Immigrant Voices in Cyberspace: Spinning Continental and Diasporan Africans into the World-Wide Web

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Immigrant Voices in Cyberspace: Spinning Continental and Diasporan Africans into the World-Wide Web

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome

Department of Political Science

Brooklyn College,

City University of New York
One of the significant and enduring effects of contemporary globalization is that it generates population movements from African countries in the throes of deep economic crisis to countries with buoyant economies. Globalization also facilitates "real time" virtual connections between immigrants and those in the African continent, with African immigrants in the various contemporary Diasporas, and with Africans from older Diasporas. Consequently, new transnational communities, some of them epistemic, are being created. The changes wrought by globalization thus impinge on the lives of ordinary people in new but remarkable ways. Among these changes, the communications that bind Africa and its Diasporas together are manifested in various ways. The forms they take include discussions in chat rooms, through instant messaging systems, electronic mail, WebPages, and electronic journals. They provide a wealth of information for scholarly research on globalization and contribute to our understanding of the antinomies of globalization from the perspective of ordinary people. We can also focus upon how people articulate their experiences and give meaning to their lives. Immigrants and populations in their home countries are being woven into a connective web of political, economic, and social life as we speak. Thus, communities are being developed in the absence of propinquity, challenging the assumptions that for a group of people to form a community, they must live in close proximity to one another (Pfeiffer, 1999).i

Who has power within these communities, and to what effect? Power here is defined as the ability to determine the agenda; to participate in the community as a full member with the capacity to voice one’s opinions; engage in discussion, debate, and a variety of other activities that generate social capital; and ultimately, to participate in developing shared norms, values, principles, and institutions that shape the nature and processes of everyday life. The primary focus of this paper is on the gender relations within the burgeoning African immigrant virtual communities of the information age. Gender is an important consideration due to the pervasiveness of the assumption that there is a technological divide as a consequence of which those with better and privileged access to technology can essentially capture the power to shape the nature, form and relations within the virtual communities that are spawned as a consequence of the new technologies.

There is evidence that more men than women use the World Wide Web (Howard, Rainie & Jones, 2001). As well, it is documented that more young than old people, more affluent and educated than poor and uneducated people also use the World Wide Web.ii If the assumption that more privileged, and relatively better access to the World Wide Web is monopolized by African immigrant men than women holds true, then, it stands to reason that there will be a domination of male over female voices in the communications and relationships that develop in these communities.

What is a community? According to Kazmer and Haythornwaite, who studied an online community that developed out of an internet-based library science course, the markers of an online community are much the same as those for real-life communities. They include the provision of social support, companionship, major emotional support, sociability, where there is shared activity, shared space, and shared technology.iii Activities, people, tasks involved in the online community are the foci of participants’ thoughts when trying to describe or explain what they do in the community to others.iv For Ben Anderson and Karina Tracey, the internet plays a rich and varied role in people’s lives, and the diverse manner in which it affects social, economic, and political interactions is difficult to pinpoint in an exact manner.v Howard Rheingold categorically propounds and embraces the idea that communities can be developed virtually that are as vibrant, complex, and multidimensional as real-life

Is Diaspora an appropriate concept to use in an analysis on the emergence of virtual communities that include contemporary African immigrants and those that I classify as belonging in the old Diaspora? Speaking of the Black German Diaspora, which, due to German constructions of blackness, is a Diaspora composed of people of African, Asian, and Arab heritage, Tina M. Campt reminds us that the concept has been used coterminously with dispersal, migration, displacement, and “complex relationships between real and imagined communities in the homeland and places of settlement.” Diaspora also carries connotations of desire, longing for community and belonging, and for access to artifacts and cultural products that are associated with the original homeland. It also has been used to describe the kind of positioning that a community uses to craft a sense of belonging through “psychic, symbolic, and material communities and “homes” in the places of settlement.”vii Unlike most other Black Diasporas, the Black Germans don’t share a common narrative of origination,, thus, shared ethnicity and cultural pluralism fail to capture the nature of this community in a manner that challenges orthodox understandings of diversity, pluralism, and cultural difference.viii Edward L. Alpers gives an extensive review of the emergence and use of the concept, as well as the contestation over its relevance and applicability. Drawing on Ibrahim Sundiata’s thought, Alpers contends that there are many, rather than one African Diaspora. These various Diasporas may also overlap and intersect in such a manner as to forge new African identities that do not necessarily remain constant over time. As well, he argues that there is an internal African Diaspora that is as much a result of forced migration as the Diasporas that were created outside Africa, as well as Diasporas that emerged as a result of trading relations.ix From Robin D.G. Kelley and Tiffany Ruby Patterson, he draws the idea that Diasporas are essentially constructed and reproduced, in the scholarly and intellectual imagination, although he modifies Kelley and Patterson’s privileging of the intellectual sources of Diasporic consciousness by incorporating the idea that popular sources of Diasporic consciousness are equally important. For Kelley and Patterson, the idea of Diaspora is created in a manner that obscures differences and emphasize sameness, producing different and shifting understandings among Africans about Africa, Africans, and the Diaspora itself.x

Chivallon makes a distinction between two definitions of Diaspora. The first is the classic definition of Diaspora, which is applied to people dispersed, not through their volitional action, but through the maintenance of a sense of unity, consciousness, and an imaginary or real bond with the original home country from which they were dispersed. The community that forms in the post-departure period is assumed to be unified, and to exhibit solidarity and to maintain a memory of the source/origin. The second definition focuses on the hybridity of the Diaspora, and sees no unitary community, but one based on multiple origins, multiple influences, and a highly changeable community based on a mobile and highly changeable network of ties and exchanges.xi

Diaspora has also been deployed to mean the transformation of an identity shaped by a community’s pariah status, homelessness, and rootlessness, marginalization, loss of dignity, displacement, and ethnic marginalization, to a positive expression of an idealized status as the chosen people, through the creation of a political community that fashions this identity based on being the select, in order to reclaim their dignity and rights, thereby acquiring power in a world where there is no impartial international authority to defend and protect them.xii For DeCosmo, this kind of imagined community can be found among dispersed Africans, among whom are the Rastafarians that she studied, as it was by Weber and Arendt among European Jews earlier. The political community that emerged among the Rastafarians drew from Marcus Garvey’s ideas, the notion that Black people are transplanted Africans who must struggle for social justice and acquire political power through an ideology of upliftment and enlightenment.xiii
This paper is based on information gathered from primary research focused upon online groups engaged in discussions of political, economic and social issues on the World Wide Web. It will show how a regionally and linguistically diverse African community that is also diverse in its socioeconomic class origins perceives its role in shaping the political economy of an increasingly globalized world. What emerges is a complex and rich story about the use of technological tools [some of the positive effects of globalization] to communicate and ultimately, to build communities, by ordinary people, most of whom were pushed to emigrate from their home countries by economic and political crisis [some of the negative effects of globalization].

Contemporary out-migrations from the African continent constitute a crucial part of the population movements caused by globalization in the global political economy. These population movements are caused in particular by changes in the global division of labor. The out-migrations in turn shape the nature, form, and process of globalization in ways that impact upon the migrants and immigrant, as well as the political economies of their countries of origin, and their host countries. When they involve large numbers, the out-migrations also cause changes in the social structure and the nature of social relations; particularly in a manner that affects gender, race, and class relations. Consequently, African immigrants and migrants become transnational, and they are absorbed into the labor pool in the global north but they still have their roots in the African continent.

As labor, contemporary African immigrants can either be skilled, and therefore desired and courted by capital, and by their host country for skilled technical and professional employment, or they can be unskilled and repulsed and reviled by the host country’s unfriendly policies, which may transform them into become undocumented immigrants, subject to gross exploitation by capital, beginning their labor force participation as laborers in the informal and or underground economy, and when lucky, working their way up in the socio-economic ladder. For this second category of African immigrants/migrants, the likelihood of being stuck in a vicious cycle of perpetual informalization and under-remuneration for their labor is also high. Paradoxically, skilled workers and those with technical skills may also enter into the global North as undocumented workers who begin their labor force participation in the informal economy as underpaid, underemployed, and over-exploited workers.

Diasporan African women experience many of the same challenges that men encounter in the labor market, but there are also challenges that are peculiar to them. In the first place, it is a well-documented fact that there is a gender wage gap that negatively impacts all women.xiv According to the Census Bureau, on the average, women make 74 cents for every dollar that men make. The difference is attributable to both social and economic factors, since labor markets are highly segregated by gender, and the jobs dominated by men attract higher salaries than those dominated by women. This differential has also been documented in Europe, and other parts of the world.xv The glass ceiling is another well-documented barrier to women’s parity to men in the labor market.xvi Diasporan African women are affected by both the wage gap and the glass ceiling. They also face other challenges that other women may not necessarily face as a consequence of racial discrimination, bias, and in the case of the new immigrants among them, xenophobia.

Some of the contemporary population movements from the African continent are caused by pervasive war and internal conflict, others by punitive government policies against critics and dissidents, yet others by the harsh economic conditions detailed above. These movements generate refugees, exiles, and immigrants. While many countries in the global North have policies of supporting exiles and refugees, these policies are unevenly applied and subject to politicization. The very rules on designating refugees and political exiles may not necessarily recognize many who fall under these categories as such, particularly when they have no passports and other travel documents.

According to the 2000 census, the total number of Black or African Americans in the US is 34,658,190. 16,465,185 are male, and 18,193,005 are women. Those who are Black or African American in combination only are a total of 1,761,244, with 850,148 males and 911,096 females. Those who are Black or African American alone or in combination are a total of 36,419,464. Of these, 17,315,333 are male, and 19,104,101 are female.xvii Out of these, African immigrants in the United States number a total of 1,781,877. This figure excludes Africans of Arab descent. West Indians number 1,869,504.xviii Unfortunately, the figures for African and West Indian immigrants do not provide information on gender. In addition, this data does not tell us whether or not undocumented immigrants are included.

The jury is out on whether globalization is a positive or negative force. There is also serious contestation on whether or not the internet has negative or positive consequences.xix There is however, no doubt that most of the countries in the African continent are in the throes of deep, enduring economic crisis. These crises are caused by the nature of African countries’ participation in the global political economy, since majority of countries have low export earnings, and high, unsustainable debts, a situation that has caused the imposition of economic liberalization and Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) [by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)] as a long-term mechanism for integrating African economies into the global economic system. Such policies inflict substantial pain upon citizens, migrants, and immigrants in African countries that initially generate the deployment of alternative modes of survival such as taking multiple jobs or taking the entrepreneurial option when possible, participation in the informal economy to augment earnings from the formal economy, the emergence of a growing underground economy that involves the smuggling of drugs, people, and goods. In many countries, there is increased social tension. Many countries also experience considerable political tension as a result of the problems that accompany persistent economic crisis. Out-migration and immigration are mechanisms that political and economically embattled populations deploy to enhance their survival.

On balance, globalization has not yielded substantial gains to the African continent, particularly when one considers the growth of out-migration as a survival strategy.xx However, there are scholars that point to the possibility of transforming this disability into an asset through the remittances that immigrants send to their family members back home,xxi as well as through use of the innovations in communications technology, made available as a result of contemporary globalization, to create connections that were formerly impossible. This paper considers the extent to which these communities without propinquity are being established. It considers the nature, form, and extent to which these communities are epistemic in nature, and seeks to develop an understanding of these processes through the eyes of the participants themselves, African immigrants in the old and new Diasporas, and Africans in the continent.


In negotiating the social, economic, and political relations of their re-located and dis-located lives, African Diasporan communities today engage in networks of communication that use old and new technologies to communicate. Old technologies include telecommunications tools like letters, now commonly referred to as “snail mail,” telephone, telegrams, radio, and television. Communication and exchange of information for the pre-information age also utilized paper books, journals, newsletters, and magazines. In the information age, electronic "real time" virtual connections are used for communications between immigrants and those left behind in the African continent, with African immigrants that are scattered in the various contemporary Diaspora, as well as with Africans from older Diaspora. Such communication utilizes electronic mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, web pages, as well as open discussion fora that operate as news lists. Cable and satellite communication has also revolutionized media like television, radio, and even electronic mail and web communication. This is because of the effect of cable and satellite-based broadband communication systems on making electronic communication faster, cheaper, and more reliable.

For some, information technology provides the exciting opportunity of building communities that contribute in no small measure to the creation of social capital.xxii The effect of inexpensive, faster and more reliable technology should not be over-stated. The existence of a technology divide is widely acknowledged.xxiii As with many effects of globalization, access to information technology is determined by what I call the antinomies of globalization.xxiv There are clearly fundamental contradictions integral to the process of globalization. While many scholars assume that the process has positive consequences, it is obvious that it also has negative consequences on the lives of majority of people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and even in parts of Western Europe and North America. Further, the negative and positive consequences of globalization often relate to each other in a dialectical manner. In consequence, affluence is created in the global north, poverty in the global South. It is also possible to have regional differentiation in poverty and affluence within the same country’s borders.xxv

In terms of the technological divide, one sees the operation of antinomies in graphic relief. At one and the same time, there is widespread availability of information technology and all the exciting possibilities that it presents to those who can afford it, and who have reliable electricity, telecommunications connectivity through telephone lines, or broadband technology.xxvi On the other hand, majority of the world’s population, particularly in the global south can neither afford nor use this technology.xxvii Even within the United States, a country that is on the cutting edge of the new information age, and one which in many ways, leads the trends, there is a technological divide that is determined by race, class, and gender. Non-whites, those low on the socio-economic scale, and women are under-represented in the usage of, and access to information technology.xxviii The unequal access to information technology that the technology divide causes is a typical example of the antinomies of globalization. To focus specifically on gender, the operation of antinomies implies that women have less presence, voice and power in this medium. However, it is also possible for the new medium to be used in a counter-hegemonic manner that challenges entrenched power interests and structures of inequality, first because it offers anonymity, and thus, it is easier to transgress, second because the cost of access is relatively inexpensive, and it is possible for even those who cannot have private access to use internet cafes in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe (to a greater extent than in North America) and for them to use public libraries in North America. With such access, asynchronous and intermittent use is possible, but those who have full-time, broadband access may well dominate discussions, negotiations, and the process of agenda-setting.

Antinomies are an integral part of the process of globalization because counter-intuitively, the same process causes diametrically opposite effects, and paradoxically, with each effect occurring as a logical consequence of the operation of antinomies. As argued above, it is routine for globalization to produce wealth in some parts of the world or in regions within countries. It is also normal for it to produce poverty in some countries and within given regions. Ability to afford, gain access to, and use technological innovation is as much a consequence of globalization, as is the lack of access to, inability to utilize, or afford to purchase technology. As a consequence of globalization, many countries in the third world have become no more than labor reserves for the more affluent, post-industrial countries of the global north, which have become magnets that draw migrants and immigrants that seek an end to the problems of unmitigated poverty, social and political conflict, unemployment and underemployment.xxix

Despite the existence of a digital divide, the transnationalization of African Diaspora communities has produced complex webs of relationships. These include social, political, economic and intellectual linkages that take the nature of epistemic communities. An epistemic community is one that has a network of colleagues who maintain close ties, have shared beliefs that influence the positions they take on social problems and issues, shared ideas on what is valid, use similar approaches and methods in their work, desire common policy outcomes, and exchange information. These communities, if they are composed of people who have a significant amount of name recognition and stature, will make an impact in the theory and practice in areas of their The amount of time that a scholar has to devote to non-essential or non-work related communication and collaboration may determine how much and how well she/he can participate in the formation or strengthening of an epistemic community. Those with more seniority, more job security, and more time will dominate such communities. Because the top echelons of higher education are dominated by men, more men than women will probably have hegemonic power within the community. More research should be undertaken to evaluate the extent to which this is categorically true or otherwise.

Epistemic communities are being created in a manner that links old and new Diasporas of Africa. For example, I began research on African Immigration to the United States in 1995. At that time, a search on the internet, in electronic and physical databases revealed that very little was being published on contemporary African migration outside the continent. Today, such a search produces massive multiples of bibliographic sources. This shows evidence of a concerted desire to study, research, and write about the contemporary immigrant experience by people who are recent immigrants and by people who are members of Africa’s old Diasporas. One also sees research projects on the subject of contemporary African immigration, and conferences that seek to study both old and new Diasporas. As well, new virtual databases are being created that document the work of these research projects.


The creation and maintenance of e-journals, e-newsletters, and virtual cyber communities is ongoing among African intellectual and wider immigrant communities. These efforts are relatively new but very significant. Some examples are Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Comparative Studies, founded by Andrew Offenburger, who is also the editor.xxxi Africa Resource Center,xxxii founded by Nkiru Nzegwu, a woman who is also general editor of four of the five Journals published by the Center publishes JENDA: A Journal of Culture & African Women Studies; African Philosophy: Journal on African Philosophy; ProudFlesh : New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics and Consciousness; W.A.R: West Africa Review; and IJELE: Art eJournal of the African World. Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome and Bertrade Ngo-Ngijol Banoum are women co-editors of Ìrìnkèrindò: A Journal of African Migration.xxxiii GWS Africa: Gender and Women’s Studies for African Transformation, xxxiv a Ford Foundation project at the University of Cape Town, South Africa is headed by Amina Mama, a Nigerian women immigrant to South Africa. The program has a new e-journal titled: Feminist Africa. xxxv Seven of the eight journals above have women as founders and co-editors. This challenges, but does not entirely eliminate the assumption that cyberspace is dominated by male intellectuals. As we move further into the information age, more women will participate in such ventures, even though they will still have to juggle multiple familial and professional responsibilities. These journals are a useful addition to the process of the production of knowledge on Africa. For them to succeed and thrive, they need the dedicated sacrifice of committed scholars who contribute as editors, submit papers, and collaborate in acquiring funding. These e-journals and e-newsletters will prove to be more important than their paper counterparts in the future.

The claim that new epistemic communities are developing should not be taken as an indication of the adequacy of these communities in numbers or in the range of subjects and issues that they engage. Indeed, the promise of intense, consistent, fruitful transnational collaboration is yet to be fully realized.xxxvi It is worthwhile to consider why thus far, the African Diasporan scholars have not intensively utilized information and communications technology to foster enduring linkages with their peers in the continent. Such linkages, if properly deployed, would yield the development of collaborative research that adds significantly to the production of knowledge on the continent, its people, and its Diasporas.

Zeleza presents this as a problem involving the lack of vision, absence of will, and the lack of resources both in the continent and the Diaspora. Tettey contends that this problem arises from capricious and punitive decisions by African governments that favor foreign expertise and repulse indigenous expertise in the African Diasporan scholarly community. The refusal to consult with and draw upon the knowledge base of African experts in the Diaspora is also imposed by conditionalities that are attached to foreign “aid.” There is also the passivity of African based professionals who often wait to be “discovered,” government policies that create barriers to the acquisition of computers and information technology through the imposition of high tariffs on the importation of these goods. Consequently, neither scholars nor universities can afford them.

Finally, there is gross inadequacy in the exercise of what Tettey describes as the “Diaspora Option” through the use of new information and technological innovation to build communities of knowledge.xxxvii The yet-unexplored possibilities that Tettey identifies include the establishment of joint economic initiatives by cyber groups that connect “credible individuals who use the internet to establish networks of mutual trust on the basis of which to launch economic ventures and under undertakings whose ultimate mission is tailored towards the development of their countries.” These networks can connect African intellectuals in the continent with those in its Diasporas to produce knowledge, wealth and power.xxxviii

Zeleza rightly contends that unsustainable debt, consequent economic crises, political conflict, including war, and the dislocations that attend these phenomena, particularly from the 1970s, led to the decimation of the research and development capacity of the universities. He also argues that African intellectuals in the continent have become integrated into the global political economy as captured peons of Northern philanthropic and NGO sectors, whose agenda, whims, and fads drive the research projects. Zeleza states but underestimates the power of the antinomies of globalization in forcing both Diasporan and continentally located African intellectuals into either migrant or home based labor that is drawn from increasingly segregated and impoverished labor reserves and made into wage slaves in and/or for the North.

African Diasporan intellectuals in the North remain low in the pecking order of Northern hegemonic intellectual structures and networks. Many work in institutions where teaching, rather than research is the focus, or in Historically Black Colleges and Universities that like the teaching universities, are under-funded. These scholars also have not as a group, accumulated a sufficient amount of social capital to access the biggest and most prestigious grants that enable predominantly white Northern intellectuals to dominate the enterprise of producing and reproducing knowledge on Africa and Africans. Lacking access to significant research funds, and to the pipelines and gate-keepers that manage the enterprise of scholarly publications, Diasporan African scholars are also in the main, unable to engage in the poaching-type, patron-client relations that often exist between African and Northern scholars on the one hand, and between African intellectuals and Northern grantmakers on the other to produce studies that un-reflectingly homogenize the products of research projects on Africa and Africans.

Zeleza suggests that African intellectuals in the Diaspora and those in the continent must build transnational bridges that assault and destroy old orthodoxies that stymie the production of socially and politically conscious, relevant and timely knowledge on Africa. For him, such a radical break from the past is only possible with institutional, financial, ideational, and scholarly commitment to building epistemic communities. In the effort to accomplish these goals, scholarly networks that collaborate in teaching, research, publication and the dissemination of ideas through the use of old and new technologies are crucial. While some such networks exist, majority remain dependent on patronage from the northern intellectual market. Such research centers are under-funded They are also under-supported by intellectual exchange from colleagues in Northern “Babylons,” and as such, can only do but so much. Being strapped for cash, lacking access to innovations in technology and telecommunications, such research centers are ripe and ready for colonization by those with purchasing power that is denominated in “hard currency.”

The tools exist that would enable the bridging of the divide between the better endowed few African intellectuals in the continent and its Diasporas, and the majority of impoverished, marginalized wage slaves that other African intellectuals have become in the era of Structural Adjustment. To focus on the possible, many African intellectuals in the Diaspora have access through their universities, to new instructional technology. They can at the very least, either establish or join news groups and mailing lists that help the operations of transnational epistemic communities. All that is needed in this regard is the will to act, through the development and cultivation of face-to-face linkages that are nurtured by streams of communication. Many African intellectuals in the North can also apply for institution-to-institution collaborative funding for exchange programs between Northern Universities and their African counterparts to be not only possible, but affordable. Unfortunately, most of the funding for collaborative research across continental boundaries goes to Northern scholars. In spite of the significant difficulties involved, efforts must be made to bring Diasporan immigrant and African continentally-based scholars into close intellectual contact with one another, with students, and with African societies. Collaborative relationships will be strengthened and enriched through the use of instructional and telecommunications technologies. Tragically, many African countries are still on the negative side of the information divide. There are not enough computers, telecommunications links, and definitely, there is not enough money to purchase new, and sometimes, even old technologies.

There is increasing evidence that vigorous efforts are underway to create virtual communities with the express intention of reversing the brain drain. Some of these include the Digital Diaspora Network Africa, an organization established by a group of technology firms, nonprofit organizations and UN Agencies to undo the negative effects of Africa’s brain drain by harnessing skills that have been lost to the continent.xxxix

Scholars are also able to use virtual technology to conduct discussions. H-Net, the Humanities and Social Sciences Online community is one that includes scholars of Africa who may be Africans in the continent, Africans of the old Diaspora, and Africans of the new Diaspora. It also includes Africanists who may be North or South American, European, and Asian. H-Net describes itself as

an international interdisciplinary organization of scholars and teachers dedicated to developing the enormous educational potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Our edited lists and web sites publish peer reviewed essays, multimedia materials, and discussion for colleagues and the interested public. The computing heart of H-Net resides at MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online, Michigan State University, but H-Net officers, editors and subscribers come from all over the globexl

As part of the H-Net community, there are the following Africa-specific groups: H-Africa, H-Hausa, H-Luso-Africa, H-West Africa, H- SAfrica, H-Afrlitcine, H-Afrarts,

There are numerous African and African Diaspora discussion groups on the World Wide Web. is an example of a Jamaican online community. The community’s discussion in response to an article on Black students in the top US colleges was categorized under the heading: “Mekwitalk ’Bout Ev’ryting,”xli the had A Google search for the words “African discussion groups” returned 894,000 listings.xlii Not all these listings will be active and there will be some duplication, but nonetheless, the number of groups may very well be multiples of the Google number because some of the listings are also directories. A sampling of the first page of the Google listing shows a diversity of groups, engaged in a disparate number of issues. Some are academic databases, some commercial, and some social.xliii A researcher has an infinite set of possibilities to explore in accessing materials for studies on Africa.

It is in chat rooms, discussion groups among people who meet in cyberspace fora where there have anonymity, and there is a presumption of the equality of all participants that the most engaging conversations and communications are occurring. As indicated previously, there are thousands of African discussion groups on the World Wide Web. I will just give the example of one. Chat-Afrik advertises itself as a group that is open to all Africans, but majority of its members tend to come from the Nigerian immigrant and home-based communities. In the endnotes a small snippet from one day’s digest is included as an example of communication that occurs in these discussion groups.xliv Another group, moderated by the same individual, claims that it is an information dissemination group. A sample of one day’s digest is provided in the endnote.xlv Due to the repetitive nature of the digests, some subscribers, particularly those who use their office e-mail, ask to be un-subscribed.

Increasingly, there are new services that closely resemble or replace real life interactions. Many news groups and cyber-communities provide dating services, various opportunities for social interactions not just online but face-to-face, rapidly becoming alternatives or supplements to traditional modes of socializing. Parties, conferences, reunions, town hall meetings, political rallies, and other get-togethers are advertised, promoted, and broadcast on the World Wide Web in the various groups and communities that proliferate daily. Rich, thick communications linkages are being formed by these and other groups. They will prove to be a wealth of information for scholars and researchers who want to undertake cyber-fieldwork on African immigrant communities.


There is an intensification of community interactions among old and new Diasporas of Africa and Africans still resident in the continent. Many of these interactions occur through telephone conversations, faxes, increasingly in chat rooms, as well as through the use of instant messaging systems. These communications are massive and largely undocumented in any systematic way. However, were one to be able to access such communication, they provide a rich, vibrant database for research. To use the example of a few internet news groups, one sees a concern for, and discussion of contemporary political economy, and of social relations. There is also the development of relationships of friendship and mutual respect, as well as those of dislike and mutual derision. These groups in essence, create virtual communities where people are able to have either intense or superficial discussions about matters of mutual concern. Information is exchanged, and some web based discussion groups are established for this express purpose. Celebrations and social events are advertised. There are also signature drives in furtherance of Global Justice initiatives. One ongoing example is the drive to support Amina Lawal, the Nigerian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning by a Shari’a Court. Many of the groups that undertook the signature drives are women’s groups. However, the Nigerian women’s group, Baobab for Human Rights, which spearheaded Amina’s defense was largely ignored and in the signature drive, thus foreclosing to a great extent, some cross-fertilization and more importantly, accurate information on the situation on the ground in Nigeria by those who had first-hand information and knowledge of the case. To underline the cruciality of access to technology, Ayesha Imam, one of the members of the group in North America, eventually provided some accurate information and also argued against the signature drive tactic due to the misinformation being propagated by some of the well-meaning “friends of Amina” in the West.

Due to the innovations in technology, it is possible for advertisements and calls for action to reach people all over the world who in the case of news and discussion groups, both have access and are members. Becoming a member of the discussion group is as easy as subscribing for most, and for some, only by recommendation. Thus, the arguments that revolutions in information technology create transnational communities that are not restricted by geographical boundaries, and cannot be subjected to state control are valid. The existence of these communities is in and of itself creating revolutionary changes in the concepts that we use to make meaning. When communities are formed of people who may never have met one another, and may never meet, who is a stranger? Who is a citizen? What constitutes community? What are the rules of the game? Clearly, the world as we know it is changing before our very eyes. These changes occur in a manner that impinges on the lives of ordinary people in very new but remarkable ways.

In physical and temporal terms, new ethnic minorities are being created, and/or increased, new ethnicities are being formed, new identities are being asserted, both in the immigrants’/migrants’ country of origin, and in the host country.xlvi Also, there are new and growing increases in transnational transfers of financial, intellectual and material resources, new trade and business relations, new cultural interactions between sending and receiving countries. New tensions are also developing between ethnic minorities who are indigenous or “native born” in the parlance of migration studies, and those who are relative newcomers. There are even tensions among old-timers and newcomers within immigrant populations that originate from the same country. For African migrants and immigrants, there may be subtle and not too subtle tensions that arise from differences in class, gender, language, culture, religion, and national origin.

In virtual terms, old social constructions and the effects of socialization may well inform the ideas and sensibilities of members of communities, but the lack of face-to-face contact removes or restricts the ability to identify and or classify people as belonging to a particular race, class, or gender. Virtual relationships also develop into physical ones. This could include social, economic, political, and professional relationships. Particularly among the younger generation, dating and social friendships develop from virtual relationships. For the older generation, these interactions are also possible, although professional relations tend to dominate.

Misinformation and disinformation are possible with sole reliance on information from the World Wide Web. At this point in time, it is better to depend on the websites of research institutions and bodies, peer-reviewed e-journals, scholarly groups, libraries, established non-governmental organizations, and universities. Even government sites can misinform and disinform. The researcher must also follow standard and established rules of verification, by conducting due diligence in verifying citations. Through library database-driven research, scholars and researchers can also access information on African communities, particularly in the form of papers that result in the findings of scholars on a given subject. These sources of information are tried and true, as well as reliable. These sources can be used to verify if possible, information that is available on the web.

There is an increasing number of web-based journals that will probably ultimately replace our paper journals if the paper-free world of the information age is ever actualized. Increasingly, there are journals solely dedicated to African studies on the Web. Such journals too provide opportunities for the exchange of ideas and debates by scholars. These exchanges still privilege populations in the global north to the disadvantage of groups in Africa, the Caribbean, and parts of North and South America that are categorized as belonging in the global south. It is unbelievably difficult to engage in instant communication when one is dealing with power failures, unreliable Internet Service Providers.

Cybercommunications and Cybercommunities are arena where one can hear the cybervoices of African Diasporan communities. In considering these communications and communities, it would be remiss if we do not consider questions of power. Who has voice and presence in these arena? Who sets the agenda? Who establishes the rules? Who shapes the consciousness of the members of the community? Who forces, and/or imposes the silences? The promise of these transnational networks is that they would seem to give voice to all comers in a democratic manner. The reality is that access to technology, to wealth, to ideas, and to political power would naturally privilege some and disadvantage others. As things stand, populations in most of Africa are grossly disadvantaged in these networks. Their disadvantage cannot be assumed to be permanent, but its erosion will be sped up by the conscious, consistent, proactive action of Africans in the continent and its Diaspora. The ability to build communities that are unrestricted by lack of propinquity and the ability to communicate in a manner that builds and sustains epistemic communities would stand African peoples in good stead as they strive to compete in the information age.

i Mark Edward Pfeiffer “Community”, Adaptation, and the Vietnamese in Toronto.”

ii Philip E.N. Howard, Lee Rainie & Steve Jones, “Days and Nights on the Internet: The Impact of a Diffusing Technology,” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 45, no. 3, (November 2001) p. 387.

iii Michelle M. Kazmer & Caroline Haythornwaite, “Juggling Multiple Social Worlds: Distance Students Online and Offline.” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 45:3 (November 2001) , pp. 510-529. The discussion of community relations were drawn from pages 514 and 511.

iv Op cit. 526. Ben Anderson and Karina Tracey,

v Ben Anderson and Karina Tracey, “Digital Living: The Impact (or Otherwise) of the Internet on Everyday Life,” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 45:3, (November 2001), pp. 450-475.

vi Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community.

vii Tina M. Campt, “Reading the Black German Experience: An Introduction” Callaloo, 26:2, pp. 288-294, (2003), p.289

viii ibid, p. 290-291. See also Tina M. Campt, “Converging Spectres of an Other Within: Race and Gender in Prewar Afro-German History” Callaloo, 26:2, pp. 323-341, (2003).

ix Edward A. Alpers, “Defining the African Diaspora,” Paper presented to the Center for Comparative Analysis Workshop, October 25, 2001, pp. 22-26.

x Ibid, pp. 19-21.

xi Christine Chivallon, “Beyond Gilroy’s Black Atlantic: The Experience of the African Diaspora,” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies,” 11:3, pp. 359-382. See especially, pages 359-361.

xii Janet L. DeCosmo, “Pariah Status, Identity and Creativity in Babylon: Utopian Visions of “Home” in the African Diaspora,” Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research,” 2:2, pp. 147-156.

xiii Ibid, pp. 149-155.

xiv “The Gender Wage Gap: Progress of the 1980s Fails to Carry Through” Institute for Women’s Policy Research Fact Sheet, IWPR Publication #353,; Hilary M. Lips, “The Gender Wage Gap: Debunking the Rationalizations,”

xv “Towards Closing the Gender Wage Gap in Europe?” European Industrial Relations Observatory Online

xvi Linda Wirth, Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: Women in Management Geneva: ILO, 2001.; Martha Fetherolf Loutfi, Women, Gender and Work: What is Equality, and how do we get there? Geneva: ILO, 2001.

xvii US Census Bureau Census 2000 PHC-T-8. Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin by Age and Sex for the United States: 2000, Summary File 1, Table 3. Black or African American Population, by Age and Sex for the United States: 2000.

xviii US Census Bureau American FactFinder QT-P13: Ancestry 2000.

xix Ibid., pp. 385-386.

xx See Piotr Stryzowski, “The effects of Brain Drain on Economic Growth,”, for an argument that the effect of the brain drain is positive for developed receiving countries while the phenomenon has ambiguous consequences for developing sending countries.

xxi Oded Stark and Yong Wang, “Inducing Human Capital Formation: Migration as a Substitute for Subsidies,” Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna,; Adrian Cho, “A Foot in Each Country,” Science Vol. 304 (May 28, 2004) pp. 1286-1288.

xxii Andrea L. Cavanaugh & Scott J. Patterson, “The Impact of Community Computer Networks on Social Capital and Community Involvement.” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 45, No. 3: November 2001, 496-509.

xxiii U.S. Government, Office of Educational Technology “Digital Divide”

xxiv Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome “The Antinomies of Globalization:  Causes of Contemporary African Immigration to the United States of America.”  Ìrìnkèrindò: A Journal of African Migration vol. 1:1 (September 2002)

“The Antinomies of Globalization:  Some Consequences of Contemporary African Immigration to the United States of America.” Ìrìnkèrindò: A Journal of African Migration vol. 1:1 (September 2002)

xxv op cit. Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome “The Antinomies of Globalization:  Causes of Contemporary African Immigration to the United States of America.”  

xxvi Keith Hampton & Barry Wellman, “Long Distance Community in the Network Society,” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 45, No. 3: November 2001, 476-495.

xxvii Bridging The Information Technology Divide In Africa: Hearing Before The Subcommittee On Africa Of The Committee On International Relations House Of Representatives One Hundred Seventh Congress, First Session

xxviii op cit. U.S. Government, Office of Educational Technology “Digital Divide”

xxix op cit. Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome “The Antinomies of Globalization:  Causes of Contemporary African Immigration to the United States of America.”  

xxx Peter M. Haas "Introduction: Epistemic Communities and the International Policy Coordination." International Organization 46, No. 1 (Winter 1992): 1-36.

xxxi Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Comparative Studies,

xxxii Africa Resource Center’s Journals can be accessed at

xxxiii Ìrìnkèrindò: A Journal of African Migration is available at

xxxiv Gender and Women’s Studies for African Transformation’s web address is:

xxxv Feminist Africa

xxxvi Paul Tiyambe Zeleza “African Labor and Intellectual Migrations to the North: Building New Transatlantic Bridges”; Wisdom J. Tettey, “Africa’s Brain Drain: Exploring Possibilities for its Positive Utilization Through Networked Communities.” Mots Pluriels, February 2002 #20.

xxxvii Tettey, op cit, p. 12

xxxviii ibid, pp. 12-13

xxxix Gumisai Mutume “Reversing Africa’s ‘Brain Drain’: New Initiatives tap skills of African Expatriates,” Africa Recovery, Vol. 17, no 2, (July 2003).

xl H-Net can be found at the following address:

xli Sara Rimer and Karen W. Arenson, “Top Colleges Take More Blacks, but Which Ones?” The New York Times, June 24, 2004 Section A, p. 1

xlii Google can be accessed at the following address: The search in question was done on 11/22/2002 at 8:46:44 AM. Subsequent searches will probably yield more entries.

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17 Nov 2002 08:40:06 -0000

Message: 3

Date: Sat, 16 Nov 2002 13:48:45 EST


Subject: Professor Marimba Ani Speaks 11/21 NYUMBURU CULTURAL CENTER, Univ. of



Proudly Presents

Noted scholar and author, Professor Marimba Ani





(from DC)Take Rhode Island Ave.(U.S. 1 North) which becomes Baltimore Ave. North at Maryland/ DC line. Proceed through the city of College Park. Turn LEFT on Campus Drive. Go halfway around "M" and continue up Campus Drive until you pass Adele Stamp Student Union. Take the first right, just beyond the Adele H. Stamp Student Union. Park in the parking garage. Walk down Campus Dr.; The Nyumburu Cultural Center will be on your left.

Black Faculty & Staff Assoc.

Consort. on Race, Gender, & Ethnicity

Afro-American Studies Program

Academic Achievement Programs

Office of Graduate Retention and Diversity

Office of Graduate Studies and Research

Office of Academic Affairs

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For more info. contact:

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(301) 405-4743

(RE: Dr. Ani lecture)
[This message contained attachments]


Message: 4

Date: Sat, 16 Nov 2002 17:03:39 -0500

From: "Stevek"

Subject: African American's and Their Struggle for CivilRights

Remember that politics makes strange bedfellows. If you can make it alone,


-----Original Message-----

From: Joseph Igietseme []

Sent: Saturday, November 16, 2002 12:29 PM


Subject: Re: [abujaNig] African American's and Their Struggle for


How difficult is it for us African-Americans to strongly draw the dicotomy between fighting for civil rights (i.e., rights of all peoples, races, genders, old and young, weak and strong, the healthy and the sick, full-bodied and the handicap) and fighting for a chosen way of life such as gay rights, marijuana use rights, cleptomaniac, alcohol use rights, et cetera. While it may be politically expedient to combine forces to achieve a

human goal in face of tyranny, it must be understood that the noble message

of Civil rights is greatly diluted when people scramble human rights with

behavioral rights.


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