We are currently working on "Done Waiting" an edited volume that highlights the results of this research project. Please see the following overview for more detailed information regarding our outcomes and this future publication.


Done Waiting:

When African States Fail to Deliver, Afripolitans are Stepping In

Despite six decades of state-led and international efforts to make healthcare services available to all, many millions of Africans still lack access to even the most basic healthcare services. While wealthier people in most African countries now have ready access to sophisticated networks of public and private healthcare facilities and the very latest medical technologies, many of their rural-based kin live inconceivably far from even the most basic primary healthcare services. Folks in remote rural areas who still rely upon the roots, barks and leaves of their ancestors, but who are desperate to access the promises of biomedical care, have been waiting and waiting for their governments to bring sorely needed healthcare services to their communities. But now, with the help of their kin who live and work abroad, many are done waiting.

Based upon four years of collaborative, multi-sited research, Done Waiting presents ten ethnographically rich case studies highlighting the uber-networked, often frenetic, and always inspirational lives of transnational, deterritorialized cosmopolitans, “Afripolitans,” who are giving back in significant ways to their communities of origin in Africa. The case studies are from two migratory linkages: between predominately Christian, Anglophone Ghana and the United States, and between predominately Muslim, Francophone Senegal and France. “Afripolitans,” according to the author who coined the term, “are the newest generation of African emigrants. The African young people working and living in cities around the globe; they belong to no single geography, but feel at home in many.” They are dynamic, highly entrepreneurial polyglots who are globally networked and driven to excel. To be sure, not all Afripolitans are young, nor are all Afripolitans engaged in efforts to give back to their home communities. But those who do, the humanitarian Afripolitans, are navigating vastly different worlds to bring vitally needed resources and skills to their ancestral villages and towns in Africa. Using all the tools of the ethnographic toolkit, Done Waiting presents their stories, often in their words, to contribute much needed qualitative data to the growing literature on remittances and diaspora public giving.

Afripolitans have become the target of much recent United Nations and World Bank attention focused upon leveraging the resources and skills of Africans in the diaspora. The international institutions call the efforts of Afripolitans “diasporas for development,” and in the wake of the global economic downturn and diminishing aid dollars, they are pressing hard for more of this form of development engagement. Yet, much of this enthusiasm for mobilizing diasporas for development rests with intuitively compelling, though seriously under-examined, assumptions about the motives, experiences, and capabilities of diaspora individuals and groups.

Those engaged in giving back to their home communities, the Afripolitans themselves, do not tend to speak in terms of development. Rather, they say they are fulfilling obligations and acting in solidarity with their kin and the communities they left behind in Africa. Regardless of the size or magnitude of their efforts—to bring medical equipment and ambulances, organize medical mission trips, or build clinics or hospitals—the Afripolitans engaged in this work confront obstacles at many levels in both their home and host countries. They also face myriad, often nuanced, social challenges which force them to address, for example, wavering allegiances, divergent notions of leadership and accountability, and the uneasy nexus between indigenous and modern conceptions of health and healing. Very few among them have had any training in community needs assessment, program design and implementation, or financial management. They lament that they are “winging it,” re-inventing the wheel each step of the way. As yet, formal mechanisms for diaspora individuals and groups to share their experiences and learn from one another do not exist. Nonetheless, as the case studies reveal in ways that are rarely captured in more quantitatively-based research, Afripolitans are using their ingenuity and personal resources to fill in where home governments have failed to deliver.

However, the efforts of Afripolitans are not always received or perceived positively. For this reason, the authors of Done Waiting consider why Afripolitans are lauded by some to be Africa’s future salvation, yet scorned by others as the very reason for the continent’s ongoing instability. Are Afripolitans who bring resources to their communities of origin promoting greater self determination, or are they simply creating new forms of dependence and inequity? Answers to such questions call for an understanding of the relations Afripolitans have with the state as well as the role of the African state in promoting the humanitarian efforts of diasporic Afripolitans. Thus, each chapter of the volume addresses questions of state and sub-state involvement either in promoting or obstructing Afripolitans in their efforts to bring health resources and skills to their home communities. The case studies, based on several hundred in-depth interviews, also provide a platform for Afripolitans to voice their own points of view regarding such questions.

Central themes that emerge from the case studies—often considering what works and what does not in diaspora giving—are examined in detail in the last three chapters of the volume. These themes span every level of analysis and include such topics as intergenerational transitions in diaspora giving, the relevance of integration in destination countries, variable gender expectations from host to home countries, and novel uses of new information technologies. The last three chapters also grapple with pressing structural issues such as immigration control and ethics, Africa’s human resources for health crisis and the increasingly competitive international market in skilled labor.

Globally, Afripolitans number in the millions and the worth of their giving exceeds official development assistance in most African countries. Yet, despite their vast numbers and the extraordinary impact their resource transfers have on African economies, political systems and life, little is known about the strategies they employ to transfer resources from their host to their home countries and how they overcome the myriad obstacles and challenges they encounter along the way. While economists have devoted much energy to measuring the quantifiable impacts of Afropolitan giving, we still lack the specificity and comparative detail and analysis that will enable us to better understand this phenomenon that is so rapidly changing the face of development in Africa today. Through richly detailed narratives and data-driven analysis, Done Waiting helps fill this gap in the literature.

Willamette University

Interdisciplinary Social Analysis of Complex Global Challenges

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