A new look at African migration

November 1st, 2016   |   SIT Study Abroad

SIT Study Abroad-Morehouse partnership takes a global view of new African diasporas

In spring 2017, SIT Study Abroad offers a globe-spanning new program: New African Diasporas. The “old” diasporas of Africa were driven by slavery and colonialism, the new ones by economic opportunity and, sometimes, escaping war, explains Mansa Bilal King, Morehouse College professor and faculty member for the new program.

New African Diasporas (NAD) is a collaboration between SIT and Morehouse, with grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program.

The program aims to help students answer big questions about the economics and culture of African migration. It begins at Morehouse College in Atlanta, with coursework and visits to African communities in the region. Then it’s off to Senegal for several weeks where students will get to know the culture of Senegal – particularly that of the Muslim Murid Brotherhood – via classes, Wolof language study and homestays in Dakar and Touba.

Murid culture has spread much farther afield, however. After Senegal, the NAD program moves to Turin, Bergamo, and Pontevico, Italy, to get to know the Murids who have settled there. The Chinese Murid community is next; students will meet entrepreneurs and community members in Guangzhou’s “Little Africa” neighborhood. The program concludes with a visit to New York City’s Murid community.

The Murids are an intriguing example of African culture gone global. “The Murid community abroad is self-sufficient,” says King. “There’s lots of entrepreneurship, and they’re integrating well. The community is very cohesive.”

In part, that’s thanks to the traditional Murid view of work. “Work is a very important theme in the program,” says Program Director Souleye Diallo, a native of Senegal.

Murid communities are rooted in a religious culture that’s part of a 1,000-year-old tradition of non-violence, and one that values labor. “Work is a worship,” says King.

That idea pairs particularly well with another Murid value. “One teaching of the founder of Muridism is to go fetch knowledge,” says Diallo.

It has therefore become common for Murids to live abroad and send the financial fruits of their labor back home to Senegal.

“This is not only an adventure, but a way to learn [by looking] deeper into cultures,” says Senegal Country Coordinator Papa Bouna Fall. “Africa is portrayed as a gloomy place — this is an opportunity to see a different Africa.”

This isn’t the first time SIT has looked at the African diaspora. SIT Study Abroad student Mamasa Camara’s independent study project (ISP) examined the relatively new phenomenon of African migration to China, focusing on how “economics, immigration policy, and race ideology have affected the multiple African identities and their construction of community in a Chinese social context.” Camara’s research, undertaken as part of the China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities program, went on to win SIT’s first Undergraduate Research Award.

The New African Diasporas program runs Jan. 5 through April 17, 2017. Applications are now being accepted; the deadline is Oct. 1, 2016. To find out more, visit the program web page.