and Development 2016

This adapted version of a blog by Kellynn Wee was first published on the Migrating out of Poverty (Singapore) site and is re-posted here to mark the start of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) 2017.

Building on an op-end I wrote with Kuda Vanyoro and conversations with sharp, wonderful colleagues, these are my immediate impressions of the GFMD 2016. (My experiences stem from attending two sessions on labour recruitment and global supply chains, another on migrant diasporas and entrepreneurship, and a final session on developing a gender-sensitive approach to the Global Compact.)

We still tend to talk about migrants as workers first, people second. 
This is a thread that runs powerfully through discussions pre-empting the Global Compact on Migration, and was particularly evident on Common Space Day. We talked about labour markets, push and pull factors, entrepreneurship, skills development and matching, recruitment fee regulations, and how migrants brighten local economies as a justification for their entrance into nation-states, employers, ethical recruitment–all of which are crucial topics–but we talked less about migrants’ changing family dynamics, socio-cultural incorporation and inclusion, intimate relationships, and reproductive rights.

Women aren’t just domestic workers.
This tends to be our default mode when we talk about women in migration. Firstly, this reverts to point #1: we see women migrants, first and foremost, as migrant workers. The second problem is that we have fallen into a familiar narrative of adopting domestic workers as the default ‘worker’, which in no way diminishes the urgency of the issues that surround domestic work, but crowds the spaces that we have to discuss women in labour migration. What about, for example, women who engage in embodied and intimate labour, such as migrant sex workers? This is a trickier and more divisive terrain to navigate, but important nonetheless. The third and most pressing problem is that a gender-sensitive approach cannot and should not be restricted to women as workers. Marriage migrants are a significant migration flow: in Singapore, one in five marriages are between a citizen and a foreign spouse. A foreign wife’s legal status is dependent on her husband and a rising number deals with shocking levels of abuse. Or what about ‘study mamas‘, women who accompany children who migrate to study abroad? We also did not discuss transgender women and queer women, and the specific vulnerabilities that they must grapple with. Will these women make an appearance in the upcoming Global Compact, or our future discussions about migration and women.

The host country plays a powerful role in setting the agenda. 
The candidness of H.E. Shahidul Haque, the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary and this year’s GFMD Chair, was a breath of fresh air. Playing both provocateur and realist, he was forthcoming, reflexive about the mandate of states, and eager to urge civil society to take a leading role in issues of migration in the years ahead. “How about a free, fair, and responsive approach, rather than safe, regular and orderly?” H.E. said at today’s Common Space speech. “The strength of every movement is the people, not the state. Have you ever seen a state lead a transformation?” he said at the GFMD Civil Society Days opening speech.  (It helps that he’s very quotable.) In comparison to last year, I thought this year’s Common Space had a relaxed openness to it, with civil society representatives and government delegates truly interacting, responding, and mixing, not just in the interstices of the conference, but within the formal spaces of the conferences as well.

Moderation and session structures are critical to the quality of the discussions.
Well-moderated discussions had several common elements: good timekeeping, critical in reining overenthusiastic speakers in; reminding delegates to ask pointed, concise questions; an ability to make thematic connections between disparate comments and questions; and, most importantly, the facilitation of interaction, rather than panellists’ monologues. In a room full of experts who have spent years working closely with migrants, it is, I think, less important for panellists to share statistics about rates of migrant abuse–an issue we can safely assume to all be intimately familiar with–and more important for a lively Q&A which will allow panellists and the floor to dynamically shape their responses in relation to each other, and to better explore topics of discussion.

Stories are crucial. 
And in many ways, this year, they shone. Poet Vanessa Kisuule’s performances were a gift: necessary, honest, funny, piercing; they felt organic, not shoehorned or tacked on, and I appreciated her active participation and reflection in the days following her poetry. The photo exhibition at the foyer–titled ‘The Best Years of My Life‘ and put together by Shahidul Alam–tracked the lives of Bangladeshi migrants to Malaysia, and glowed with open empathy. Nonetheless, however, I echo the comment we made in our reflection on last year’s GFMD. 

What is the role of research(ers) at the GFMD?
There are times where I itched, and tried, to temper abstract principles in empirical stories, data, and information. I think I talked often, for example, about how recruitment fee flows are gendered in Asia: women migrate through debt; men migrate through upfront fees. These have hugely different implications and will need different solutions. The perennial question of how to connect a global process to local contexts remains something that we will need to explore.

I am both optimistic and wary (and weary. Goodbye forever to 6 am wake-up times! I say fervently). It has been an exciting few days, with many ups and downs, coloured with lots of frustrations and Twitter rants and furiously whispered conversations with people at tea tables and in the audience, but also with moments of delight and joy, and a conviction that some conversations are, at last, moving forward and taking flight. Warm, warm congratulations to the Bangladesh team for pulling off a fantastically organised conference on a tremendous scale. Until we meet again.

Monday, 26 June 2017

The elephant in the room: Why should global civil society care about academia?

By Kellynn Wee,

Data. Research. Facts. Evidence. In this world’s age of migration, these terms are so often used as hopeful synonyms for ‘truth’. We would like these truths to calibrate policy-making, to buttress justice, to make compassion viable. Numbers, fed from databases, would tell us which populations are moving, and how quickly; interviews, immaculately conducted by social scientists, would tell us why.

These truths often arise from international organisations, transnational activist networks and policy-oriented think tanks, which produce working papers, research reports and policy briefs that jerk back the curtain to reveal grim realities: migrant slums; the exploitation of children; the trafficking of women. Beyond this, however, another set of truths—less immediately interesting, and more abstract—is held in abeyance: the theories, ideas, and concepts that mark the work of academia. While the researchers who work on both may be the same, they often present their truths differently. In academic journals and conferences, pre-fixes and suffixes bristle to demarcate new theoretical thresholds: mobilities, (im)mobilities; precarious work, precariousness, precarities, hyper-precarities…

The response to these ideas is often, understandably, let’s get on with it. The re-christening of construction work in Qatar is unlikely to make the tangible realities of work for Bangladeshi migrant men any safer. The perception that academia—neutral, neutered—is irrevocably divorced from the realm of policymaking is reflected in the processes of international fora. For example, the upcoming Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), held 29 June to 1 July in Berlin, divides their count of academics from civil society practitioners.

But why should civil society care about academia? What does academia have to offer? What are the ethical responsibilities of migration researchers in geography and in sociology to global civil society? Does academia have an ethical responsibility in the first place?

To answer this question, we must ask another one: in this tiredly post-truth world, what do we still consider to be true?

There is an old story: get a group of people to close their eyes and reach forward to touch an elephant. One describes the feathery ear, another the tough belly, a third the whisking tail, a fourth the stump of a leg. They are all correct. They are all partial. It is, still, an elephant.

One of the critical ideas of academic scholarship is that reality does not offer up truth, neat as a dinner dish, but that truths create realities. There is no curtain, no stage, no lightning-strike revelation. Data does not mirror reality, but produces it. The more words we have for the elephant, the better we are able to understand it.

We can choose to see migration flows in numbers, counting every body that crosses a border, and that is one kind of truth, a truth that bristles with threat. We can choose to see migration as the result of complicated geopolitical ties, or as intertwined with development, or vested with entrepreneurial spirit; as waves, or infestations, or as tides, a push-pull as constant as the world. All of these truths exist, elbowing each other gently, simultaneously. (This is of course, not to say, that poorly-done research—and out-and-out lies—do not exist. Some people, for example, will swear up and down that an elephant has feathers and is out to take over every job currently available in your country.)

In global civil society, we are guilty of assuming a particular kind of truth: that, firstly, only one exists. And that, secondly, more information, better information, neutral, evidence-based, and unbiased information—a more robust truth—will help us to find it. This truth, ideally, would fix the gaps we already think we see.

What good, self-reflexive academia can do is to dislodge this idea. Our realities—and any radical potential for transformation in migration policy—are critically shaped by what we know and the ideas that we can put together to describe this knowledge. A constructivist approach allows us to acknowledge that data and research are not neutral, but are shaped by bias, methodology, and flows of funding. Flipping the relationship between “data” and “policy”—allowing research and its competing, conflicting truths to exist without needing to become revelatory evidence—opens up new and creative ways of thinking about potential policy interventions. There are no better truths; there are only many.

Part of the Migrating out of Poverty research focuses on the migration industry. If we analyse migration brokers and agents—who are often profit-oriented and help to facilitate, curtail, and shape migration—with an eye to uncovering exploitation and forced labour, then that is of course what we will see. The framing of ‘problem’ and solution’ fits nicely over the contours of this sort of (undoubtedly still invaluable) research, which supports punitive, regulatory measures in response. Hence: zero recruitment fees; licensing; the end of informal brokers; demerit points.

What we have found, however, is that migration brokers in Singapore, Indonesia and India are not (only) slavers and traffickers, but are (also) creditors, translators, protectors, ex-migrants themselves, navigators of seasonal uncertainties, or vehicles to speed migrants through labyrinthine bureaucracy. They act as they do not only because they believe migrants are less or are products or are exploitable but also because their practices are shaped by lines of credit and debt, or because they too are peddling a particular, peculiar kind of hope. In Singapore’s migration industry, for example, women migrate through debt-financed migration, in which a loan extended by a prospective employer travels all the way back to Indonesia to become capital to allow women to migrate as a livelihood strategy. But these lines of debt and credit are not a singular river; as they cross nation lines, they multiply, criss-cross, expand like deltas, meet with undercurrents, holding agent, worker, and employer in a web of liability and risk, ultimately creating a set of conditions in which workers must be coaxed or controlled for the continued possibility of future migration from countries of origin.

If we focus on understanding the social and cultural world of brokers and migrants, then this might actually open up more room for innovative policy interventions. Global civil society has the advantage of overcoming nation-states’ preoccupation with governing within their own borders. By bypassing closed state systems entirely, civil society might, for example, immediately, transnationally, and flexibly collaborate with brokers themselves instead.    

There are no easy policy recommendations that come from this partial perspective of the migration industry, but an acknowledgement of these many truths. Gently elbowing. The elephant comes into better view.

Academia is not a panacea, but adopting its tenets of multiple truths allows us to better understand the world in which we work. To go forward, we need to do two things: first, academics must themselves consciously broker their own knowledges. Second, the perception of the value of qualitative research must change.

Firstly, researchers must be cognisant of the ways that their work affect social and political realities, and to seek to translate their research beyond conventional forums and outlets. The academic industry does not reward researchers for communicating their work to mainstream media outlets, policy-makers, civil society, or the general public. Doing so does not secure contracts, citation counts, or project funds. This, amongst many other factors, creates a situation in which researchers are, first, disinterested and disengaged; and, second, unable to broker their own knowledge in ways that render it accessible to non-academics who might need that knowledge most. No doubt this is a systemic issue, borne from an increasingly precarious academic industry, but migration researchers can do more to describe their experiences with that elephant in ways that others would be able to use to compare with their own.  

Secondly, the perception and value of qualitative research in civil society spaces should move beyond proffering up decontextualised “stories” and “case studies”. When one makes a call for data in civil society, one is often asking for large-scale quantitative data or longitudinal panel studies. These, of course, are important; but it is also timely to recognise that qualitative and ethnographic work move beyond the scattered stories of small-n samples and can instead offer new ways of seeing.

Now the hide, rough to the touch. Now the long nose, the wet snout, curiously searching.  

Image credit: Blind monks examining an elephant, Hanabusa Itchō (1652–1724).

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Why don’t all migrants return in times of crisis?

By María Hernández-Carretero

In the early 2000s, numerous migrants arrived in Spain, attracted by the prospects of finding a job in the country’s booming economy. They quickly grew to represent 11% of the total population in 2008, from 2% in 2000. But when the financial crisis hit and Spain topped Europe’s unemployment rates, immigrants became disproportionately affected – 35% were jobless, compared to 22% among people with Spanish or double nationality. Years earlier their labour had been needed and welcome, but as discontent set in some Spaniards started calling for unemployed (especially if also paperless) migrants to “go back” to their countries of origin, now that no jobs were to be found. Some did leave Spain, whether to return to their country of origin or seek better luck elsewhere. Yet many others stayed.

Faced with an economically bleak and politically hostile landscape in Spain, why did so many immigrants choose to stay all the same? This question was part of the starting point for my chapter in Hope and Uncertainty in Contemporary African Migration where, focusing on the case of Senegalese migration to Spain, I look into why for some, deciding to emigrate can be easier than returning home.

Is return a better alternative to staying?
“Even though you didn’t find what you were looking for here, you can’t go back just like that! If you do, what are you going to do with your life, then? […] Going back now without certainty... And you’re at an age when you’re no longer allowed to make mistakes. You shouldn’t make mistakes. Do you understand? Since you made a mistake by coming here, don’t make a mistake in your return!”

Babacar*, like many other migrants, arrived in Spain in the 2000s hoping he would find the opportunities to build himself a better future. By 2012, he had neither a job nor reliable prospects of finding one, but he did not consider returning to Senegal empty-handed to be a viable option. He would go back if he had the necessary savings to start his own business, he explained, but returning with no money and no certainty that he could sustain himself would for him be senseless: it would only compound his failure at making it in Europe and, as his words above express, amount to a double mistake.

Return, as leaving, is indeed largely a matter of resources and opportunities. Access to financial, monetary or social resources makes it easier to go back, whether temporarily to assess the conditions for a more durable return, or to stay permanently. Possible income sources or housing security in Senegal, or an open door to re-entering Europe, all decrease the uncertainty associated with cutting the migration project short. Migrants who, for example, had saved money, started a business or built (and paid-off) a house in Senegal, had a family business there they could lean on, or had permanent residence in Spain or Spanish nationality faced an easier choice between staying or returning.

Lat, another Senegalese migrant, explained that whether going back to Senegal was a preferable alternative to staying in Spain at the time of the crisis really depended on what one was returning to. Going back to the same situation that one left back home could be “worse” than staying in Spain, he assured me. Landing back in Senegal without savings to start one’s own business and without prospects of finding employment in a setting with few employment opportunities is not simply a regression to the point of departure – a point of livelihood uncertainty and bleak future prospects. Returning in such circumstances can, as Lat explained, in many ways be even worse. It is a regression compounded by the failure of having had the highly-coveted chance of improving one’s situation through migration but failed at doing so, and having to admit that defeat and lack of progress in front of one’s family and wider social circle. In this sense, returning empty-handed would not only be a failure but a risky undertaking too.

Return as the time to show results, not take new risks
When Babacar talks about not wanting to make a mistake in his return and relates this to his age and the original act of emigration, he is pointing to a way of thinking common to many Senegalese emigrants: return is the point when the success of the migration project is evaluated – especially by migrants’ social circle back home. Since at the time of speaking he feels that leaving in the first place might not have been the right decision, it is all the more important for him to not return as a failed migrant, with no savings from his time abroad and no prospects of making a living in Senegal. From Senegal, Europe and more generally “the North” represents a place of wealth and opportunities. Lavish foreign lifestyles fill TV-screens. Successful migrants and businesspeople bring back money, gifts, flashy clothing, electronics and home appliances, cars, business investments and even materials to build houses. The idea of the West is associated with money and opportunities on which those coming back are expected to have cashed and then at least partly redistribute among others back home.

Babacar also refers to the fact that, while it is acceptable for youths to explore and take chances to build their future, adults are expected to display responsibility through solvency and the ability to provide for their families. Return is therefore not the time to take new risks. Neither is it, for most, something to be done impulsively or rushed, lest one disappoints one’s social circle and loses face in front of all for having been unable to display proof of a successful time abroad. In this light, an unprepared, unsuccessful return might, in fact, be a worse prospect than staying in Europe. Abroad, one can continue struggling alone, away from the judging gaze of one’s social circle back home. Remaining in Europe also allows keeping alive the hope that better times might still lie ahead.

Giving up Europe, giving up hope
“What I was looking for, right now . . . there is none of it: work. There is no work. But . . . Africa is always difficult. Here, it’s difficult, I know. But Africa is always difficult. Because over there, your family is there, you’re seen, you’re surrounded by ten people . . . and they see you, and you have nothing to give them. [He pauses, then chuckles] But when you’re here, they don’t see you. But you can talk to them and relieve them. Give them hope. For . . . yes, give them hope to wait . . . that one day things will be good. And they can feed on that hope.”

The words of Pape, another migrant, reflect how returning to Senegal without having met one’s migration goals would mean putting an end to the hope that not only migrants but also their families have placed on the migration project. They also illustrate how important this hope is for families in coping with everyday hardship in Senegal. Given the huge, and increasing, difficulty of entering Europe for would-be migrants, many of those who have already succeeded in entering are reluctant to relinquish the possibility to stay in or re-enter Europe. Irregular migrants, especially, could not return to Europe after leaving. The images along Europe’s borders suggest what a profound loss of effort, hope, time and resources this would represent. The difficulty, or impossibility, of crossing the border is likely to make it less attractive to leave Europe in times of hardship to assess prospects for returning back home. This has been shown to be the case along the US-Mexico border where, as border security increased, Mexican migrants with residence permits in the US continued to circulate back and forth between the two countries, while fewer irregular migrants did.

Confronted with the choice of enduring a precarious life abroad and facing the shame of returning empty handed, some might therefore choose the former – or at least delay the latter as much as possible. As some described it, patiently enduring hardship abroad while keeping open the possibility of a different future signals perseverance and masculinity through a commitment to finding the means to forge oneself a good life and help one’s family. By contrast, many fear that going back without achieving this would appear as merely giving up this quest and the hope it bears.

*All migrant names are pseudonyms.
The photo is by María Hernández Carretero and depicts posters advertising the services of the Concerted Immigration Company, from Canada. They offer the opportunity to continue one's studies in "France, Europe and Canada". They claim to be the "leader in the industry of permanent and student migration." It was taken on the campus of the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Brokers in the migration industry in Ghana: The positive side untold

By Emmanuel Quarshie

Despite their significant role in the migration industry, little has been said about the role of brokers. When people do focus on brokers they tend to highlight the unscrupulous behaviours of some recruitment agents. However a wide array of recruitment agencies in Ghana play roles in the management of risks among migrants and are valued as a result. A working paper by the Migrating Out of PovertyResearch Programme Consortium examined the agency role in the migration brokerage for domestic workers in Ghana.

People on the move

The relative importance of the North-South migration in Ghana has gained ground within key policy dialogue in recent times. The surge in the growth rate of Ghana’s informal sector within urban settlements has remained one of the key pull factors compelling young people to migrate from the Northern part of the country to the southern cities. Over the past few decades, the country has experienced admirable economic growth coupled with improvement in infrastructure and larger engagement in the service sector. This, in turn, has tremendously increased women’s participation in the labour force rendering them less able to participate in household production. As a result there has been a renaissance in the already existing industry which trains people (mostly migrants) to take up these abandoned domestic activities.

What do brokers do?

Brokers are key players in the migration process spanning the pre-migration, migration and post-migration periods. Trust and cultural brokerage are central to this, linking the sending and destination communities and managing the migration process. As part of their role brokers reassure the migrant’s family that their ward is in trusted hands with a high level of certainty of acquiring a good job. It is also the duty of the broker to guarantee the employer that all possible damages, time wastage or misconduct will be resolved appropriately. They also serve as guarantors for migrant workers to ensure some level of credibility and trust in their prospective employers. This can be in the form of written or unwritten agreements with a signed memorandum of understanding. As noted by one of the agencies:

“Our girls cannot mistreat our clients’ kids and they also cannot do the same to our girls. Whatever he/she damages, you, the client, should let us know and, if you want her to pay, she will work for it and pay but you cannot mistreat the person because she is your home help. She is not your slave, she is there for you and you are also there for her, so you work together.”

Alex, a broker, said:

“Yes, I am the guarantor for almost all of them and it is very risky; for most of them, it is because I know either their brother or their sister so I am able to guarantee them. With most of the girls I send to work for expatriates, the least thing that happens, I am the first person to be called, so it is very risky and I always pray that nothing bad happens. I always ensure that I talk to them about staying out of trouble, I always tell them I did not take a penny from anyone when they arrived. Instead, I fed them and paid for their transport so they should stay out of trouble. By the grace of God, nothing bad has happened.”

They also work to overcome negative and prejudiced attitudes among prospective employers.  A recruitment agency acknowledged:

“People mostly don’t trust the Ewes [the third-largest ethnic group in Ghana, mainly from the Volta region] partly because of the fear of juju (voodoo). You would be amazed at how many enlightened people will tell you that. Yes, the Ashanti girls are loud and lazy, yeah a lot of people don’t like them… People prefer Fantes, Akuapems, yeah. Central and Western regions. Oh, Akuapems are polite, do you know what I mean?”

Additionally, brokers serve as mediators for bargaining over wages, working conditions, and workers’ rights. Even though brokers can be guilty of influencing workers to accept jobs where the conditions and wages are poor, they importantly serve as an interlocuter for women in vulnerable positions with little education when they need to negotiate the terms of their employment. As stated by Margarette, from Hammani:

“You send somebody to a place and maybe the agreement was that he/she was supposed to stay at work until Friday and go away on weekends but maybe the employer will say ‘I want you to stay Saturday and Sunday’. Then we draw their attention to the fact that, in order for the person to stay on Saturday and Sunday, the employer needs to pay extra to the person. If the person doesn’t agree, the employer can’t force him or her.”

The way forward

Despite the above-mentioned roles of brokers within the migration industry, they have been generally perceived to be illegitimate and unscrupulous in their approaches to mediating between the prospective workers and employers. This is due to the presence of some non-traceable, unregistered and illegal individuals who manoeuvre their ways into the system to exploit the industry to their own advantage at the detriment of their legit cohorts. However, brokers are important elements in migrants’ strategies to exercise agency, which they would probably otherwise struggle with, given the highly unequal power relationships they face at home and also at their work destination with employers. It is therefore imperative to see the need for a more nuanced and more differentiated understanding of the role and the practices of brokers and intermediaries as they navigate the multi-faceted space in the recruitment process for migrant domestic workers. This is especially important as efforts to regulate the domestic work sector in Ghana intensify. 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Invitation to a workshop in London on gender, migration and development, 5 July

When: 5 July 2017, 09.30-13.30
Where: Christian Aid, 35-41 Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London SE1 7RL

The issue of migration is a hot topic all over the world in current times. Yet, there is a tendency to focus on the flows into Europe despite the fact that many more people remain within their continents. An extension of this focus is an undue insistence on separating legal and irregular migration, and desired and undesired migrants, when the reality of migration flows (and migrant categories) are, in fact, more mixed.

Aim of workshop: Re-focus the attention to migration beyond Europe. We will look at different forms of migration, for example labour migration, forced displacement, and adventure, and how they link with poverty reduction and development, or lack of same.

Understanding gendered and generational dimensions of these links will be at the centre of the discussion to debunk some of the myths about child migrants and migrant women, and to draw attention to social changes linked with migration that may empower women and girls and challenge power relations across generations.

We will identify gaps in the evidence needed to guide policy, programming and advocacy. We will also discuss strategies for countering the highly politicised policy processes that focus narrowly on migration flows and border control, without considering fully the many consequences of migration for migrants and those close to them.

What will we do?: The workshop is planned as a space for sharing knowledge and identifying synergies among international NGOs and researchers, with a view to establishing more durable links and collaborations. During the workshop participants have the opportunity to highlight research and learning priorities in their organisations and to discuss current and emerging issues in thematic groups. Depending on participant interests, thematic groups can focus on children and youths, internally displaced people, people affected by migration, and migrants and decent work.

Who is it aimed at?: It is a discussion that should be of interest to those working on poverty reduction, youth, and gender – whether they are migration experts or not. Our intention is to have multiple foci to share knowledge about migrants, internally displaced people, and refugees in the neighbour zones of conflicts and about the social, and highly gendered, outcomes of migration for non-migrants of different generations.

  • Dorte Thorsen and Kate Hawkins, Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium
  • Sophie Efange and Fraser Murray, Christian Aid
  • Hannah Newth and Joe Costanzo, Save the Children
  • Howard Mollett and Rebecca Gibbons, Care International

Monday, 5 June 2017

Remittances and the gendered dynamics of resource distribution in multi-local households

By Dorte Thorsen

The idea that women are more altruistic than men is common across migration and development studies, particularly when the focus is on migrants’ inclination to support the family back home or on the allocation of resources within households. What produces this difference in women’s and men’s disposition has rarely been explored by migration scholars. A new working paperin the Migrating out of Poverty series unpacks some of the ways in which gender, migration and remittances intersect with norms shaping conjugal and inter-generational relationships.

In contrast to most studies of remittances and their impact on communities of origin which relate to international migration and by implication less poor households, this study focuses on internal migration from northern Ghana to greater Accra. It captures the migration practices of poorer households and examines links between resource allocation, social standing and empowerment.

For a long time men from northern Ghana have engaged in circular migration to work temporarily in southern Ghana when rain-fed farming was insufficient to meet all their needs or they wanted to open their eyes to other ways of living. Over time migration patterns have become more diverse with some migrants settling and other categories of people beginning to migrate. Thus, it has become pertinent to explore gendered and generational dimensions of the sending and receiving of remittances.

Male responsibilities in the family

In Ghana men are constructed as heads of households and breadwinners responsible for providing the staple food needed to feed the family. This bread winning role has been a significant driver of male migration from rural communities, not least because of the persistent poverty experienced in northern Ghana.

The findings presented in the paper show that married migrant men generally meet their responsibilities to their wife/wives and children. A husband either sends remittances for consumption to his spouse if she and the children remain in northern Ghana or prioritises their needs over those of his parents if they live with him in Accra. Unmarried migrant men tend to give precedence to saving up money for larger projects such as constructing a house and marrying over sending remittances for consumption back home. Nonetheless, plenty of migrant men – married or not – show their parents gratitude and respect through the sending of remittances. Due to the transfer of cash remittances fathers of migrants are able to sustain some of their responsibilities as providers.

While it is clear from this research that remittances impact positively on men’s social standing, the analytical gaze could be extended over time and to include a broader set of productive and reproductive resources. An abundance of ethnographic studies from northern Ghana have demonstrated that men are not only responsible for the household but also for the reproduction of the lineage. As the rights in children follows the father’s lineage, household heads have a stake in their sons’ marriages. If they are unable to furnish the required bridewealth and material conditions to ensure a successful marriage for their sons, they may forego controlling their sons’ labour and what follows from it, for example remittances. In this scenario, fathers accept that the social reproduction of the lineage takes precedence over the day-to-day reproduction of the household.

Female responsibilities in multiple families

Married women are constructed as carers responsible for the day-to-day reproduction of the family, including the provision of sauce ingredients and extra staples to make the meals tasty, nutritious, and sufficient. Though women and men maintain separate economic spheres, norms about conjugality ensure that women contribute significantly to household consumption.

The findings presented in the paper reveal that when married women migrate leaving behind the husband, they often do so to make up for his shortcomings as a breadwinner. Migrant women almost never challenge the husband’s role as breadwinner by sending remittances to him. Instead they redistribute their earnings to their parents, especially if their children have been sent to live with their maternal grandparents. Unmarried migrant women regularly send goods and cash to their parents to support household subsistence and siblings’ education. Most remittances for consumption are send directly to the mother, so despite losing the labour of their daughters that would otherwise free mature women to do more farm or income generating work, mothers of migrants can expect regular but small contributions towards household consumption which might be exceed what they could earn in northern Ghana.

The paper points out that migrant women’s preference for sending remittances to their natal family is embedded in norms about pooling resources to meet consumption needs and fears that the husband will use remittances to court another woman. But it is also true that residence patterns upon marriage in northern Ghana means the young wife moves to her husband’s household, which may be part of an extended household headed by his father. Once she is there, she contributes her labour and food resources to the common good of her marital household. However, this link breaks once she migrates and while her mother may gain resources from her migration, her mother-in-law misses out.

Negotiating social statuses through remittances

The analysis explains how migrant women gain social standing and increasingly are included in decision-making processes within their natal household as a result of their contributions to the household’s well being. 

This raises interesting questions such as, would migrant women gain social standing equally in the husband’s household if they redistributed their earnings to the husband, his father or mother? The answer is, probably not. On the one hand they might be seen as mounting a critique of the husband and his family’s ability to provide, and on the other hand, their contribution might be perceived as nothing more than any wife’s responsibility. Affectionate ties may also lead migrant women to choose to consolidate their social standing in their natal household and lineage regardless of whether they are married or not. Yet, equally important, in my view, is the fact that women depend on their parents and brothers in case of marital problems or if they need assistance that the husband or in-laws do not provide. Moreover children cherish special relations with their mother’s brothers which may be of value for accessing different resources later in life. The redistribution of resources to a woman’s own kin may thus provide her and her children with more security.

Men also negotiate status and social standing through the sending, receiving or waiving of remittances. While young men ensure their transition to adulthood through marrying, they can only save up the necessary money if their father waives control over their labour. Possibly this change has repercussions on the age hierarchy because the younger generation of men become materially responsible for their own marriage from the very beginning and thus channel more resources to their own conjugal unit. As a consequence, the reproduction of the lineage may gradually undermine elderly men’s control over resources. 

Monday, 29 May 2017

“You have succeeded!” Nigerian migrant churches in China

By Heidi Østbø Haugen

“You shall be a global citizen of supernatural power!” the Nigerian pastor promised his congregants. “No matter where you are in your life this morning, there is divine increase and expansion coming up”. The crowd cheered him on, and the band started playing praise songs over his voice. Soon everyone was dancing. The scene could have been from a Sunday service in Nigeria but for the demographics:  A high number of young men betrayed that this was a migrant church.

In China because “Europe is closed”

The church was one of dozens African-run churches in the Southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, a center for Chinese production and export of manufactured goods. Nigerians have lived there since the mid-1990s. “Europe is closed,” some said to explain how they had ended up in China, a less desirable but more accessible alternative. Some Nigerians have made handsome money through exporting goods, providing logistics services, and helping people back home make purchases in China. However, many migrants lacked the capital and connections to succeed as entrepreneurs. They had come to China in the hope of finding employment, but discovered that there were no such opportunities.

Arriving in China on a business visas, Nigerian would-be factory workers soon faced a difficult choice: Return home before their visas expired or remain in China undocumented. If opting for the latter, they risked incarceration, fines, and repatriation when stopped by the police.  Yet they travelled for long distances to church on Sundaysby taxi if their funds allowed, but more commonly on public buses. What made these trips worthwhile? This question inspired my chapter in Hope and Uncertainty in Contemporary African Migration.

Immediate production of wealth

The topic of hope has been approached from two angles in the literature on African and migrant Pentecostalism. The first documents the ways in which religious engagement helps people to realize their migration projects. Pentecostal networks and theology have an instrumental value, these studies emphasize: They help people find ways to migrate and facilitate life abroad. Churches act as stabilizing forces that narrow the gaps between expectations and realities.

The second approach to hope and Pentecostalism takes rupture as its starting point. This scholarship refers to how individual desires for material wealth are intense but largely frustrated in Africa today. Charismatic pastors promise that prosperity is imminent for those who believe. Pentecostal churches emphasize immediate experience with God’s presence. Services are understood as unique events with performative power: They declare poverty dead and fortunes a fact of the present in the lives of the congregants.

Hope as method

As my ethnographic fieldwork in the Nigerian church proceeded, the weekly services started to feel repetitive. Every Sunday, a strong momentum was created to break with past misfortunes and pronounce that the desires that had inspired Nigerians to come to China were fulfilled. Yet, when I met people outside of church, nothing had improved: They were still hiding from the police and leaving phone calls from home unanswered because they had no money to send. I assessed the church services based their effectiveness in helping migrants attain their goals, and found them lacking. A reorientation was necessary to retain an open attitude. Here, I found Hirokazu Miyazaki’s (2006) The method of hope useful.

Miyazaki’s work points towards ways of studying discontinuity and maintaining the prospective orientation of hope. “The newness and freshness of the prospective moment that defines the moment as hopeful is lost as soon as hope is approached as the end point of a process,” he writes (p. 8). Instead of treating hope as a subject of knowledge, Miyazaki proposes hope as method for comprehending a future-oriented way of being in the world. Hopeful moments are ways of generating self-knowledge. Hope as method allows us to study Pentecostal practices on their own terms: The churches’ fantastic promises of wealth can be approached as a reality still in a state of not-yet. Prophesies can be appreciated for the social momentum that they produce rather than their efficacy.

Unconstrained  hope as an ideal

In the moral universe promulgated by Nigerian churches in Guangzhou, unconstrained hopes and desires for astonishing success were valued more highly than realistic aspirations for incremental improvements. The congregants understood bold prayer requests as signs of strong belief in God’s power.

African migrants passed the time by relaying stories about people who resolved tough problems in spectacular ways. Their accounts described audacious escapes from difficult situations that involved the police, customs officers, or immigration officials. Such narratives were also incorporated into the church services. For example, one pastor told the story of a migrant in China whose visa application was rejected by the British Embassy. The applicant had wept and said that he had no more hope left. The pastor had declared that the visa would be granted. Accompanied by cheers from the congregants, he described how the visa application eventually was successful:

The visa officer said ‘Why are you here?’ The man then replied ‘God said you must give me [a] visa’. The woman looked at him. ‘God has said I must give you [a] visa?’ she asked. He replied ‘Yes’. And then the woman told him ‘Come and collect your visa tomorrow!’ And he went and got the visa.

Similarly, migrants provided testimonies about being saved from deportation through supernatural intervention. A man became invisible when the police did passport checks in a trading mall. A woman was captured by the police, showed signs of violent illness, was released by scared police officers, and immediately recovered her health.

Generic promises of wealth and success made in plenary took on more concrete expressions as they were interpreted by the congregants. For example, a Kenyan woman, who lived from hand to mouth as a guide for visiting traders, planned to tap into global capital flows by buying vast amounts of land outside Nairobi and growing fresh strawberries to be airlifted to Europe. A Nigerian church member envisaged building schools that would serve as models for a better education system in his home country. These aspirations were maintained long after it was clear that life in China offered few opportunities to realize them.

Reorienting knowledge production

The “method of hope” provides a way for the researcher to reorient knowledge production so as to better understand hopeful practices. It represents a means to take religious belief seriously without explaining away its unknowable features. Pentecostal institutions provide material optimism and promises of instant blessings in times of disruption. They have proved to thrive off the contradictions they create rather than being undermined by them. There is no reason to believe that the hardship Nigerian migrants face in China will make them abandon Pentecostal faith and practices. Rather, their struggles increase the need for performing hoped-for achievements as facts of the present.

Friday, 26 May 2017

University of Sussex representatives visit our partner, the Centre for Migration Studies

Last month a six-member delegation from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom led by their new Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Tickell paid a visit to the University of Ghana. The one week visit was aimed at reviewing their existing partnerships with various units of the university and to explore new collaborations.

The Sussex team - which included  Linda Waldman (Institute of Development Studies), Peter Newell (Professor of International Relations and Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange for the School of Global Studies) and Peter Boddy (International Partnerships Officer) - visited the Centre for Migration Studies. Their aim was to learn about Migrating out of Poverty activities in Ghana and to discuss how to develop further collaboration.

The Director of the Centre, Dr Delali Badasu presented their mission, vision and objectives and also highlighted the contributions the Centre had made in influencing policy formulation in Ghana and neighbouring countries.

The Migrating out of Poverty Ghana Director, Professor Mariama Awumbila, who is also the founding Director of the Centre for Migration Studies, gave an overview of various research activities undertaken by the Centre and highlighted some of the key findings from the research.  She explained how the research had influenced national migration policies both in Ghana and the West Africa sub-region.

The Sussex team commended the Migrating out of Poverty research team on their contributions to influence the migration research agenda in Ghana and particularly on efforts to ensure research uptake by various stakeholders. 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Gendered migration and construction work in Nepal: Agency, vulnerability and welfare outcomes

By Priya Deshingkar, Anita Ghimre, and Jagannath Adhikari

Last week we held a well-attended workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal to discuss our research work on migrant labour in the construction industry. The current literature on women and migration in Nepal is limited and polarised towards accounts that construct them as victims in need of protection against sexual harassment and risks at the workplace and rarely as agents of change for their own lives and futures.

Our work explored the varied reasons for men and women’s entry into construction work as well as its outcomes for their welfare. It also addresses the issue of how gender norms and caste relations are performed, contested and (re)produced within different spaces of work and living.

The interviews we held with women showed a more complex reality than is typically portrayed in mainstream debates. It shows how women’s subjectivities in construction work are developed relationally and in the context of patriarchal and caste power systems relegating them to low-paid work and limited from upward mobility in their careers.

At the same time construction work provides an easily accessible avenue for paid work outside the home for women and this can provide a range of opportunities including earning money for fulfilling personal goals including funding one’s own education or training, establishing financial independence away from spouses, establishing one’s self in urban areas away from dysfunctional marital and kinship relations, escaping shame if they are still single beyond the age of marriage and boosting household income by pooling earnings with other family members’ earnings. Women in the indigenous communities have more freedom to migrate but in the Terai region, gender norms are more restrictive for women so they rarely migrate.

But access to paid work is not straightforward and women are in a constant process of negotiating and pushing boundaries in their quest for a better life where construction work, despite its disadvantages can provide a route out of rural drudgery. Even those women that have relatively more freedom to migrate are subject to constant scrutiny of their behaviour by female and male contractors who are watching to see if they behave like “good” women.

Physical harassment is rare but malicious gossip can force unmarried girls to return home because parents put pressure on them to come back to maintain their family honour.
Contractors (thekedar) especially those from the Terai, hold strong views about the capabilities of women and perceive them as being weak, needing constant supervision and incapable of performing skilled jobs. They are therefore reluctant to employ them. They also believe that employing women leads to unrest at work sites as men are attracted to them, through no fault of their own as women should not be outside the home anyway and explain sexual harassment in this way.

However, changes in labour market dynamics and shifts in attitudes towards female workers are being seen as more men are migrating to the Gulf, opening up opportunities in skilled work for women. There has been a gradual shift in attitudes towards female workers and now there are more women in skilled jobs even though they continue to earn less than men for equivalent work. On the plus side, they have their own income, which gives them more bargaining power and independence.
Policy is not geared to supporting migrant workers, let alone female workers. Both men and women are exposed to risks because of a lack of protective clothing, poor implementation of labour laws and lack of protection through insurance schemes. But women suffer additional hardship at worksites in accessing toilets, managing their reproductive health, and taking care of children.

We are in the process of writing up this study and papers and a policy brief will be published over the coming months. Keep an eye on the Migrating out of Poverty website and Twitter feed for further information. 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Low-skilled migration and precarious work. Where do the borders of forced migration begin and end?

We are delighted to announce that our Research Director, Priya Deshingkar, will be speaking in New Delhi next week.You can catch her on Monday 17 April at 10.30 in the Conference Hall of the Centre for Policy Research. Alternatively she is speaking later that day (15.00 - 17.30) at the Conference Room, UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office.

Click on either link for more details of how to RSVP.

In this talk, Priya Deshingkar will draw on research conducted in different locations in Africa and Asia, including India, to draw out the conditions in which low-skilled migrants are recruited and employed and the contrasting discourses on their experience. In doing so, she will highlight the often complex and contradictory outcomes of migration and the difficulties this creates for dichotomies of forced and free labour. She will also discuss the policy implications of these findings.

Priya Deshingkar is Research Director of the six-year DFID-funded Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium; Principal Investigator for the Capitalising Human Mobility for Poverty Alleviation and Inclusive Development in Myanmar (CHIME) project, and Senior Research Fellow at the School of Global Studies. Her research focuses on migration and poverty with a focus on precarious occupations, debt-migration, labour rights and agency.

As Research Director of MOOP, Priya Deshingkar has played a key role in designing and overseeing mixed methods research in five global regions: South and Southeast Asia as well as East, West and Southern Africa where she has worked closely with the Asia Research Institute in Singapore, The Centre for Migration Studies in Ghana and The African Centre for Migration and Society in South Africa. She has also developed a strand of work within the consortium on the migration industry which has resulted in path breaking research on brokerage in the migration of domestic workers in Ghana and brokerage in the migration of low-skilled construction workers from Bangladesh to Qatar.

As the Principal Investigator of the CHIME project, Priya Deshingkar has designed and led mixed methods research in four regions of Myanmar which will yield unique evidence on migration drivers and process in the country.

Priya Deshingkar holds a PhD from the Institute of Development Studies and is an internationally recognised authority on internal migration. She has played a key role in influencing the global policy discourse on internal migration and development. Her most recent book is Circular Migration and Multilocational Livelihood Strategies in India (co-edited with John Farrington, 2009).

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Risky migration: Choices of Cambodians looking for opportunities in Thailand

By Robert Nurick,

Before I migrated, I worked in the rice field and did housework, our family rice production was insufficient to feed the family in some years. We experienced rice shortages for a couple months each year. I raised pigs but had to borrow money from the private moneylender to buy pig food. The pigs died so I was unable to repay the loan and the interest. I was sinking into deeper and deeper debt so my husband and I migrated to earn money to repay the loan.

I decided to let my daughter go to work in Thailand because of our debts...Once I saw how others migrated and returned with cash I decided to let her go too. However, when she returned from Thailand the money was not enough to pay back the loan. I borrowed from the private moneylender to pay back the micro-finance loan, and then used the micro-finance loan to pay back private moneylender. I had to lie to the micro-finance agency saying that I would use the loan for doing business and buying pigs

These quotes highlight the debt-driven and precarious nature of migration from Cambodia to Thailand. The scale of migration between the counties is significant. In 2013 estimates put the number of Cambodian migrants at close to 1 million from an economically active population of 8.4 million.   

Research conducted under the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme in April/May 2015 and December 2016/January 2017 revealed the experiences of Cambodian migrants – and the challenges and opportunities that influence the choices that migrants and their families make. Sharing these findings with migrants and their families, as well as NGOs and government officials in both Cambodia and Thailand resulted in an agenda for action.

The undocumented phenomenon
Cambodians migrating to Thailand face considerable challenges in acquiring passports that would allow them to travel to Thailand unhindered and in safety. Although the ‘official’ price of a Cambodian passport is US$104 with a processing time of one month, for many Cambodians the reality is that they are expected to pay up to US$600 – the extra made up of fees for the migration agents and bribes to passport office officials – and, for the lucky ones, having to wait three months to receive their passport. The unlucky ones, of which there are many, are cheated out of the fee, never receiving the passport.

The challenges facing Cambodian migrants in securing passports are reflected in the large numbers of undocumented migrants; of the one million migrants to Thailand in 2013, those with papers numbered only 13,500.

What this means for many Cambodians is that if they want to seek work in Thailand they must do so without documents, calling on the services of informal brokers who smuggle them across the border in unpleasant and dangerous conditions. Once in Thailand they must work for employers without legal protection and with uncertainty over whether they will be paid or not.

Why take the risk?
Why do so many Cambodians take such risks to find work in Thailand? The answers lie both in Cambodia and Thailand. In Cambodia years of government neglect of rural areas and land grabs by ruling elites have led to a class of landless or near-landless families unable to make ends meet from their own farms, with little option but to look for paid work. Some work as farm labourers on commercial farms within Cambodia, others migrate to Phnom Penh and work in factories or as domestic workers. Many, however, are attracted to Thailand where the working conditions and pay are better than they experience within Cambodia, even for undocumented migrants.

In Thailand, the demand for construction workers, labour for fishing boats and commercial agriculture, that cannot be met by Thai workers who are reluctant to take such dangerous, dirty and degrading work, leads to a huge pull of workers from Cambodia. Unable to secure passports at home, these migrants are smuggled across the border by organized but informal brokers and linked up with employers. With little protection and wages less than that paid to Thai or documented migrants, employers benefit from this underpaid and overworked migrant workforce.

The Thai authorities both tolerate and clamp down on undocumented migrants. For the police undocumented migrants represent a lucrative source of income – fees are paid to police by employers to avoid migrants’ arrest and deportation; migrants are at risk of being picked up on the streets and thrown in jail.

At times of political and economic upheaval in Thailand undocumented migrants are easy targets for deflecting attention away from internal turmoil. Most recently in 2014, in the wake of the military coup in Thailand, when some 220,000 Cambodians fled Thailand over a two-week period in June that year, resulting in loss of earnings, trauma and further impoverishment for their families. Undocumented migrants continue to face risk of expulsion with 50,000 Cambodians expelled in 2016.

Agenda for action
For migrants and their families the desire to migrate in a safe and secure manner is of paramount importance. This means addressing the barriers that migrants face in securing affordable and timely passports from the Cambodian State: providing accessible information to migrants on the procedures for applying for passports; effective regulation of migration agents; and cessation of rent-seeking behaviour of government officials responsible for issuing passports.

In Thailand, much more needs to be done in providing protection to undocumented migrants: access to health care; access to schools for migrants’ accompanied children; and labour protection in the workplace.

The current priority of the Thai government is to ensure all migrant workers have documents by 2022. This will require a much greater degree of cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia with a focus on migrant protection.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Motility and gendered capital in household decisions about migration

By Dorte Thorsen
The consequences of global politics of migration for poverty reduction can only be understood if we consider the capacity of individuals - and of entire households - to capitalise on migration, argues a new working paper inthe Migrating out of Poverty series. The paper disputes simplistic dichotomies of being mobile and able to migrate or immobile and stuck at home as parameters of how households contend with poverty.

Households that engage in labour migration do not necessarily choose between costly transnational migration with potential for higher incomes and inexpensive internal migration with low financial potential. Individuals may travel to transnational destinations at one or more points in their life time and to national locations offering good employment prospects at other times. Different household members may become migrants in a succession or at the same time.

Livelihood strategies involving migration have consequences that go beyond economic benefits. Research in the Ponorogo District in East Java, Indonesia demonstrates how the politics of migration globally and locally filter into household relations and gradually begin to unsettle inequalities in conjugal relations.

Motility and the politics of migration
An increasing body of literature addresses the effect of migration regimes on migration flows, global employment, temporalities in labour migration, documented and undocumented migration. This working paper presents a timely contrast to the focus in most studies on law-making, the industry that has developed to facilitate or deter migration, and individual migrants’ trajectories. Using Kaufmann, Bergman and Joye’s notion of motility the authors analyse how social structures at different scales intersect and, in turn, shape intra-household decisions about migration.

Motility captures the intricate ways in which spatial and social mobility is shaped by access to migration and to the means that bestow social mobility upon the migrating individual, migrant households, communities or networks. The notion of motility also takes into account differences in the competency to capitalise on access and in the assessment of which options are the most suitable for meeting the aspirations motivating migration.

All components of motility are gendered, so to move beyond stereotypes of the male migrant or more recent concerns about the feminisation of migration, it is crucial to understand how gendered capital influence household decisions about migration.

Gendered capital
The Indonesian case study illustrates the myriad of ways that gendered capital is established and feeds into motility. Local norms and national legislation give men prerogative in decisions and identify them as breadwinners. As a result, men often choose to be the ones going abroad to meet their responsibilities within the family. Yet, gender differentiated access to transnational migration changes over time. Men’s access to migration is circumscribed by age limits imposed by destination countries and the upfront costs of migration, obliging many male migrants to opt for destinations considered less desirable.

Married women are constructed as housekeepers, wives and mothers. Their migration is contingent on their husband’s approval by law, just as it was contingent on their parents’ approval before marriage. This institutionalisation of the subordinate role of women would curtail their access to migration if the global labour market did not privilege the migration of Indonesian women into care work. Thus, women’s access to transnational migration has increased in recent decades because they move within a system of debt financed migration with little upfront payment, if any.

Age also affect women’s access to migration but as a contrast to male migrants it is not tied to restrictions in the global labour market but to reproductive concerns. It is not having children that shrinks their access to migration, though giving birth and nursing infants may do so temporarily, it is the time when grandmothers grow too old and fragile to take care of the children. At this point, internalised ways of thinking about appropriate behaviour for women affect the assessment of suitable options and tacitly shrink their access to migration.

Intra-household decisions about migration
An individual’s motility often has repercussions for the motility of other household members. The spouse of a migrant, for example, may be immobilised to the extent of staying at home to take care of children or elderly parents. Immobility is not the inevitable outcome however; a spouse of a transnational migrant may migrate internally or to another transnational location. Thus one individual’s motility can shrink other household members’ access to migration fully or partially. However, an individual’s motility can also increase the access to migration through financing the journey or facilitating employment and the necessary papers. Enabling undertakings may be across generations, as when parents’ migration facilitate access for a son or a daughter, or across conjugal units, as when young migrants furnish access for a sister- or brother-in-law married into the same household.

Decisions about whose migration to support reflect households’ capacity to capitalise on migration for mutual benefit. Husbands and wives may discuss what will be best for the household and what is possible given the politics of migration, the ability to meet recruitment costs and the needs for different types of labour within the household. While the economics of migration may be assessed explicitly, the long-term effect of a household’s motilities on intra-household dynamics is very subtle.
Female return migrants find it difficult to readjust to the institutionalised and lived subordination prior to migration. Even when they conform publicly to the established positions that privilege men’s prerogative in decision-making, in private they do not accept being completely dependent on the husband again.

It is clear from this research that women’s gendered capital is growing due to the demands in the global labour market and that this growth has granted young women a much more prominent role in enabling other household members, including their spouse, to access transnational migration. The active facilitation of access and the multiple periods of working abroad will inevitably impact on household dynamics in the future in ways that empower Indonesian women and change their social position. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Songs of hope

By Jesper Bjarnesen

The force of music to move, inspire, and comfort is difficult to underestimate but also challenging to describe without abusing old clichés or repeating the slogans of radio stations and record producers everywhere. But the obvious appeal of music did inspire my chapter in Hope and Uncertainty in Contemporary African Migration to some extent. As immigration once more has become a political minefield in so many parts of the world, I wanted to use music as an entry point for exploring the hopes and aspirations of involuntary migrants in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso in southwestern Burkina Faso. I try to show how a particular genre of Ivorian pop music became central to young immigrants for articulating a collective sense of worth in the face of exclusion and hostility.

Displacement in the context of the Ivorian armed conflict
During the decade 2000-2010, Burkina Faso received hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as one million, of its citizens who fled persecution and armed aggression in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire. As an enduring political conflict became increasingly militarised, Burkinabe labour migrants in Côte d’Ivoire found themselves at particular risk, being labelled by nationalist rhetoric as the scapegoats for the growing financial and political crisis. Côte d’Ivoire has been one of the region’s strongest economies for decades and has attracted generations of labour migrants from its poorer neighbours. It is estimated that more than three million Burkinabe citizens still live in Côte d’Ivoire, in spite of the recent armed conflict.

You might expect the return of Burkinabe labour migrants to their country of origin to be a straightforward trajectory – the natural and expected end of a cyclical movement – but during the armed conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, the overwhelming numbers of involuntary returns did pose challenges to local communities and authorities in Burkina Faso. In both urban and rural settings, the mass arrivals of returnees put pressure on housing and livelihood, in the virtual absence of state support. These situations created tensions, which brought out the ambivalence with which non-migrants perceived of the new arrivals.

Involuntary migrants in Bobo-Dioulasso
This ambivalence was particularly palpable in relation to young adult returnees. Born and raised in Côte d’Ivoire, these children of Burkinabe labour migrants had usually grown up with little or no appreciation of their parents’ origins, and they arrived in Burkina Faso speaking French with an Ivorian accent, and with rudimentary knowledge of the local languages, at best. The perceived “Ivorian” behaviour, dress, and language of young adult returnees became the target of much gossip and critique. On the hand, those who had not (yet) undertaken the journey to Côte d’Ivoire themselves saw in the returnees the alluring image of the regional metropole of Abidjan. On the other hand, young adult returnees were perceived as matter-out-of-place; neither genuinely Ivorian nor truly Burkinabe. The newcomers were criticised for being show-offish and arrogant, and for having forgotten about their roots in Burkina Faso.

Faced with the hostility of their neighbours, young adult migrants quickly found a sense of community with other migrants and many of them came to internalise the images of them projected by non-migrants – of representing the urban youth culture of Côte d’Ivoire and being more outspoken and cosmopolitan than local youths. This subcultural style became known as “Diaspo”, referring to the young migrants’ origins in the Burkinabe diaspora in Côte d’Ivoire. One important aspect of being Diaspo was your preference for Ivorian music and this is how Zouglou music gained a new prominence in places like Bobo-Dioulasso.

Generation Zouglou
Of all the different genres of Ivorian popular music, it is quite surprising that Zouglou became the style through which the Diaspos in Bobo-Dioulasso expressed their newfound sense of community and reflected on their hopes, dreams, and predicaments. Zouglou was originally a light form of satirical entertainment, invented by university students in Abidjan in the early 1990s. Within a few years, Zouglou expanded into several different subgenres, with groups such as Magic System marketing a more danceable version to a global audience, and artists like Siréet Yodé developing a style directed more towards Ivorian listeners. Although even the narrower versions were marketed through music videos as dance music, Zouglou kept its image as representing a more reflective genre on the Ivorian music scene, with songs treating the everyday concerns of social and political life in Côte d’Ivoire, and in the financial capital of Abidjan in particular.

What made Zouglou an unlikely preference for the Diaspos in Bobo-Dioulasso was the way in which the Ivorian elite gradually reappropriated Zouglou music in Côte d’Ivoire. By the end of the 1990s, Ivorian politics became increasingly centred on the issue of immigration and the authorities exploited local grievances over the access to cultivable land to incite xenophobic violence, blaming the so-called “strangers” for the country’s declining economy. Burkinabe labour migrants, the largest group of foreign citizens in Côte d’Ivoire, were particularly targeted. Zouglou artists generally refrained from taking part in the xenophobic rhetoric of the regime but instead chose to forward appeals for reconciliation and solidarity to both sides in the increasingly divided political landscape, or to stay away from politics and address other themes in their lyrics. This non-committing attitude towards the rising tensions, incidentally, served the ruling elite well, as President Gbagbo and his inner circle began promoting Zouglou music on local TV and radio stations to downplay the atrocities they were committing and the violence they were inciting.

Zouglou and Hope
Despite its affiliation with the very regime that caused their displacement from Côte d’Ivoire, the Diaspos in Bobo-Dioulasso valued Zouglou music more than any other genre of Ivorian music. Zouglou made you think, they would say, and instil the strength and confidence that set the Diaspos apart from local youths. Zouglou inspired a sense of hopefulness in the face of adversity, in part from its lyrics and in part from the act of listening to the music with others, commemorating their shared origins in Côte d’Ivoire and affirming their sense of community in Burkina Faso.As Hirokazu Miyazaki has suggested, hope can be understood as a method for inspiring social action. To the Diaspos, Zouglou became a vehicle for this kind of inspiration.

This blog draws on Jesper’s chapter, ”Zouglou Music and Youth in Urban Burkina Faso. Displacement and the Social Performance of Hope”. Jesper is based at The Nordic Africa Institute.