The African Youth Education Awards (AYEA), October 2018. Desmond John Beddy, founder of the initiative, is pictured here addressing the ceremony. The annual event, one of the most important in the African community in Hamburg, honours African students for their academic excellence and for being role-models in the community / Photo: Femi Awoniyi

West Africans in Hamburg: Roots in Two Worlds

The book “Wurzeln in zwei Welten – Westafrikanische Migranten und Migrantinnen in Hamburg” (Roots in Two Worlds – West African migrants in Hamburg) thoroughly examines the African immigration experience.

Although its title might suggest a particularity – West Africans or Hamburg, but the book mirrors the entire experience of the African in Germany, even in Europe – the struggle to establish a life here while keeping touch with base, in every sense of it.

The authors wanted to avoid generalisation hence their choosing the title. For the immigrants with whom they had contact and whose experience the book reports are from West Africa and they live in Hamburg.

However, their experience is not in any significant way different from other African immigrants in Germany or even Europe.

Hamburg, which as a port city and centre of commerce attracts many foreigners because of the promise of employment, makes a good place to study immigrants. In fact, the city has the highest number of Africans in the country, more than 20,000 (2018).

Roots in Two Worlds touches on all important aspects of African migration – the reasons why Africans leave their homelands for an uncertain life in a distant country, their struggles to reach their desired destination, the efforts they have to make to establish themselves in the new land, the pressure on them to live up to the expectations of the people they left behind at home and the desire after a period of sojourn here to return.

“Wurzeln in zwei Welten. Westafrikanische Migranten und Migrantinnen in Hamburg” by Joseph McIntyre, Beate Balliel, Katrin Pfeiffer //Brandes und Apsel Verlag Frankfurt am Main, 234 Seiten, 19,90 Euro

Life in the uncertainty of asylum-seeking, ordeals of African-German couples who have to prove to the authorities that their love is real and not of convenience, the difficult relationship between Africans and the police, the stereotypical image of Africans as drug dealers and racism are all dealt with in this book.

Roots in Two Worlds is essentially based on information and knowledge won by the authors from their interactions with their subject matter. The authors are connected in different ways to Africa; through academic training, work as interpreters for, or counselling of, asylum-seekers, private contact to Africans, or they have lived in Africa for some time. Some of them even speak an African language.

Without doubt that background has given the authors a deep insight into the life of the African migrant and it shows in the book, which was first published in 2004.

Germans curious to know how the Africans they often see on the streets are living in their country will be rewarded. There is no aspect of African life in Germany that is not adequately covered in Roots in Two Worlds. And Africans themselves will find it interesting to read about the whole gamut of Diaspora life in the excellent book.

The great thing about Roots in Two Worlds is that, by offering a deep insight into the life of Africans with all the difficulties they face in their efforts to establish a normal life here, the book might promote a better attitude towards them among Germans.

Femi Awoniyi

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