In February, the International Institute at the University of Michigan held a full-day conference on the topic of migration across the world. The conference highlighted several important themes ranging from the causes and effects of migration to the cultural production and political ramifications of migrancy. The African Studies Center (ASC) is one of the programs and centers that co-sponsored this event and had three scholars discussing the implications of migration from an African perspective. 

ASC Associate Jatin Dua (U-M, Anthropology) spoke about Somali piracy in his presentation Encounters at Sea: Migration and Mobility in the Indian Ocean. Dua’s work evocatively discussed the practice and politics of mobility—touching on issues such as migrancy, piracy, shipping, and identity throughout his presentation. Dua showed how the dhow, a shipping vessel that was used to navigate the Indian Ocean before, during, and after colonialism, can be studied to reveal broader historical themes. Among these themes, Dua highlighted issues of geopolitics, sovereignty, and ‘capture’ as key theoretical and empirical avenues of knowledge generation made possible through his ethnographic work. 

UMAPS alum Francis Bwambale (Makerere University), who is currently based in South Africa as a regional coordinator with the International Organization for Migration, spoke about Migration and HIV: Trends, Data Challenges, and Opportunities for Sub-Saharan Africa. His work highlighted the need for scholars and policymakers to understand that migration is an inevitable occurrence across all people and countries, rather than a problem to be solved. His work on African migration shows that economic incentives remain the principal reasons that people migrate, often across inter-regional boundaries. The ethical implications underpinning migration, and responses to it deserve critical and immediate attention.

Brandon Finn, a Harvard PhD candidate who works with ASC served as the discussant for the ‘Countering Narratives’ panel. Finn highlighted the need to question certain assumptions that have long been present in the scholarly literature on migration. He also discussed the importance of reassessing our assumptions about rural-urban migration in Africa, as well as bounded notions of the ‘city’ or the ‘nation.’