West African Migration Stories

West African Migration Stories tells the histories of migrants across borders in West Africa in their own words. Focusing on migrants in an area known as southern Senegambia, this project highlights stories from Gambia, southern Senegal, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau. From the 1950s to the 1980s, this was a region with substantial migration and upheaval. While some academics have highlighted the migration spurred from political and economic challenges, as well as violence, they have mostly focused on a small number of elite migrants, or those who moved to urban areas. Most migrants, for example, fleeing the violence of the Guinea-Bissau war for independence, moved relatively short distances across the border to wherever was closest. They often built these migrations around previously existing networks based on kinship ties.

I prefaced the interview transcripts with brief descriptions that contextualize people’s migrations into their larger lives. While many fled from one country to another, they had full lives in both countries before and after their migration. Many have maintained ties with their previous homes even in cases when people fled because of violence or threat of persecution. Some of these stories are tragic, while others tell of the quotidian nature of migration. In fact, the larger project these interviews come from focuses more on the everyday reasons for migration and less on the bigger events that led to large numbers of migrants moving.

The project also contains a series of short essays that contextualize each of the themes of movement, as well as an essay that puts these three themes into the wider perspective of migration in the region. These essays are designed for the lay reader, who may have minimal knowledge of African history. However, they will still be useful for more advanced consumers. This project can serve as a pedagogical tool for African historians in their classroom, to get an idea about individual people’s stories in the context of twentieth century African history. Oftentimes African history courses focus on primary sources written by elites, because those are the ones that have survived. /West African Migration Stories/can counteract this prevalence and get at the struggles and movement of Africans in the context of a changing world, covering both the late colonial and early post-colonial periods.

Dave Glovsky

2018-2019 CHI Grad Fellow Cohort

PhD Candidate, Department of History