Academic journal article Demographic Research

Family, Obligations, and Migration: The Role of Kinship in Cameroon

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Family, Obligations, and Migration: The Role of Kinship in Cameroon

Article excerpt


The aim of this paper is to investigate the influence of family and kin networks on the individual decision to migrate. The study is based on qualitative ethnographic data collected during field research in Cameroon and shows the considerable impact of the extended family on the migrant's decision to leave Cameroon for Germany. Migrants do not necessarily set out to pursue individual goals. They are often delegated to leave by authority figures in their extended family. The individual is part of an informal reciprocal system of exchange, which is based on trust, has social consequences, and includes duties and responsibilities for both sides.

1. Introduction

This paper investigates the role of family and kin in the process of migration. The article focuses on family networks, strategies, and their influence on the motivation and decision of individuals to migrate from Cameroon to Germany. The research is based on qualitative ethnographic data collected in Cameroon2 , specifically in the country 's largest cities (Douala and Yaoundé ) and in its western provinces, an area from which many migrants originate. Although I conducted field research at both ends of the migration stream (Cameroon and Germany), this article concentrates on empirical findings from Cameroon, the sending country.

Three main reasons warrant interest in the migration stream from Cameroon to Germany. First, Cameroon' s migration is relatively large compared with streams into Germany from other sub-Saharan African countries. With an official estimate of 14,100 in June 2005, Cameroonian migrants constitute the third largest group from sub Saharan Africa; they are thus just behind Ghanaians and Nigerians3 . Further, Cameroon' s stream has steadily increased in the last five years, whereas the number of other sub-Saharan migrants has declined4 . Second, migrants are predominantly young, in sharp contrast to the aging German society. A large percentage of them are registered as students. In 2003, there were 5,300 Cameroonian students enrolled in German universities, and the number is increasing. Around 1,000 Cameroonian students enroll each year in a German university (DAAD, 2005). They represent the largest sub Saharan African group of students studying at German universities. Because of their young age and educational profile, their adaptation and economic contribution to Cameroonian as well as German society are likely to be different than one would expect from other migrants. Hatton and Williamson (2003) argue that the number of young migrant adults will be even larger in the future and that they will look for employment opportunities in an aging Europe. Indeed, many Africans hope and expect to improve their standard of living through temporary international migration. Third, little is know about these migrants. Literature on sub-Saharan Africans in Germany is rare and concentrates on African students and various experiences of Afro-Germans. To fill this empirical gap, I seek to investigate the profile and motivations of Cameroonian migrants, focusing on the role of the extended family on migration behavior. The research is organized around two central questions: How does migration as a key life event fit into the larger dynamics of family? Conversely, how do family dynamics, and notably the influence of relatives, affect migration decision-making?

The paper starts by reviewing some of the literature on migration motivations and intentions. Next, I explore the concept of the extended family in the Cameroonian society and its influence on the individual family member. I then describe the data and research methods, followed by the main empirical findings. The description of findings focuses on the role of the family in the migration decision-making of individuals. The paper concludes by developing ideas for further research and by outlining the relevance of this project to the broader literature on international migration from Africa. …

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