Migration and Human Securities: The Abidjan Workshop

Abidjan participants

The Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis (CfAS) sponsored a collaborative synthetic workshop on modeling human migration from a long-term, global perspective, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, April 4-8, 2022. The workshop stemmed from the CfAS design workshop sponsored by the Society for American Archaeology and the European Association of Archaeologists, held at the Amerind Foundation in 2019; and it was supported with generous funds from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, SRI Foundation, and the L’École doctorale Sociétés, Communication, Arts, Lettres et Langues de l’Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny (UFHB)

The Abidjan workshop was organized by Ivorian collaborators from l’Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny (UFHB)—Drs. T. Hélène Kienon-Kabore, Aïcha Gninin Desline Toure, Kouadio René Boudi, Galla Guy Roland Tie Bi, and N’Doua Etienne Ettien. The program consisted of two days of lectures/presentations with half given by the Amerind collaborators and half given by West African archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians. This was followed by two days of visits to sites and places related to migration in Cote d’Ivoire. A last day was given over to synthesizing the long-term processes in West African migration and recommendations.

About 50 people attended the workshop, with an average of about 40-45 per session. Most were archaeologists from Ivorian universities, either professors or graduate students. Other participants included representatives from the Cote d’Ivoire Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). Additionally, journalists attended and the workshop was featured in print (1, 2, and 3) and on television. The workshop was documented throughout by a professional photo/videographer and simultaneous translation (French/English) was available for all workshop sessions.

The synthetic session began with an exercise developed by Rachael Kiddey in which participants created their own “migration map” that plotted their personal journey. The group was then split into three subgroups with each group facilitated by an Amerind collaborator. The African stories were humbling, difficult, uplifting, and powerful. Most spoke of violence, poverty, discrimination, multiple moves, refugee status, and struggles against huge odds.

The exercise was followed by a discussion of common themes in the migration stories which were then connected to the talks presented earlier in the week. The group approved five basic conclusions and four recommendations (see accompanying blog post). The workshop was closed by Corey Ragsdale and Timpoko Kienon.

The three biggest achievements from my perspective were:

1. Collaborative efforts can be extremely powerful. In this case, the two groups—the Amerind group and the West African group—had no previous interaction. Over the course of a few days, they came together and created a new understanding of the issues involved in West African migration which neither group could have done on their own. It is important to note that collaboration doesn’t just happen. It is hard work and a successful outcome is not guaranteed.

2. Empowering Ivorian scholars. Again and again, our Ivorian hosts thanked us for giving them the chance to prove that they could host such an event. Holding the workshop in Abidjan was a very big deal. The facts that the workshop was attended by government officials and IGO representatives; that we had a special audience with the President of the University; that the workshop was featured on TV and in the newspaper shouldn’t be dismissed as unimportant or additional burdens. Our Ivorian colleagues have now joined the CfAS community, with a key goal being to ensure the mobility of teachers, students, and applied archaeologists between CfAS Partners and Côte d’Ivoire.

3. Changing perspectives on migration. When asked why he was attending the workshop, the UNHCR representative replied that while he knew the laws surrounding migration, he didn’t know the factors that shaped those laws or why they were proving so difficult for so many within Côte d’Ivoire. Like many laws in West Africa, Côte d’Ivoire’s immigration and property laws derive from French law and were designed to serve France’s colonial interests. Whether our workshop has any tangible impact on these laws is doubtful, but our work has set in motion a debate about migration policy that could have practical benefits.

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