Diasporas in Africa

Images from here, here, and here.

Mougoué’s second book project, Diasporas in Africa, is a work of transnational history and thus studies the circulations of ideas and people across national boundaries (Paisley and Scully, 2019: 1). It uses the early spread of Baha’i, a religion with tenets of racial and gender equality, to illuminate the dynamism of transnational diasporic connections in Africa. By charting the experiences of African descended “pioneers” (so-called among Baha’is to distinguish them from European missionaries), the work seeks to enrich understandings of global racial political projects from the 1950s to the 1970s, an era of Global South solidarities and activism. The work considers scholarly calls to expand our definition of the African diaspora (e.g., Palmer 1998), contributing to a body of scholarship that rarely recognizes intra-African diaspora. While the African diaspora traditionally focuses on individuals of African descent outside of Africa, the work looks inward to highlight the transnational histories of one disparate Black diasporic religious community anchored in Africa but always in conversation with Black individuals in Africa and the diaspora. Through the lens of Baha’i, the project seeks to illustrate how a transnational diasporic racial consciousness arose first through exchanges with other Africans across “imperial” borders in Africa and second, through the circulation of African descended Baha’is internationally.

Using the experiences of Black Baha’is as a unique case study of transnational diasporic experiences, the project traverses the continent from Uganda to Cameroon to Togo. It showcases distinct viewpoints about transnational Black experiences/identity in Africa and emphasizes how Black Baha’i converts communicated; crossed paths; circulated ideas, cultural and religious; and fostered diverse relationships. It explores stories such as Enoch Tanyi’s, who grew up mainly in Ghana with his pioneer parents and never felt Cameroonian, though he was born there and returned in early adulthood. Further, it highlights the experiences of the Cameroonian and Black American pioneer duo, Joseph Enonguene and Luella McKay, who were followed by the “secret” police and jailed for openly teaching the faith in 1950s Equatorial Guinea. Such stories reveal new dynamics, new stories, and new ways of understanding transnational diasporic histories as perceptions and practices about race and diasporic connections shifted.