The African diaspora consists of two groups ; the first one was created by slave trade which involved people of African ancestry being sold as slaves and transported across oceans. The second group was created by Colonialism. In this case, migration may have been provoked either directly or indirectly by experiences and ramifications of colonialism. Both the voluntary and involuntary movement of Africans to Asia, Europe and Americas constitutes the greatest migration of people recorded in modern history. The exact number of Africans who were shipped overseas through trans-Atlantic slave trade is debated however it has been estimated that the number could range between 10 and 18 million. When it comes to trans- Saharan slave trade which lasted for 17 centuries but is understudied it has been estimated that 10 million Africans were taken as slaves.
The word ‘diaspora’ is a Greek word for ‘dispersal’ or ‘scattering’. The term ‘African diaspora’ came into use in the 60s at the zenith of the ‘black consciousness movement’. The concept could however have emerged with the inception of slave trade and by the 19th century the concept had been elaborated in one form or another by black people abroad, especially in the American continents. The concept of African Diaspora maintains that in spite of the physical separation and geographical distance of continental Africans and their descendants abroad, the cultural, religious and ideological bonds between the two groups remained strong. The idea of African Unity so clearly manifested in the Pan-Africanist movement, and the desire on the part of Africans and their descendants abroad to return to Africa, the homeland.
It is key to note that the two layers of the Diaspora relate differently with the continent. Elliot P. Skinner discussed in detail the differences between the diaspora communities. Skinner notes that ever present in the minds of Africans, especially those arriving in the Americas during the period of the slave trade, was the dream of returning home. Skinner also observes that the majority of blacks never considered a return to Africa, but they nonetheless considered themselves Africans.
With the difference between members of diaspora in mind, the African Union (AU) engaging the African Diaspora would be a positive step for the socioeconomic development of Africa. But how to leverage the first layer of the African diaspora (those transported via slavery and slave trade) is still a question to be answered. For we know that the second layer of African diaspora send a lot of financial and social remittance back home.
The early modern world system heralded division of labor and production on three Continents- Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Europe seeded the initial capital that launched the early modern system. The Americas became the center of production and Africa supplied the labor. Given the silence of African voices and transcripts in the traditional historical archives, historical archaeology with its emphasis on the combination of material records and words, both written and oral, is invaluable in formulating new questions and answers not only on how Africans contributed to the foundation of the modern era but also on the impact it had on their daily lives, cultural development, and the shaping of their ‘African Character’. This in other words tell us that there is huge human capital deposit available among the first layer of the African Diaspora which can be very useful for Africa’s development if a proper road map is constructed.
Since the 80s, historiography has turned to the transatlantic perspective in explaining the role of Africans in the development of the modern world. Archaeologists have also been attuned to establishing transatlantic dialogues, although with primary interest in establishing cultural continuities between Africa and the Diaspora in the Americas and the rest of the world. Therefore, not only does the transatlantic scholarly perspective provide a truly global dimension of African experiences over the Atlantic but also shows that there is potential to bring about a fuller understanding of the present socioeconomic conditions of the AU by engaging the Diaspora.
One may argue that the hindrance to Africa’s current socioeconomic development began through the introduction of Africa into the International Market Economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as this ushered in fundamental changes in the economic lives of people. These changes included a shift in the way land was used and changes in outlook and socio-economic priorities.
Additionally, leadership models of African countries adopted the western philosophy of economic, social and political organization of society. Africa is rife with models derived in and designed for Western societies. Most if not all the models have failed to effect the anticipated elevation of living standards of the people. Economic and social indicators for African States attest to this unfortunate fact as most of the sub-Saharan African states are in the World Bank’s lowest income bracket category. This subverts the strength of the African Diaspora’s engagement the AU and other regional and continental unions.
To conclude, African Diaspora Agencies abroad have been working as instruments to fight against the wrong political influence that the West still exerts on post-colonial Africa. Even though effectively engaging both layers of diaspora has not been possible, the layer of the diaspora from the colonial aftermath sends remittance back home. The first layer of diaspora needs to be used by the AU and others to leverage what they have to offer.
Featured image | Trans-Atlantic trade shackle | ZekethePhotographer | wikimedia commons
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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