African Social Dynamics

This site was created within the framework of the research project: African societies facing global dynamics: Turbulences between external intervention, migration, and food insecurity (project reference: PTDC/AFR/104597/2008)

 The project is conducted by group of researchers, with a common interest in social transformations in African societies. The proponent institution was the Centro de Estudos Africanos, CEA-ISCTE.IUL, Lisbon, Portugal. The project aims at identifying and analysing the impact of global dynamics on african societies.

What is the research problem?

Global dynamics condition the dynamics of African (agrarian) societies. The big question is how. Currently there is no theoretical and methodological framework that allows understanding the cumulative effects of external intervention that affect Sub-Saharan societies.

External and internal dynamics interact in a grey zone where all kinds of in- and outflows with different origins, directions, flow-rates, pulses, bottlenecks, formats and substance produce an ensemble of ever changing turbulences that engage the dynamics of the societies (Atteslander 1995). These irregular, non-linear flows comprise energy, information, money, people, and material (Wöhlke 1996). These dissipative structures condition, simultaneously, developmental dynamics of growth as well as of disintegration and collapse (Schiefer 2002). This grey zone of flows, blockades and turbulences and their effects on societies constitutes the research object.

Food and migration are crucial bundles of flows, intertwined and linked to many others. Rapid changes of parameters (e.g. food prices, migration policies) allow insights into their inner workings. Food security, a classic area of (mostly failed) development and humanitarian intervention is strongly affected by global trade. Migration shows growing outflows as well as inflows (remittances and re-migration). Both are under severe stress – with very dismal outlooks.

Despite rapid urbanisation, the vast majority of Africans is still located in or connected to agrarian environments. Internal and external “drivers of change” transform agrarian sectors within the bigger context of political and economic change. Livelihood dynamics incorporated into global spheres of influence through trade and migration become ever more complex (Batterbury 2007). Food security operates basically through food production, distribution and access, a smaller part inside the subsistence economy and the bigger part through different (and often quite distorted) markets (Temudo & Schiefer 2004). Food insecurity has increased since 1970. It threatens not only specific groups like poor rural households, urban poor, and victims of conflict, but growing parts of all societies. Even farmers are often net importers of food. Rising food prices may not lead to increased production, given farmers’ difficulties in access to resources, labour and markets. Many societies depend on external assistance, with its own negative consequences. Whole countries are in danger of political destabilization and internal conflict.

Rural-urban migration concentrated more than half of the population in urban centres. Many migrants in cities are cut off from agrarian production and social ties, but find no new opportunities. Political as well as economic turbulences lead to strong migration flows. International migration is increasingly difficult, expensive and risky. Flows of remittances divert labour from food production. Scarce funds are used to accelerate mobility, not to increase production. A growing number of migrants fails, is forcefully returned, or is stranded and trapped in transit zones.