The Young Soninke: A Brief History on African Immigration.

PrintMigration has played a significant role in African’s history. At first the departures were not aimed at Europe but occurred internally, from state to state. The main destinations for West Africans were Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Central Africa. African interstate migration still makes up two thirds of the total amount, and is directed at oil producing countries such as Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, where ‘black gold’ still deludes despite raids and deportations. Nevertheless Africa’s relationship with European borders has significantly contributed to shaping the fate of the continent. According to the International Organisation for Migration, thousands of Africans are among the 700,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean to land in Europe in 2015.


For many African cultures, immigration to Europe is perceived as an initiatory act; a somewhat rite of passage that transforms boys into men. Many Africans, leave the protection of their father’s home, travel through the perilous deserts of Libya and Morocco, confront the realities of the world, to return and enrich ones’ group in what they have learned abroad. The Soninkes, a cross border community living between Senegal, Mali and Mauritania are a people who have embraced the social mobility of migration since the 8th Century. Each month, Soninke migrants send money back to their families in Africa. A Soninke village in Diawara, is noted for its luxurious residents. Houses are comfortably kitted out with television sets, refrigerators and air conditioning; a world away from Dakar, a rural area just 800 kilometres away, where poverty affects 70% of the population.


Migrant Boat Deaths 01Africa’s access to European economies was once nurtured by the early immigration policies of countries like France. More than 50% of the population in the Soninke village in Diawara are French. From the 1970’s the booming economies of European countries needed labour to fill unskilled jobs. The black dustbin workers of Paris became a popularised image. Until the mid-1980s, there was no need for a national of the former French colonies to have a visa to enter France. In this freedom of movement, the flow of people was constant. Economic crisis closed up European borders but migrants to still find illegal and ulterior ways of reaching the rich north.


Senegal fisherman, smuggling adventurers over the Mediterranean was at its peak in 2007. Stories of thousands drowning or being ill-treated by immigration enforcement officers have become the norm. Yet despite the dangers and the efforts to control borders, migrants still manage to migrate. And in light of the recent Syrian refugee crisis it leaves many to question: when it comes to immigration, who is actually in control? Is it the enforcers or the violators? I suspect that the young Soninke believes that he is in control of his own fate, even if that fate is a fatalistic one.


The Immigrant by Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor is a provocative play that will be performed on Sunday 3rd July at Africa Writes 2016, the UK’s biggest annual literature and book festival taking place at The British Library. The play explores what the world would look like if Africa was the most powerful continent in the World. Set in 2116, Oliver, a Brit seeking asylum in the African Union is in detention, where he pleads his case to Usman, an African border official, who isn’t fond of immigrants. What ensues is a battle of words and stories neither is truly prepared for. Sometimes what we think of as our truths are also our lies.

£8/ £6/ £5 BOOK NOW 

By Kelechi Iwumene.


  • Africa and the Drama of Immigration, by Tidiane Kasse, Editor of the French Edition of Pambazuka News.

Picture Credit:

  • West African House Painting, Pinterest
  • Illegal immigration city hubs and routes, Europol
  • The Deadly Mediterranean,