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"Diasporas," Mobility and the Social Imaginary: Getting Ahead in West Africa (Celebrating CHANGE, DEFINING THE FUTURE: SOCIAL JUSTICE, DEMOCRACY AND CULTURAL RENEWAL)

Journal of Third World Studies 2010, Spring, 27, 1

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INTRODUCTION The nature of African mobility has undergone significant shifts in the past five centuries, though still framed by global--more specifically western, capitalist--political economies. The era of Atlantic slave trade witnessed the circulation of African bodies and the creation of an African Diaspora. It was colonial rule that effectively ended slave trade and slavery in Africa, substituting a trade in commodities for the trade in people. Primary exports became the valuable output from colonial Africa, and African mobility was limited to colonial and regional migrant labor. Old African trading Diasporas such as the Hausa underwent a gradual decline with colonial boundaries and commercial competition from expatriate businesses. These expatriate businesses included those of the Lebanese, who migrated to West Africa in increasing numbers from the 1860s. There were episodic moments when large numbers of Africans became extremely mobile, for example those that served in colonial armies during the two World Wars and saw action in Europe and Asia. Their return to their home colonies energized nationalist sentiment and activity. A few colonized Africans went to Europe and North America for higher education and returned to lead these nationalist movements. Postcolonial Africa has occasioned a new era of African mobility characterized by economic migration, and refugee flows from conflicts and natural disasters. It cannot be disputed, then, that the last century has witnessed large scale voluntary mobility for Africans; and individual Africans, African governments and governments outside of Africa have mobilized to harness, define and limit these flows according to their strategic interests.