Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Kayayei Migrants of Madina Market in Accra, Ghana

By Mariana Chambel

Kayayei or Kaya Yei
a Ghanaian term that refers to a female porter or bearer, who has usually migrated from a rural community to any of Ghana's urban cities in search of work.

As part of the informal sector of the economy in Ghana, kayayei women and girls address market transportation gaps and assist in market exchange in Accra. They are improving local economic development. The kaya business significantly contributes to improving the standard of living of young female migrants and their families. After a heavy rain one morning, I headed to Madina market, wishing to find a group of women and girls taking a break from their duties to get the chance to interview them. Navigating the market between crowds, motorbikes, goats, and numerous kayayei (carrying big pots) I found a group of women gathered in a circle sitting on their upended pots; some eating, some feeding their babies or simply taking a rest.

Making the decision to travel
Fati comes from Wa. She is 22 years old, divorced and has one child staying with her mother back home. This day was her first day working as a Kayayei and she had found her place among other women that came from the same region.

Salamatu also comes from Wa. After arriving in the city she looked for people from her home town as a part of her ‘network’. They assisted her in finding a place to stay in Accra. She is married but has made the move to Accra alone a year ago. Salamatu came to Accra to help to support one of her siblings to stay in school, after the person who was sponsoring their education passed away.
Amina is from Tamale. She is married and her husband is in the north with their four children. She arrived four months ago and is planning to go back home by December. Amina came to the city to assist her husband in paying for their children’s education.

It is no coincidence that these three internal migrants – Fati, Salamatu and Amina –all came from regions in the north. In Ghana, there is a high level of income inequality between rural and urban areas, with a disproportionately high percentage of the poor living in rural areas. Since independence, the rural areas of Ghana have been neglected while urban areas have been developed attracting migrants from rural areas to come to Accra.

Why migrate?
The interviews of Fati, Salamatu and Amina reveal that they have opted to migrate as a strategy to improve their livelihoods. They migrate looking to improve their employment opportunities. Fati, after arriving only five days ago, has found a place to stay. She bought a pot in the city and started her first day of work as a kayayei. She aspires to raise funds to learn hair-dressing and practice it back home. Salamatu has been settled in Accra for a longer period and is not sure when she will return to her home town as in Accra she has a job and is able to support herself, her infant and family back home. Amina is an example of someone who has entered into the informal sector to improve her family’s livelihood, by providing remittances and school items for her children, ensuring they stay in school.

Having little to no safety net, the three of them find in each other the strength to persist with their goals:

  • They stick together both in housing accommodation and during daily work. 

Fati and Salamatu are living together with 10 other women, most of them from the same ethnic and cultural background. Amina is also staying in the same place, even though she comes from a different region. Her reason is simple: “… because we are all kayayei”.

The three of them mention that they feel safe surrounded by women working in the same business and being inside locked doors at night. They do not fear for rape nor robbery inside their rooms – “No I am not afraid of rape because of the doors but for the money, none of the room-mates would steal money” (Fati)

  • They help each other financially 

Salamatu explains that their community group of seven kayayei has formed a “Susu group” (informal loan club) which aims at rotating 50 GHC (Ghana cedi) a week among the women. This collective strategy protects each one of them in case of financial need - “…should anyone have a financial problem, we would be able to help her… we would be helping each other out financially if someone becomes sick or bereaved etc.” (Salamatu). Then, she adds, on Sundays, seniors organize meetings to discuss issues related to work.

Amina reinforces the idea of companionship when she says – “If someone is really sick, we can contribute to take the person to the hospital and even contribute more money if the need arises and then transport the person back home”.

Migrant care and support
The kayayei have been identified as one of the vulnerable groups who need social interventions, including: access to free healthcare, shelter, scholarship grants for their children, and the establishment of response centres to protect their rights and to protect against gender-based violence.
Yet, according to the interviews, the government of Ghana barely supports them, nor recognizes the pathways through which the livelihoods of these young female migrants contribute to development. The kaya business has been labelled as a part of distress migration. In my opinion, this view focuses exclusively on the negative aspects of their migration. There is a gap in migration policies, research and evidence around the links between rural-urban migration and poverty reduction, as well as, in the documentation of migrants’ coping strategies.

Are kayayei vulnerable? Yes, but they're also determined, brave and resilient. Migration allows them to play important roles: in the economy, within their families, within the kayayei community and in their personal lives. They feel these opportunities would not have been available if they had stayed back at home. It is time to recognize their strength and contribution to all these different spheres, and to make policies to support them and protect their rights.

Mariana Chambel is a Migrating out of Poverty Communications Research Assistant based at the University of Ghana, Centre for Migration Studies currently working on issues related to the Migration Industry, in particular Kayayei and domestic workers.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The national anti-‘Kwerekwere’ pastime

by Shezane Kirubi

“You do not look Kenyan.” 

This statement has been repeated to me in response to where I am from, too many times to count, during my time here in South Africa. Until now, I did not think that I had to fit into some stereotypical view of what a Kenyan should look like. When I first arrived in Johannesburg in July, I was excited at the opportunity to immerse myself in the vibrant cultural activities and events that South Africans frequently speak about, and for which the country is well-known.  However, within a few days of my arrival, I personally encountered the expressed displeasure, from some South Africans, at my inability to understand or speak a local language. I very soon came to realize how pervasive and sad the daily phenomenon of xenophobia is in South Africa. It is a huge obstacle to the success of regional migration in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. During my mini-excursions around the city centre, I can sincerely say that I have never felt more like a foreigner in any other country than like I have here in Johannesburg.  I find this absurd, considering that I am black and African! 

However, because I am indeed black and African, many local South Africans start with an assumption that I must be a South African and automatically start a conversation in a local dialect. It seems that some use this as a sieve-like tool to identify foreigners of other African countries. Now don’t get me wrong: I think that its amazing that South Africans have been able to hold on to their cultural identity embedded within their local dialects. However, when this is used as a discriminatory tool to exclude other people, it loses its symbolic value. In my view, xenophobic tendencies and attitudes indicate a lack any moral or rational reasoning, especially when one considers that African national borders were created by colonial governments. African foreigners seem to be so frequently harassed, seemingly to ensure that they do not ‘violate’ deeply flawed racial and ethnic purities that were artificially cobbled together under colonialism and apartheid. Therefore, despite the transition from ‘white’ authoritarian and colonial rule to democracy in 1994, prejudice and violence persist in many parts of contemporary South Africa. It seems to me that the shifts in political power that have occurred since 1994 have ushered in a range of new discriminatory practices and victims. 

Xenophobia seems to be part-and-parcel of South African technologies of nation-building, and some argue it is part of the country’s ‘culture of violence’. During my internship at the African Centre of Migration and Society (ACMS), I have observed that xenophobia in South Africa is a catchword that pops up in many conversations. It is also featured in profound and intense academic research articles and policy papers exploring the causes and its implications to the country.

Xenophobia combines the Greek words, xenos (foreign) and phobos (fear) to denote a ‘hatred for foreigners’.  It is usually characterized by a negative attitude towards foreigners which is frequently typified by dislike and fear. Most often, xenophobia is framed as an attitude; however, this is misleading in South African examples because xenophobia is not restricted to a fear or dislike of foreigners, but it also frequently results in intense tension and violence in many parts of the country.  Unfortunately, this type of violence is not only concentrated in ‘xenophobic hotspots’ where localized competition for political and economic power is sometimes a trigger; but it has been found to be more inescapable than many are ready to admit. When one reflects on South Africa’s history, one finds that for centuries nasty and derogatory labels proliferated for different groups of people. During apartheid, the word ‘kaffir’, which is now considered a taboo word, was used by ‘white’ people to describe and address dark-skinned people. Currently, the South African colloquial word ‘makwerekwere’ (plural) is used for foreigners in South Africa, specifically dark-skinned people from other African countries. However, ‘kwerekwere’ (singular) doesn’t simply mean foreigner, but includes pejorative connotations of regarding foreigners as incomprehensible and undesirable. Commentators on the etymology of the word have argued that people who first coined the word were referring to the languages of foreign-born people sounding like a meaningless “kwirikwiri” noise to speakers of the main South African languages. 

Anthropologist Francis Nyamjoh, in his recently published book #RhodesMustFall: Nibbling at Resilient Colonialism in South Africa, strongly argues that there is a deadly national game going on in South Africa. This game involves the sport of spotting the ‘kwerekwere’, naming and shaming the Mozambican ‘shangaan’, taming and maiming the Nigerian, stealing and looting from the Somali businessperson, exploiting the Zimbabwean waitress, and abusing the Basotho domestic worker. The purpose of this national hobby, he argues, is to ensure that foreigners do not invade ‘sacred borders’ or violate what he calls the imagined “borders of intimacies”. 

In trying to explain such high levels of discrimination, some scholars have attributed South African xenophobia to learned behaviour acquired during the experience of Apartheid. Another frequent explanation uses critiques of the national government’s service delivery record. With regards to this, the rate of socio-economic inequality in the country has been pinpointed as the greatest scourge implicated in xenophobic violence which has frequently occurred in the informal margins of the formal economy. Many locals hold perceptions that foreign nationals compete with the poorest South Africans to eke out menial livelihoods. 

Additionally, South Africa’s stringent immigration policies have aggravated the problem. Unfortunately, this has tremendously affected the country’s refugee and asylum system. Research findings have shown that refugees and immigrants often state that they are sometimes prepared to accept very low-paying jobs because they do not have easy access to social protection in South Africa; and because many don’t have the ‘safety net’ of an extended family that they may have in their home countries. Ironically, the Department of Home Affairs frequently institutionalizes xenophobia via discriminatory laws and practices against migrants from other African countries, while at the same time it is frequently stated that the country is stymied by a severe shortfall of skilled workers. Black foreigners in South Africa are often portrayed as parasites sponging off public services for their own selfish survival. Many South Africans seem to indulge in a political rhetoric of panic which likes to spread perceptions that South Africa’s current socio-economic problems have been caused by a so-called ‘influx’ of African migrants.  

In a new project, ACMS, and a tech company iAfrikan  have collaborated with a number of partners to set up a platform to monitor xenophobic threats and violence. Similar to the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform which was created after the 2007/08 post-election violence in Kenya, Xenowatch aims to track all forms of xenophobic threats and attacks on people and property in South Africa, and includes a website containing interactive mapping and visualization based on reports received. The platform allows anyone to easily and anonymously report threats of violence, past attacks, or active mobilization using a free SMS (text message), an email, or by entering a report on the website. When I reflect on the efficacy and success of the Kenyan Ushahidi platform to provide timely and detailed information on any possibility of election-related violence in the 2013 General Elections; I think Xenowatch may be a step in the right direction. 

The prevalence of the stereotypical views of foreign-born people that many South Africans hold onto is neither innocent nor accidental. Similarly, I find that it is no laughing matter. While there is a popular contemporary emphasis on stabilizing the continent of Africa and bringing peace to its various regions, in my view, xenophobia contradicts the ideals of nationalism and Pan-Africanism, that many argue are the pathway to African progress and socio-economic development. As Africans we need to get ourselves out of this self-hating conundrum by letting go of truncated and static notions of citizenship or belonging. The Africa we have today would not have existed and cannot exist without immigration and emigration. 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

What if migration had not occurred?

Economic and Social counterfactuals of migration in Ghana

by Collins Yeboah

Poko, is a 26 year old, unmarried man and a first male child to his parents comes from Nandowli in the Upper West region of Ghana. After secondary school, Poko could not continue with his education as a result of poverty. He migrated to Accra to work in the informal sector so he could support his family back home. Poko remits money to his family regularly for their upkeep; something he would not have done if migration had not occur. However, Poko’s migration to Accra has delayed his plans of getting married and having children. Poko says:

“I don’t have a wife. The pressure from home is too much to bear! I am happy I am able to provide for them though”

Edem, is a 29 year old migrant from Peki, in the Volta region who lives happily with his wife at Haasto, a suburb of Accra. Edem, a school dropout, migrated to Accra about six years ago to work in the informal sector as a mason. He married his wife two years ago something he says “he wouldn’t have done had he not migrated to Accra”.

Though Edem feels sad for not being able to further his education, he has gained financially and socially from his migration to Accra. He is able to send money back home to his household members back home but not on a regular basis:

“They are always on me to send them money. But you know I have another family here to cater for”

The search for opportunities 
For the two migrants, their migration to Accra, started with thoughts about opportunities in settings other than their places of origin. Migration is an action invested with a great deal of hope. They had hoped for better jobs and improved living conditions. For migrants like Poko and Edem, from relatively poorer areas, migration to towns and cities is often viewed as a relative increase in economic status as it increases their incomes in an “absolute” sense. For migrants’ households it’s an insurance and an additional income to supplement on-farm activities.

The challenges of migration 
There is quite a lot of evidence on economic gains of migration with little or no emphasis on social gains. Recent studies however indicate that migration into cities could result in; delayed marriages, deferred child birth, affects education, and emotional and psychological stress on migrants. From the two migrants, Poko has gained financially and remits back to his family members, however, he has lost socially because he is unable to marry something he would have done had migration not occurred:

“In my community, a man of my age should have a wife by now but here I am not married. I only work for my family not my welfare. Where I sleep, is too small to accommodate two people. In my community, people expect that a migrant like myself should have a better place to sleep so I can have a good woman to marry”

Poko’s statement underlines what migrants can potentially lose because of migration.

Social counterfactuals
The stories of Poko and Edem raise points about the social counterfactuals of migration. Fewer studies have explored how migrants and their households would have fared had migration not occurred. Most studies focus on monetary measurement of welfare impacts of migration with little or no focus on social counterfactuals.

The Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana in collaboration with University of Sussex, UK study on “Migration into Cities in Ghana: An Analysis of the Counterfactual” examines whether (and by how much) rural-urban migrants and their households have gained in real income and welfare terms from their migration. The study focuses on both economic counterfactuals (e.g. gains/losses in terms of income, employment, assets accumulation) and social counterfactuals (e.g. gains/losses in terms of marriage, child bearing, family formation, education etc.)

The findings suggest that on average households lose from migration. However, this is not an experience shared by all households: better off households actually gain, while poorer households are more likely to lose. Also migration to cities has affected marriages, timing of first birth, education and psychological status of migrants. Thus, the findings suggest that not everyone may gain from migration and that it may be better for some people to remain behind at the origin.

Two policy briefings from the study are also available for download
Migration to Cities in Ghana: Economic benefits to Migrants and their Households 
Social Benefits and Losses of Migrating into Cities in Ghana

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Soweto - the melting pot of South African history and culture

By Shezane Kirubi

In my three months in Johannesburg I have been struck by how the city has been able to transform itself, from a symbol of racist oppression during South Africa’s struggle for democracy, to a cultural hub with an electrifying African vibe which commemorates South Africa’s long and troublesome journey to democracy, as well as celebrating the diversity of the proud traditions of the millions of people living in the city.

Some of South Africa’s most interesting and pertinent history sites are in the township of Soweto, which was set up under segregation and apartheid as a dormitory town for the African workforce who were regarded, until the 1980s, as temporary sojourners under the migrant labour system. It has long been the most populous black urban residential area in the country, and its population size could qualify it to be a city in its own right, if it was not part of Johannesburg. I visited Soweto twice and those visits were the highlight of my time in Johannesburg as I experienced how the township acts a melting pot of South African urban culture.

Soweto’s significance in the struggle for democracy

Soweto’s rich political history has guaranteed its place in the history books. People around the world recognise the name ‘Soweto’ and the township’s significance in the struggle for democracy. There are iconic struggle sites like the Hector Pietersen memorial which commemorates the June 1976 youth uprising against apartheid; Orlando High School whose students were core activists in the 1976 uprising; and the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Moroka which served as a spiritual haven for thousands of people as well as being a venue for resistance gatherings and the political funerals of people killed in the struggle against apartheid.

I was excited to also visit one of Soweto’s oldest suburbs, Orlando. On Vilakazi Street I visited the former home of Nelson and Winnie Mandela which is now a museum. Nearby in the same street is the former residence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, making it the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners once lived.  I was able to also visit the Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown where the 1955 Freedom Charter was signed. Other prominent figures from Soweto whose names resonate around Africa include boxing legend Baby Jake Matlala, singing diva Yvonne Chaka Chaka, and soccer maestro Jomo Sono.

In Soweto I was feeling brave and daring and so I headed out to the decorated Orlando Towers (formerly the cooling towers of the electricity utility) for a 100m bungee jump from a suspension bridge which was an unforgettable and incomparable adrenaline rush. Suspended high up in the air I overlooked the Soweto landscape and saw kilometres of settlements of shacks made of corrugated iron sheets.

I believe that no one should travel to South Africa without visiting Soweto because of its inspiring heritage and cultural journey to freedom. What is even more remarkable is how Sowetans pride themselves on the urbane and street feel of the township. I noticed that the area is filled with plenty of ‘shebeens’ which are local drinking joints that remain very popular. The township also remains a bustling urban hive of activity that hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. Luckily when I visited, I was able to listen to the intricate rhythms and harmonies of a male choral group playing near Mandela house which was very inspirational. There were many street performers who captured the attention of large crowds of people with their talents and ability to perform breath-taking acts. Although the township still includes people living in extreme poverty, one can observe its progressive aspect deeply embedded in its urban and social feel.

Insights about migration

Reflecting on my visit, I felt that Soweto offers important insights about migration particularly migrant labour and mobility. It has a complex history of the urbanisation of Africans both from within South Africa and elsewhere in southern Africa. Industry and mining were dependent on cheap ‘migrant labour’ for their profits; while at the same time a succession of white governments tried to control the stream of urbanising migrants by denying these workers both their political rights and their rights to live permanently in the towns and cities.  Sites in Soweto like former hostels, monstrous prison-like buildings, were originally designed as single-sex accommodation for male migrant workers from rural areas and neighbouring countries while workers who were allowed to live temporarily in Soweto were tenants in houses with ’99 year leases’.

I have come to realize that to understand South Africa’s current immigration policies and hostility towards new migrants, one has to understand its migration history as well as the path that led to democracy. As sad as it may be that many South Africans express xenophobic attitudes, it is also imperative to be able to analyse the history of those perceptions, particularly in the context of the hard-won right to settle permanently in the cities.