Episode 1: Race, Migration, and Decolonisation with E. Tendayi Achiume

Reflecting on her tenure as UN Special Rapporteur on racism and xenophobia, Professor Achiume addresses the curious absence of race in the sphere of migration policymaking. At the root of “racial aphasia”, she argues, is a refusal to acknowledge the historical legacy of colonialism, on which today’s international regime of global mobility is built. Tracing this history from the emergence of passports to decolonisation, her conclusions are unequivocal: “There’s no modern racism that can be divorced from historical structures”.    

At the same time, she adds, some forms of xenophobia and discrimination, such as the treatment of Black African migrants in North Africa, cannot be reduced to the legacy of European colonialism, since they have roots in diverse histories of discrimination and exploitation. In a wide-ranging discussion of her own scholarly corpus and expert policy reports for the UN, Achiume does what she regards is the duty of researchers and activists when it comes to African migration: from Morocco to South Africa, our job is to “keep putting race on the table” in forums that refuse to acknowledge it.   

Speaker Bio 

Professor E. Tendayi Achiume is a Professor of Law at UCLA and former UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. She is the first woman to serve in this role since its creation in 1993. The current focus of her work is the global governance of racism and xenophobia; and the legal and ethical implications of colonialism for contemporary international migration.

Further Reading

E.Tendayi Achiume (2019) “Migration as Decolonization” (2019) Stanford Law Review 71 (6): LINK: https://escholarship.org/content/qt8m83b98j/qt8m83b98j.pdf & “Racial Borders” (2022) Georgetown Law Journal 110 (3) LINK: https://www.law.georgetown.edu/georgetown-law-journal/wp-content/uploads/sites/26/2022/05/Achiume_RacialBorders.pdf

Debra Thompson (2013) “Through, Against and Beyond the Racial State: The Transnational Stratum of Race,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 26 (2013): 135.

This episode is part of the series:

Exploring the Politics of Migration through Ideas is a podcast series that examines the past, present, and possible futures of migration within and from the African continent. It seeks to forge a new discussion around African migration in Europe and the West, but also within Africa itself: one that foregrounds African knowledge, lived experience, and political thought towards a humane and socially just order of mobility. Hosted by African Arguments and the Heinrich Boll Foundation’s African Migration Hub.