Transnational lived citizenship: Practices of citizenship as political belonging among emerging diasporas in the Horn of Africa

This project examined how diaspora populations establish different forms of political belonging orientated towards their homeland, their current place of residence, and across a wider transnational social field.

It investigated how practices of citizenship among emerging diasporas, or migrants who are in the near-abroad, through everyday actions in urban centres, constitute political belonging. In a further step, the project investigated what forms of political engagement may emerge from such practices. The project sought to re-conceptualise the notion of transnational lived citizenship by examining the multiple ways in which home-state, residence-state, communities, and diasporic actors interact in local urban spaces. In doing so, the project payed particular attention to the extent to which the nation-state remains or ceases to remain a decisive arena of aspired citizenship and political belonging, and how such belonging is created, performed and contested in everyday practices.

Geographically, the project focused on the Horn of Africa as a case study region, and in doing so expanded on understanding of the Horn as a laboratory of out-migration and (homeland) political engagement. In concrete, the project focused on post-1991 Eritrean and Ethiopian diasporas residing in the wider region. In both settings, homeland state politics have been proactively involved with diasporas. The project built on findings from the literature on established diasporas and made an innovative new contribution to this literature through its distinct focus on emerging diasporas in key urban settings in the wider region or the near-abroad.


The project was led by PI Prof Tanja Müller. It also included Dr Oliver Bakewell, as well as partners at the African Migration and Development Policy Centre (AMADPOC) in Nairobi, the Department of Anthropology at theUniversity of Khartoum, and CEDEJ Khartoum. The project started on 1 February 2020 and ended on 31 May 2024. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Like all research, the project was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and this partly altered the empirical research design. Two first Open Access publications on Covid-19 impact on transnational lived citizenship were published in the journal Global Networks and the IDS Bulletin respectively. 


In offering an in-depth account of, and providing the conceptual tools to understand, how these emerging diaspora communities experience and perform political belonging in key urban spaces, the project also provided important insights for policy-making and practice in relation to migration issues, including in the spheres of community development and integration. Findings are equally relevant to homeland actors who engage with diaspora, as well as diaspora communities themselves, and the project has the potential to transform the understanding of relationships between different organs of home states and citizens abroad, not least through its combined focus of analysis of the homeland, the hostland and transnational spaces, and the flows between them.


The project held a first dissemination workshop in Khartoum on 9th and 10th November 2022. The workshop looked at 'Transnational Lived Citizenship: practice of citizenship as political belonging among emerging diasporas in the Horn of Africa'. In addition to the project team, the workshop was attended by academics working on similar issues but with different migrant groups in the region, as well as key staff from the Commission of Refugees in Sudan and other local stakeholders. Reüresentatives of the Ethiopian and Eritrean diaspora communities also actively participated, as did Masters students from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Khartoum.

The project held a second dissemination workshop in Nairobi on 22-23rd February 2023. This workshop focused on engagement with civil society and government organisations, thus was a more policy centred workshop. It was organised in six sessions on the following themes: Belonging in urban neighbourhoods; Transnational connections; Responses to Crisis; Interactions between state, NGOs and migrant communities; forms of political engagement; and future of citizenship. After the workshop, the project team and Dr Linda Oucho from AMADPOC arranged a meeting with Ethiopian diaspora communities to discuss project findings and hear their views.

The final dissemination event was held in Manchester with one key focus on theoretical contributions. 

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Key findings

Key findings of the project

The project contributed first to the call to re-theorise transnational citizenship practices as a specific form of political belonging going beyond the nation-state but at the same time intimately linked to it. Second, it provided comparative empirical data on concrete citizenship practices and the forms of political belonging these generate. This makes the contribution to theory intimately linked with an empirical investigation. Third, it focused on emerging diaspora in key urban settings in the Global South, cities more generally being seen as important sites for a reconfiguration of citizenship practices. Fourth, through having provided a thorough understanding of how emerging diaspora exercise transnational lived citizenship, a detailed understanding of the ambivalent loyalties that often characterise migrant lives has become visible, as a response to crises but also more generally. This has also been linked to the literature in liminal legality in cities of residence, and to how such liminality determines everyday practices of lived citizenship and belonging.

Ultimately, the key findings enforce a focus that also underpins the lived-citizenship literature: It is vital to understand and analyse the tensions that characterise migrant struggles in cities all over the world, and from there think creatively about localised solutions within a transnational social field where migrant rights are increasingly threatened.


Two first Open Access publication on Covid-19 impact on transnational lived citizenship have been published in the journal Global Networks and the IDS Bulletin, respectively.