Displacement Risks in Africa: Refugees, Resettlers, and Their Host Populations

By Whitaker, Beth Elise | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Displacement Risks in Africa: Refugees, Resettlers, and Their Host Populations


Whitaker, Beth Elise, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Displacement Risks in Africa: Refugees, Resettlers, and Their Host Populations. Edited by Itaru Ohta and Yntiso D. Gebre. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press and Victoria, Australia: Trans Pacific Press, 2005. Pp. 394; 28 tables, 8 figures. $74.95.

This collection examines population displacement in Africa, highlighting the risks and opportunities involved when people are forced from their homes and into new locations. It grows out of a 2002 symposium in Kyoto, Japan, and includes authors from Africa, Europe, Japan, and the United States. Although it covers examples from throughout sub-Saharan Africa, there is a heavy emphasis on Ethiopia in the case studies.

The first section of the book explores issues surrounding conflict-induced displacement in Africa, including protracted refugee situations, urban refugees, child soldiers, and returnees (refugees who have repatriated). The second section looks at development-induced displacement and uses a framework created by one of the authors to understand the experiences of resettlers who were driven from their homes by dams, conservation projects, and similar programs. The third section highlights the problems faced by hosts when displaced populations settle in their home areas.

A particular strength of this volume is its broad definition of displacement While acknowledging important differences, the authors argue that refugees and resettlers share common experiences that warrant the development of a general theory on displacement. They call on academics to reach across disciplinary and conceptual boundaries to embrace such an approach. Though the argument is appreciated, it may in fact be overstated. In their effort to move beyond refugees, the authors give relatively little attention to a group that still represents the largest proportion of displaced people in Africa-rural refugees. A noteworthy exception is Jeff Crisp's overview of protracted refugee situations in Africa, currently a hot topic in the field. The broad definition of displacement is also stretched a bit with Art Hansen's discussion of child soldiers, though the basic analogy makes sense.

This volume also includes a welcome emphasis on host populations. Scholars in refugee studies and similar fields often have overlooked the plight of people who do not migrate themselves but are nevertheless affected by migration into their areas. The three chapters in the third section contribute to a growing body of research about host communities. Itaru Ohta's chapter about the impact of refugees on Turkana hosts in Kenya largely confirms the findings of earlier studies, though it draws special attention to the experiences of hosts who are poorer than incoming refugees. …

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