Journal of Social Development in Africa

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Transnationalism as Process, Diaspora as Condition

Joy Owen


In 2004 I embarked on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork that spanned a six year period with Congolese migrants in Muizenberg, Cape Town. During fieldwork it was necessary to identify these migrants either as diasporic or as a transnational community given the purchase of transnationalism in the migration field. In this article I consider the concepts of diaspora and transnationalism simultaneously in reference to the Congolese migrants I worked with in an attempt to delineate the content of their experiences. In doing so I demonstrate that transnational activities occur within diasporic communities and posit as does Fasit (2000) that a diaspora is a transnational community. I further argue however that at the time of writing while other social scientists and indeed Congolese migrants themselves have referred to themselves as the Congolese diaspora, that the length of their sojourn in receiving countries does not warrant the delineation of their transnational community as one. The need for this conceptual clarification is important at a time when the world becomes less sedentary, and places start to interpenetrate each other through the presence of 'other' national citizens in a state. Further given the nature of the transnational migrant circular migration is possible. This reality should impact the manner in which transmigrants are received by states as their residence within receiving countries is not indefinite, nor necessarily desired.

KEY WORDS: diaspora, transnationalism, Congolese

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