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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Global Connections: Somali Diaspora Practices and their Effects


With an estimated two million people of Somali descent living outside Somalia—the ‘Somali diaspora’—an understanding of migration and transnational practices is crucial for grasping Somali society. Mobility and mobile livelihoods have been important aspects of Somali life for centuries. Even so, international migration and transnational socio-economic practices—such as remittances, news and communication between Somalis in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere have intensified from 1988 onwards, as a result of the civil war and the ensuing decades of conflict, instability and complex emergencies.

While the large majority of diaspora Somalis, including refugees, live in neighbouring countries, many Somali families and kin networks are dispersed across the globe, with the UK, US, Sweden, South Africa and the Gulf states having emerged as important settlement countries. When looking at the Somali regions and diaspora, it is therefore important to keep in mind these multiple locations and multi-directional transnational practices, as well as the fact that political and financial decisions concerning the Somali regions may be co-decided in several places.

The implication here is that living conditions and political opportunity structures in different parts of the world can affect Somali diaspora engagement, and hence life in the Somali regions. Hence, these relationships and engagements reflect local and global inequalities. In this regard, security, employment/livelihoods, and high-mobility citizenship (or permanent residence papers) enabling safe and legal mobility around the world are particularly important.

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