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

This project examines 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 investigates how practices of citizenship among emerging diasporas constitute political belonging, to the homeland but also the host land and the transnational social field. In a further step, the project investigates what forms of political engagement may emerge from such practices. The project seeks 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 pays 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 focuses on the Horn of Africa as a case study region, and in doing so expand on understandings of the Horn as a laboratory of out-migration and (homeland) political engagement. In concrete, the project will focus 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 builds on findings from the literature on established diasporas and makes an innovative new contribution to this literature through its distinct focus on emerging diasporas in key urban settings in the wider region.


The project is being led by PI Prof Tanja Müller in collaboration with Dr Oliver Bakewell, and partners at the Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA) in Addis Ababa, the African Migration and Development Policy Centre (AMADPOC) in Nairobi, and the Department of Anthropology, University of Khartoum. The project employs a postdoctoral research associate, Dr Mesghina Abraha, who will carry out the bulk of in-country fieldwork. The project started on 1 February 2020 and will last until 31 January 2023. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.


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 will also provide important insights for policy-making and practice in relation to migration issues, including in the spheres of community development and integration. Findings will also be 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.

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