The African Diaspora
The ICD “Experience Africa” Program
The African Diaspora
Introduction to the African Diaspora across the World


The word “Diaspora” has its origins in the Latin word “diaspeirein” meaning “disperse”. Accordingly, we understand the term African Diaspora to refer to the “dispersal” of Africans outside of the African continent. Here the meaning of the word “dispersal” is two-fold: Firstly, its usage can be applied to the actual process of dispersal. Secondly, and more commonly, the term refers to individuals residing in countries outside of Africa who have been dispersed, either through choice or through force.

The latter usage of the term is therefore an umbrella term to describe a variety of individuals and groups, who can be described as members of the African Diaspora. We acknowledge the depth and breadth of the different groups under the term “African Diaspora”, who may have come from opposite ends of the continent, have left under different circumstances, and may be integrated into their communities to different extents.

Since the late twentieth century, the term Diaspora (Greek διασπορα, a scattering or sowing of seeds) has described people or ethnic groups who have left their traditional ethnic homelands by force and have scattered all over the world. The term is often used when referring to a minority ethnic group or a religious group. Originally, the term Diaspora referred to the populations of Jews exiled from Judea in 586 BC by the Babylonians and in AD 135 by the Romans. Since early modern times, the confessional minorities of Christianity were part of a Diaspora. The term describes the process of dispersal and the dispersed ethnic population.

Today ‘Diaspora’ refers to, among others, the Jewish Diaspora in the modern sense (Jews who live outside Israel), the Christian Diaspora (Christian minorities in East and South East Asia or Catholics in Northern Europe and Protestants in Southern Europe) ), the Irish Diaspora (Irish refugees due to the Irish Potato Famine and political oppression), the Armenian Diaspora (the dispersal of Armenians after the genocide in 1915-16), the South East Asian Diaspora (the scattered refugees from South East Asia due to several wars such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War), the Islamic Diaspora (the Muslim minority in Europe and North America) and the African Diaspora..

The African Diaspora has been formed by the movements of Africans and their descendants to regions throughout Europe, the Caribbean, North America, South America, and Central America. The majority of the African Diaspora descends from individuals who were taken into slavery; however, we are witnessing an increase of voluntary immigrants and asylum-seekers.

Apart from problems which the Diaspora faces, the situation of the Diaspora poses the question of cultural identity. On the one hand, many are caught between voluntary or forced dissociation and exclusion, and on the other hand, many assimilate to a degree causing them to lose their own ethnic language or religion. These consequences afflicting the African Diaspora have left many searching for their place within their new culture.

Below is a table illustrating the world’s top twelve countries hosting members of the African Diaspora.

Country Diaspora Population Rank
Brazil 85,783,143 01
United States 38,499,304 02
Colombia 9,452,872 03
Haiti 8,701,439 04
Dominican Republic 7,985,991 05
France 5,000,000 06
Jamaica 2,731,419 07
Venezuela 2,641,481-6,999,926 08
United Kingdom 2,015,400 09
Cuba 1,126,894 10
Trinidad and Tobago 1,047,366 11
Canada 783,795 12

Identity of the African Diaspora: An Evolution of Identifying Terms

The terms used to describe members of the African Diaspora have evolved throughout the last couple of centuries. Identities have taken shape often based on the region in which African descendants currently live. The majority of people, who used to be categorized solely as ‘black’, are in search of a term which identifies them as people who are part of a larger culture and not one that necessarily reflects their race and skin color.

The modern debate over an identifying name took shape during the African slave trade when the first Africans were shipped to the Americas and the Caribbean. The vast majority of Africans wanted to be referred to as African. However the non-African population referred to Africans either as slaves or free. Thus began the reference to people as an adjective and not a noun. Soon Africans and African descendants rejected the term ‘African’ because a negative connotation evolved through the ideas of European descendants. ‘African’ came to symbolize a sub-human identity because Africans were seen as ‘barbaric’ and ‘ape-like’. With the end of the nineteenth century, adjectives started to transform into nouns as identifying terms for African descendants. The term ‘Colored’ became customary when describing all people who were ‘non-white’. However this was replaced with the term ‘Negro’ in the early twentieth century due to the fact that segregation was on a rise and signs above public facilities appeared all over the United States indicating which facility could be used by the ‘Colored’ or by the ‘Whites’. Segregation fueled racism and the terms, ‘Colored’ and ‘Negro’, were perceived as racist by the time of the 1950s and 60s’ Civil Rights Movement. Currently the only acceptable use of the term ‘Colored’ is in the organizational title of the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

In the 1960s many African Americans were rediscovering their African roots. Hairstyles such as the Afro were becoming popular and slogans such as ‘Black is Beautiful’ were chanted by many. “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud”, was a song by James Brown which demonstrated the rise of ‘Black Pride’ in the 1960s. With this rise of Black awareness, the distinction on who was ‘Black’ changed. Although ‘Black’ still referred to the color of one’s skin, now it referred only to African descendants and no longer encompassed dark-skinned individuals such as Italians or Mexicans. However, this remained problematic because it referred to anyone originating from African descendants, such as people from the Caribbean, even though these possessed a highly distinct culture. Not all African descendants welcomed the surfacing of the term ‘Black’ because they felt it was similar to the term ‘Negro’ which was now seen as a racist term. But for the most part many accepted the term ‘Black’ and it is still considered acceptable in the USA and other parts of the world today.

The term ‘Afro-American’ developed during the rise of hyphenated terms to describe American minority groups in the 1970s and 1980s. Soon the term evolved into ‘African-American’ and finally into ‘African American’ with it losing the hyphen. The hyphen was removed because many believed that it implied a sub-category. ‘African American’ was adopted quickly by many because many African descendants in the USA did not identify themselves as ‘Black’. However, this terminology does not satisfy everyone because many also believe that there is nothing African about them. It is now widely accepted as the politically correct terminology for Americans of African descendant although it is understood that one term cannot contain all the information required to accurately represent a population of over forty million people.

Today, members of the African Diaspora associate themselves with Africa through the terms with which they identify. Many African descendants believe that the usage of ‘African’ when being identified is a way of circling back to their roots of Africa which carried a stigma for a long time. When polled by the online Village forum associated with the Blacknet website, 40% of African descendants living in Great Britain wished to be called African British while almost half that number, 24%, wished to be called Black. Many believe that the English language has oppressed African people by constantly using adjectives instead of nouns when referring to an ethnic group. With the desire to be recognized and connected with their heritage and not described according to their skin color, many prefer the reference to Africa when identifying them.

Afro-Latinos acknowledge their black identity but do not accept it as a means of identification. Although many people would expect Afro-Dominicans to share the same level of identification with blackness as African Americans do, many Afro-Dominicans believe that being black places them into the same social category which African Americans associate with racism and discrimination. Afro-Latinos in the USA also do not identify with the African Americans. For many Afro-Latinos, African American means that someone is born in the USA with African ancestry and not Hispanic heritage. However, the longer an Afro-Latino remains in the USA, the more likely he/she will identify him/herself as being black just like the African American.

These diversities and complexities pertinent to members of the African Diaspora make it difficult to claim a common identity. Although many share broad similarities, African descendants do not believe these similarities are enough to associate all under the same umbrella. Every region of the world that African descendants live in has unique aspects for understanding the logic behind the terminology desired by them. History, culture, and political institutions have all been factors which have shaped racial identities throughout the world.

For further information:

“African British Identity Tops Poll.” Online. DSL. 10 December 2008.

Crémieux, Anne. “Americans of African Descent: Names and Identities.” Online. DSL. 10 December 2008.

Gordon, Edmund T. and Mark Anderson. “The African Diaspora: Toward an Ethnography of Diasporic Identification.” The Journal of American Folklore: “Theorizing the Hybrid”, vol. 112, no. 445 (Summer 1999): 282-296.

Middleton IV, R. T., 2005-04-07 “The Challenges of Building a Pan-Black Afro-Latino/African American Identity: Dominican Views of Blackness” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois Online <.PDF». 2008-10-10 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p85596_index.html


The African Diaspora in Europe

Historical Overview

The history of the African Diaspora in Europe is still largely misunderstood and has not received much recent academic attention. It originated tens of thousands of years ago when human society, in the modern sense, first came into being. During this time, several waves of men and women from the African continent had begun to migrate to Europe. There is sufficient evidence of the existence of African descendants during the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans due to trade and exploration. As infrastructure grew and means of transportation improved, the dispersal of African people continued to increase throughout Europe. Not only were Africans entering Europe, but Europeans were developing ways of traveling deeper into Africa. As Europeans began to trade with local tribe leaders and merchants within Africa, the forced displacement of the African community increased with the sale of members from these African communities. Colonization spread throughout Africa with several European countries claiming land with valuable resources.

Today, more Africans and African descendants are integrated into European society, but problems continue to exist within different areas of society. Many of these problems differ depending on which culture or country the Africans and African descendants are located. This will be looked at more in depth in regard to Germany, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal.

Facts and Figures

Continent / Country Country population Afro-descendants
Europe 590,856,462.00 2.40%
France 62,752,136 8.0% (inc. French Guiana & other territories)
United Kingdom 60,609,153 3.0% (inc. partial)
Italy 59,448,163 1.30%
Spain 40,397,842 1.30%
Germany 82,000,000 0.60%
Netherlands 16,491,461 1.80%
Portugal 10,605,870 2.00%
Russia 141,594,000 0.12%
Poland 38,082,000 0.002
Republic of Ireland 4,339,000 1.10%

The Current Situation and African Immigration Today

The current immigration situation within Europe is perceived as a problem. In 2006, over one million people migrated to Europe, and the European countries received 299,000 asylum applications. Europe is the primary destination for African migrants due to the proximity of countries along the Mediterranean Sea, with Spain, Italy, and Malta being the most effected. Thousands of Africans risk their lives in search for work and a better life. October 2013 was a clear exemplification of this tragic fact, with 400 refugees drowning in just ten days on their way to the EU. The European Union states are under increasing pressure to reform their immigration and asylum practices and concerns are being echoed at the highest level, with the current President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz calling for radical reforms. Catastrophes such as Lampedusa, he claims, must be avoided by the opening of more legal immigration channels, thus discouraging people from seeking illegal and dangerous means of reaching the European continent.

European citizenship is admired by inhabitants from neighboring countries largely due to the flexibility of movement within Europe which enables people to search for the best financial options. Although immigration is viewed as a problem, the birth rate in Europe is low, and immigrants can offer a possible solution. In fact, CFR Senior Fellow, Charles A. Kupchan argues, “That despite tendencies against integration, Europe will have to turn to immigration for its economic survival.” German engineering vacancies rose nearly thirty percent between 2006 and 2007. This is largely due to Germany’s restrictions on the free movement of its workers.

The issues regarding the responsibility for immigrants have remained national even though the situation affects all countries within the European Union. The 2003 Dublin II Regulation increased the strain on the countries closest to Africa. It states that when a refugee enters Europe seeking asylum, the first country he/she enters is solely responsible for examining his/her asylum application. In 2006, Spain received approximately 636,000 immigrants. This number represented half of the EU’s total and 122,500 more than the number of immigrants who arrived in Germany, France, Italy, and Great Britain combined. The authorities on Spain’s Canary Islands caught almost thirty thousand Africans trying to enter in 2006, and Malta, located only two hundred miles from Libya’s coastline, has seen up to two hundred immigrants a week.

Disagreement among EU member states has prevented progress toward a more standardized EU immigration policy. Spain’s immigration policy is one of the most liberal. For many years it has been more lenient to the residents of the former Spanish colonies, in particular Latin America. Comparatively, France has adopted a stricter approach. In May 2007, the Immigration Minister, Brice Hortefeux, announced a plan to offer monetary incentives for legal immigrants to encourage them to return to Africa. In response to such unequal burdens, Martin Schulz recently called for the fairer distribution of asylum seekers and refugees across the EU.
Progress in reaching an agreement for an EU-wide common asylum system has been slow, but finally, in June 2013, a milestone was reached, with the European Parliament endorsing the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). According to EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, this agreement will ensure “better access to the asylum procedure for those who seek protection; will lead to fairer, quicker and better quality asylum decisions; will ensure that people in fear of persecution will not be returned to danger; and will provide dignified and decent conditions both for those who apply for asylum and those who are granted international protection within the EU.” As a very recently approved piece of legislation, the levels of implementation across the EU remain to be seen. The financial crisis has diverted the attention of many Member States away from immigration, with a shift of focus towards resolving fiscal uncertainty and unemployment instead. Nevertheless, incidents such as Lampedusa have ensured the reinstatement of immigration issues on the European agenda.

The Approach of the European Commission

The European Commission regularly addresses the issues on immigration, but their policies on asylum have remained more uniform than those on other forms of immigration. Under a 2004 policy, people can receive refugee status if there is a ‘well-founded fear’ existing in their home country for which they could be persecuted for race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion. The European Union has agreed on minimum standards for housing, education, and health care of asylum seekers, as well as a set of criteria for determining refugee status. In addition, the Asylum Procedures Director requested that the states provide asylum seekers with a minimum level of access to legal aid. In practice, however, these measures have not protected asylum seekers from inadequate legal representation and poor treatment at government immigration centers. Moreover, these standards have left room for different interpretations by states, and member states have yet to reach a consensus on how to share the obligatory burden of refugees.

The issues afflicting the EU’s immigration policy, however, are rooted deeper than through sole interpretation. William Somerville, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute says, “On legal migration there is very little European level regulation. It’s almost entirely a question of national sovereign power over entry and exit.” The European Union adopted in 2005 an external policy on migration called the Global Approach to Migration (PDF). It encourages, but does not require, cooperation between member states. The European Union has issued laws that affect immigration for students, researchers, and family reunification, but member-state disagreement continues to overshadow calls for concrete establishment of a unified migration policy. Britain, Denmark, and Ireland share a common immigration policy allowing them to maintain the right to decide on immigration on a case-by-case basis. As an EU official admits, “EU migration policy is only harmonized so far to a limited degree…admission to a member states’ national territory goes to the heart of national sovereignty, so it is an area that member states are hanging on to dearly.”

European Institutions Protecting Racial Equality

EU Race Equality Directive: The European Commission on 27 June sent formal requests to 14 EU Member States to fully implement EU rules banning discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin (2000/43/CE). It was agreed upon in 2000 with a deadline for implementation into national law by 2003. It covers the fields of employment/occupation, vocational training, membership of employer and employee organizations, social protection including social security and health care, education and access to goods and services available to the public including housing. The countries concerned included Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Slovakia. They had two months to respond with the creation of a specialized body for the promotion of equal treatment on grounds of race and ethnic origin. Failure to meet this deadline could result in the Commission taking them to the European Court of Justice.

Promoting Equality in Diversity: ‘Integration in Europe’ is a project implemented by the International Labor Office and its partners with the financial support of the European Union. They plan to support the broader community’s engagement throughout the European Union member countries and facilitate integration of and combat discrimination against immigrants by disseminating effective practice, identifying indicators of integration, developing evaluation tools, and convening social partner networking.

The African Diaspora in North America

Historical Overview

The movement of the African Diaspora to North America started in 1619 when a Dutch slave trader exchanged his shipload of Africans for food. The Africans became servants, similar in legal position to many poor Englishmen who traded several years’ labor in exchange for passage to America. However, the popular conception of a racial-based slave system did not develop until the 1680s. From 1619-1808, approximately 500,000 Africans were brought to North America as slaves. The African slaves frequently resisted their lot. Such resistance ranged from runaway slaves to open rebellion and, ultimately, revolution. Colonies of runaway slaves (Maroons) were established in locations such as Jamaica, Surinam, and Brazil, and the historical legacy of resistance and rebellion persisted up to the twentieth century in the forms of the defiant creation of black villages following emancipation and the political struggles for democracy and independence between the 1940s and 1960s.

The Current Situation of Black Immigration

There are several factors responsible for the increasing waves of migration away from Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America, which in the early 2000s constituted the bulk of the African Diaspora. Most significant are political instability, repressive or oppressive state policies, economic hardships, and lack of personal advancement. Migrants also desire to settle in the more advanced metropolises of North America because of better economic opportunities and higher educational attainments. But what is mostly fuelling migration from Africa is the phenomenon of economic and technological globalization, which tends to concentrate wealth and more lucrative economic and job opportunities in the metropolitan centers of the world, particularly in North America and Europe. Metropolitan cities such as New York, London, Toronto, Paris, and Amsterdam accept the bulk of immigrant populations from Africa and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the major concentrations of people of African descent, outside the African continent, are in the United States and Brazil.

The United States of America

Historical Overview

In 1808, the import of slaves to the USA became illegal, but to own slaves and their descendants remained customary especially in the agricultural south where lots of laborers were needed for agricultural work. The process of the abolishment of slavery started in 1861 when the American Civil War broke out between the “free states” of the north and the “slave states” of the south. On the January 1, 1863, in the middle of the war, President Abraham Lincoln passed an emancipation bill where he declared all slaves of the “rebel states” to be free. Slavery was then totally abolished throughout the USA in 1865 based on the thirteenth constitutional amendment. However, even after the end of slavery African Americans were still discriminated against through segregation and poor education.

Searching for a fresh start in life, more and more African Americans migrated from the southern parts of the US to the urban north which triggered an inner-American migration wave. This caused an overflow of labor which meant many black people couldn’t find jobs in the cities and had to live separately from the Whites. Thus, so-called Ghettos developed in desolated parts of the cities. Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, African Americans demanded equal treatment under the law and the end of racial discrimination by means of boycotts, marches and non-violent protests towards the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. The civil rights movement reached its height at August 28, 1963 when more than 200,000 people of all races gathered in front of the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC to hear Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Shortly after that, the US Congress passed laws which forbade political, legal, social, and racial discrimination.

The Current Situation

Today, black Americans make up 13.5% of the total US-population. Throughout the last decades, black people have been becoming increasingly more present in the middle classes. In 2002, 50.8% of all black Americans occupied so-called “white-collar-jobs” (academic professions and positions in management or administration). In 2003, 58.3% of all black High School graduates were enrolled at a college within one year (compared to only 35.8% in 1982). The percentage of white students who attended college or university totaled 66.1%, less than 8% higher. However, the income of black people is still lower than that of white workers and unemployment rates, especially those of black young men, are higher.

Poverty continues to force many African Americans to live in city districts with high crime rates and drug abuse. In terms of government policy, affirmative action and quotas have been used to ensure that a certain percentage of jobs are allocated to black workers and that members of minorities constitute a specified amount of students in schools. The public discussion about the necessity, effectiveness and fairness of these programs intensified during the 1990s.

The Role of the US Government

The United States government has taken an active role in the lives of African Americans since the late nineteenth century. With the American Civil War fought partially over slavery, the United States’ sixteenth president and declared abolitionist, Abraham Lincoln, delivered the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 declaring that “all persons held as slaves are and henceforward shall be free”. Afraid that his proclamation would lose validity after the war, the United States Congress proposed and ratified the thirteenth amendment ensuring that slavery would never occur again. Soon to follow were the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments which gave African American equal protection under the US constitution as US citizens and African American men the right to vote.

The turn of the century may not have included slavery but segregation and discrimination were obstacles for African American in the first half of the twentieth century. In a court case, Plessey vs. Ferguson, the United States Supreme Court declared that the separation of blacks and whites in public education and venues was not a violation of the fourteenth amendment and that the law could not be expected to “abolish distinctions based on color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality”. However, in a precedent case nearly sixty years later in 1954, the Supreme Court overturned their original ruling with the court case, Brown vs. Board of Education. The Supreme Court declared that “discriminatory nature of racial segregation” was a violation of the fourteenth amendment.

Segregation may have been declared unlawful in 1954, but discrimination and inequality continued to be a struggle for African Americans. In order to ensure equal treatment of African Americans, the Civil Rights Act was integrated into legislation officially making segregation unlawful. Included in this piece of legislation is Title VII, guaranteeing equal opportunity within the workforce against discrimination due to race, religion, sex, and national origin. Title VII ensures that all Americans are not discriminated against in regard to “recruitment, hiring and promotion, transfer, work assignments, performance measurements, the work environment, job training, discipline and discharge, wages and benefits, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment”.

Notable African Americans

Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005) was an American civil-rights activist from Alabama. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat to a white passenger on a racially segregated Montgomery bus. She was arrested and fined but her action led to a successful boycott of the Montgomery buses by African American riders. Certainly her case was not unique; African Americans had been arrested for disobeying the segregation laws many times before. However, in 1954 the Supreme Court had rendered an important decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which held that educational segregation was inherently illegal. The decision encouraged African Americans to fight more boldly for the end of racial segregation in every area of American life. Thus, NAACP officials and Montgomery church leaders decided that Parks’ arrest could provide the necessary incentive for a successful bus boycott.

Nat “King” Cole (1919 – 1965) was one of the most popular singers and Jazz-musicians of his times. He developed a special way of playing the piano which was influenced by his idol Earl Hines and also by the melodic chants of his childhood. From 1944 onwards, he was the singer of the “Nat King Cole Trio” which recorded in 1946 their first hit “The Christmas Song”. Only four years later, Cole became an internationally acclaimed singer thanks to his version of the song “Nature Boy”. Along with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole belongs to the most famous singers of the 50s and 60s. This is particularly due to the soft tone of his voice and his emotional appeal Cole is still loved by many people throughout world.

Malcolm X (Malcolm Little) (1925 – 1965) was an African American civil-rights activist from Nebraska who converted to Islam. After he was discharged, he traveled around the USA and achieved a strong growth for the “Nation of Islam”, through his campaigns. By the end of 1963 he fell out with the leader Muhammad and founded the “Organization of Afro-American Unity” which aimed at immediate political action. Beyond the originally black nationalism, he developed approaches of a universal humanistic revolutionist concept. Malcolm X was assassinated by African American fanatics at a meeting with his followers. His memoir “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, which was published posthumously by A. Haley, is considered as a classic of African American self-expression.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968) was an American theologian, Baptist priest and civil-rights activist from Georgia. Since the mid-1950s he was active in the Civil Rights Movement and from 1957 on he was the leader of the “Southern Christian Leadership Conference” (SCLC). On the occasion of a protest march to Washington on the August 28, 1963 he called for free society founded on equality with the slogan “I have a dream”. He was in jail several times and, after multiple unsuccessful attempts, was assassinated in 1968. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is now considered to be the symbolic figure of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA.

Toni Morrison (1931 – ) is an American writer from Ohio and a representative of African American literature. In her historical novels she creates a complex picture of a deep alienation and search for identity of African American women and unsettled family relationships. In 1993, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Colin Powell (1937 – ) is an American general from New York. He studied Geology and was sent to work in Vietnam in the 1960s after he finished his officer training. In 1968, he was commander of the V. US-battalion in the German Federal Republic. From 1987 – 1989 he was the first African American to be a National Security Adviser and from 1989 – 1993 he was the chairman of the chiefs of staff of the US military forces. During the Second Gulf War against Iraq, he coordinated the allied deployment plans and was highly involved in the preparation of the operation “Desert Storm”. In 1996, he refused the candidacy for presidency which the Republicans offered him. From 2001- 2005 he was Foreign Minister of the USA, the first African American in this office.

Barack Obama (1961 – ) is an American politician from Hawaii and in 2009 will become the forty-fourth president of the United States. In 2004, the jurist with a PhD. was elected senator for the State of Illinois and thereupon the charismatic and patriotic Democrat advanced to be one of the most popular politicians of the USA. Before being elected to the Senate he taught Constitutional Law at the Faculty of Law at the University of Chicago. Particularly his call for peace and a fast withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, as well as his ideas of social policy, earned him his popularity.

Associations and Current Leadership

Nowadays, there exists a confusingly high number of clubs, initiatives, societies etc. concerned with African American issues. The Tom Joyner Foundation helps students continue their education at African American colleges. The Foundation provides money directly to the Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for the purpose of helping these students complete their education. Another important institution is the Africa Reparations Movement. Besides seeking reparations for the enslavement of African people in Africa and in the African Diaspora, they are campaigning for an accurate portrayal of African history and thus the restoration of dignity and self-respect to all people of African descent. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, ACORN was formed in 1970 when a group of Arkansas welfare mothers formed ACORN’s first membership. ACORN is a grassroots, multi-issue community organization that operates in 26 states. Working together in affiliated neighborhood groups, ACORN Community organizers fight for increased voter registration, better education and health care, environmental justice and wide ranging neighborhood improvements. Blacks in Government (BIG) was founded in 1975 as a non-profit organization to help African American civil servants. Initially, it was thought that the umbrella organization would address only the problems at the Federal level. However, it was soon determined that State, County, and Municipal Black employees were faced with the same general type of employment problems. The Malcolm X Institute for Black Studies is an organization at Wabash College which lists as its objective the promotion of educational, cultural, and social programs of concern to the citizens of the Wabash & Crawfordsville communities, particularly African American citizens.

For further information:


Historical Overview

The African Canadian history is rich and complex, dating back to 1518 when millions of Africans were enslaved by European countries and brought to perform slave labor in the ‘New World’. Most African Canadians immigrated to Canada from the Caribbean and the USA.

The earliest African Canadian communities were established in the Maritime Provinces, and Birchtown became the largest settlement of free Africans outside Africa. The African in Canada was recorded in Nova Scotia in 1605 and served as an interpreter under Governor de Monts. From 1628 until the early 1800s, African slavery was widespread in Eastern Canada yet practiced to a lesser extent than in the United States; one reason for this is that climate and geography prevented the development of plantation and agricultural structures in early colonial history. When the slave trade was abolished and enslaved Africans were freed, the movement of Africans to Canada slowed. While there continued to be migration within North America, there were few African arrivals from outside North America until the twentieth century, when immigration from the Caribbean increased as Cape Breton sought coalminers. The period during and after the two world wars saw changes to immigration laws which made it possible for Africans to enter Canada in order to fill the gaps left by Canada’s war effort.

When referring to the African Diaspora over the course of the two centuries, it is important to acknowledge the similarity of the process that was practiced in Canada by the British and French. After the ‘Great Expulsion’ of the French settlers in 1775 (the ‘Acadians’), the first major group of Africans in Canada was comprised of slaves brought to Nova Scotia by residents of New England. As a result of the American Revolution in 1776, white Loyalists escaping from the colonies also brought their slaves with them to Nova Scotia, whilst African descent Loyalists who supported the British during the American Revolution also arrived in Canada to cash in their ‘Promised Land’ grants. A number of black people fled from the war between the British Empire and the United States between 1812 and 1815 and settled in Nova Scotia and Ontario.

The first half of the nineteenth century saw the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 in Canada and, conversely, the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 in the United States that stipulated that fugitive slaves had to be returned to their owners by law. This brought another wave of group of refugee slaves to Canada, who fled to southern Ontario via the ‘Underground Railroad’ network of safe houses and secret routes. Many of the earliest black communities chose to remain in Canada and founded settlements in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and, later, in Western Canada with the opening of the border in the mid-1800s. By 1860, the African Diaspora numbered approximately seventy-five thousand in the province of Ontario, however most members returned to the United States after the American Civil War.

The 1901 Census recorded 17,400 people of African descent living in Canada, amounting to 0.3% of the population. Most African Canadians during this time resided in Ontario or the Maritime provinces. Over the next few decades, the African Diaspora in Canada grew slowly, reaching 32,100 in 1961 which accounted for 0.2% of the population. By 1991, there were 504,300 people of African descent living in Canada (1.9% of the total population). In 2001, the African Canadian community was the third largest minority group in Canada, after the Chinese and South Asian populations. The 2001 census recorded 662,200 African Canadians, representing just over 2% of Canada’s total population and 17% of the visible minority population.

The Current Situation

The populations of Africans and African descendants in Canada have different backgrounds and experiences. Some can trace their heritage in Canada back several centuries, while others have immigrated in recent decades, and have only just set up their lives there. In many ways, the African Diaspora has helped shape the cultural mosaic of the local and national landscape. The African Canadian population is the fastest growing ethnic minority and is particularly prevalent in Canada’s largest cities, especially Toronto. People of African descent from around the world have been attracted to Canada by the promise of freedom to live, work, worship, study, maintain cultural traditions, and be involved in the daily activities of their own community.

However despite this, Canada has still had its issues of segregation in the past. While Canada did not have legal segregation, there were always “understandings” about which neighborhoods black people should live in, or where they could worship. Most professional organizations, sports, schools, unions, and trade associations would not admit black people. Stores would not hire them, restaurants, theaters, and skating rinks did not admit African Canadians and hotels would not rent rooms to African Canadians no matter how famous they were.

Today, the African Canadian presence can mainly be found in city regions – the overwhelming majority of African Canadians live in metropolitan areas such as Toronto and Montréal. Since geographically, according to the 2001 census, some 62% of black people live in Ontario and 23% in Quebec, we would expect this high concentration in Toronto and Montréal. Almost 47% of all African Canadians live in Toronto and 21% in Montréal.

Through the arts, African Canadians are able to give expression to the many issues, events, and challenges that have impacted the African Canadian community over time. Art, writing, music, dance, theater and film made by African Canadians explore the nature and scope of the African and African Canadian identities, question the stereotypes and challenge the ordinary. This is all in an effort to build upon and re-create a vibrant culture from which they can ground themselves as African Canadians.

The Role of the Canadian Federal Government

Although Canada’s history does not include the enslavement of Africans, it has witnessed racism and discrimination towards African descendants which has led to a need of intervention by the Canadian government. The persecution of Jews and minorities during World War II resulted in the development of several forms of legislation addressing discrimination. In 1944, Canada introduced the Ontario Racial Discrimination Act which “prohibited the publication and display of signs, notices and other representations of a racially and religiously discriminatory nature”.

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed the emergence of human rights legislation all over Canada. Each individual providence took it upon themselves to create a piece of human rights legislation and a commission to administer these rights. The initiatives of the Canadian providences were followed by the Canadian federal governments’ enactment of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977 which covered discrimination.

Canada continued to introduce other forms of legislation addressing racism following the creation of the human rights legislation. In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms legally made racial discrimination unconstitutional. Also the Multiculturalism Act of 1992 was created and acknowledges the government’s determination to “recognize discrimination as a factor in Canadian life” and its commitment to address any barriers which exist in service and employment.

However, the effectiveness of the discrimination legislation is questioned by Canadians. An appraisal of the Canadian Human Rights Commission was taken in 1991. The author who conducted the study found that 36% of race cases were rejected due to lack of substance. It was also found that “complaints based on race were dismissed without a hearing more often than those based on other grounds”. In a study conducted by the British Columbia Human Rights Commission in 2000, it was discovered that “only 3% of race complaints were successful in their final disposition”. Many also blame the process which human rights cases must go through. Groups have “complained that the exclusive jurisdiction that human rights commissions have over human rights cases is oppressive and that complainants should be given the option of presenting their case before a court of law”.

Associations and Current Leadership

The African Diaspora Association of Canada (ADAC) provides a forum for Canadians of African descent to build a network of ‘action-oriented individuals and groups’ in support of communities in Africa and Canada. Their goal is to mobilize communities of African-descent in Canada to create and support a multi-faceted Diaspora program that provides effective, economic, social and political empowerment, inclusive of youths and women. The Association for the Advancement of Blacks in the Health Sciences (AABHS) is a non-profit organization of African-descendant professionals who work or are in training in the health sciences. The African Canadian Continuing Education Society (ACCES) is a non-profit making society dedicated to helping young African descendants obtain the skills and education needed to benefit themselves and their society. The Canadian Centre on Minority Affairs (CCMA) is a non-governmental organization. Established in 1990, the mission of the organization is to develop and promote social development and public policy initiatives for the Caribbean Canadian community through research, human resources development, public education, advocacy and international cooperation. The purpose of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation is to facilitate throughout Canada the development, sharing and application of knowledge and expertise in order to contribute to the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination in Canadian society.

Notable African Canadians

John Christie Holland (1882 – 1954) was a reverend from Hamilton/Canada. He was born to parents who escaped slavery from southern United States and made their home in Hamilton. John Christie Holland was the first African Canadian recognized for his humanitarian contributions. In 1953, John Holland received the Citizen of the Year award in the city of Hamilton, Ontario.

Daniel Grafton Hill (1923 – 2003) was a Canadian sociologist, civil servant, human rights specialist, and Black Canadian historian. With a PhD. in sociology from the University of Toronto and a decade’s experience with social causes, he was the first director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission 1962-71. Under his management, the commission concocted innovative tactics, widely copied in Canada and other countries. In 1971, he became the first full-time chairman of OHRC and in 1973, established a consulting firm in human rights with international clientele.

Oscar Emmanuel Peterson (1925 – 2007) was a Canadian jazz pianist and composer from Montréal, Quebec, Canada. He is widely known throughout the world for his piano playing and Jazz technique. Most people admire and honor him as being one of the best Jazz pianists of all time for his speed, dexterity, and ability to swing at any tempo. Oscar Peterson has recorded close to two hundred albums for various labels.

George Elliott Clarke (1960 – ) is a Canadian poet and playwright from Windsor, Nova Scotia. Clarke is the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto. His writings are concerned with the African Diaspora in Canada’s East where a separate group of people of African descent lives. Clarke coined them “Africadians”. His poetic works feature genre transgressions and the mixing of classical forms with oral traditions, Jazz and Blues rhythms. His most famous work up to now is Whylah Falls (1991).

For further information:

Milan, Anne and Kelly Tran. “Blacks in Canada: A Long History.” 2004. Online. DSL. 10 December 2008.

The African Diaspora in Latin America

Historical Overview

The Latin American and Caribbean regions were the first areas of the Americas to be populated by African immigrants. African immigration to the Americas is likely to have begun before European exploration of the region. Indeed, Christopher Columbus had African crewmates sailing with him on his first expedition in 1492. Except in the Caribbean islands, the demand for African slave labor in Latin America was modest until the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Between 1519 and 1650, Mexico only imported about 120,000 African slaves, or slightly fewer than 1000 per year. From 1650 to 1810, Mexico received an additional 80,000 Africans, a rate of 500 slaves per year. Mexican slave owners bought no more than 50,000 slaves during the entire eighteenth century, when the transatlantic slave trade was at its highest. Chile imported about 6,000, about one-third of whom arrived; most were utilized in agriculture around Santiago. Argentina and Bolivia brought in about 100,000 Africans. Import figures to all these areas were low compared with those for Brazil and the West Indies.

An estimated eight to fifteen million Africans reached the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth century. The need for manpower increased towards the end of the sixteenth century largely due to the rapid decline of the indigenous population in the main centers of the Spanish empire, Mexico and Peru. Only the youngest and healthiest Africans were taken on the ‘middle passage’ of the triangle trade. A slave’s age and health was important for two reasons; the younger and healthier slaves were worth more in the Americas and, they were also the most likely to reach their destination alive. Conditions aboard the ship were dreadful. Slaves were jammed into the hull and chained to one another in order to stop revolts. As many as one in five passengers did not survive the journey. Diseases were capable of causing huge problems on ships. Therefore, when one of the enslaved people was stricken with dysentery or smallpox, they were cast overboard.

Upon reaching their destinations in the Americas, a harsh life and future quickly became apparent. Slaves worked long hours mainly in gold panning, on plantations or in the domestic service sector with little to eat and drink. Families were often split up, and the Africans were not allowed to learn to read or write.

The extent to which African slaves were introduced into the South and Central American societies can be directly linked with the extent to which they were needed. In the Caribbean and Brazilian sugar plantations, where a high supply of labor was always needed and in and around the Caribbean lowlands, where the native population had died, there was a larger introduction of African slaves. However in such areas as in southern Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia, slavery was relatively unimportant to the economy. Also, in central Mexico and the highlands of Peru, a sufficient number of the Native American inhabitants survived to satisfy the labor demands of the new colonists. Because slavery played such an important role in the New World economy between 1600 and 1850, the number of Africans who came to the Americas of their own accord is often forgotten.

By the 1780s, the concept of slavery was being attacked by several sources for different reasons. Evangelicals condemned it on the grounds of Christian charity and the assumption of a natural law of common humanity. Economists saw it as a waste of valuable resources, while political philosophers saw it as the basis of unjust privilege and unequal distribution of social and corporate responsibility. This led to a succession of events which led towards the abolishment of slavery.

In 1788, a bill was designed to restrict the number of slaves that ships could carry, in order to reduce the inflow. The same year also saw the founding of the ‘Société des Amis des Noirs’ (Society of the Friends of Blacks) by French abolitionists. After 1824, slave trading was declared to be equivalent to piracy and until 1837 people involved in it faced the death penalty. During the struggle of Spain’s American colonies for independence from 1810 to 1826, both the insurgents and the loyalists promised to emancipate all slaves who took part in military campaigns.

Mexico, Central American, and Chile abolished slavery once they were independent. In 1821, the Venezuelan Congress approved a law reaffirming the abolition of the slave trade, liberating all slaves who had fought with the victorious armies, and establishing a system that immediately emancipated all children of slaves, while gradually freeing their parents. The last Venezuelan slaves were freed in 1854. In Argentina the process began in 1813 and ended with the ratification of the 1853 constitution by the city of Buenos Aires in 1861.

Facts and Figures

Despite the fact that some countries with large Afro-Latino populations, such as Brazil and Colombia, disaggregate socioeconomic data by race, most countries do not, making it extremely difficult to find reliable quantitative data on Afro-Latinos. Despite these data limitations, household surveys and anecdotal evidence from across the region point to a correlation between African descent and political, economic, and social marginalization.

Continent / Country Country population Afro-descendants
South America/Central America 425,664,476 23.90%
Belize 301,270 31.00%
Guatemala 13,002,206 2.00%
El Salvador 7,066,403 0.01%
Honduras 7,639,327 2.00%
Nicaragua 5,785,846 9.00%
Costa Rica 4,195,914 3.00%
Panama 3,292,693 14.00%
Colombia 45,013,674 21.00%
Venezuela 26,414,815 10-26.5%
Guyana 770,794 36.00%
Suriname 475,996 47.00%
French Guiana 199,509 66.00%
Brazil 191,908,598 44.70%
Ecuador 13,927,650 3.00%
Peru 29,180,899 3.00%
Bolivia 9,247,816 1.10%
Chile 16,454,143 0.1%
Paraguay 6,831,306 0.1%
Argentina 40,677,348 0.1%
Uruguay 3,477,778 4.00%
Continent / Country Country population Afro-descendants
Caribbean 39,148,115 73.20%
Haiti 8,924,553 97.50%
Dominican Republic 9,507,133 84.00%
Cuba 11,423,925 10%
Jamaica 2,804,332 97.40%
Trinidad and Tobago 1,047,366 58.00%
Puerto Rico 3,958,128 8.00%
The Bahamas 307,451 85.00%
Barbados 281,968 90.00%
Netherlands Antilles 225,369 85.00%
Saint Lucia 172,884 82.50%
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 118,432 85.00%
Virgin Islands 108,210 79.70%
Grenada 90,343 95.00%
Antigua and Barbuda 78,000 94.90%
Bermuda 66,536 61.20%
Saint Kitts and Nevis 39,619 98.00%
Cayman Islands 47,862 60.00%
British Virgin Islands 24,004 83.00%
Turks and Caicos islands 26,000 34.00%

The Current Situation of Black Immigration

Today, African descendants form significant ethnic minorities in several Latin American countries. However, in many of the Caribbean nations the situation has arisen where the previous minority has actually become the majority. Over the centuries, African descendants have added their original contributions to the cultural mix of their respective societies and thus exerted a profound influence on all facets of life in Latin America. A strong African influence pervades music, dance, the arts, literature, speech forms, and religious practices in Latin America and the Caribbean. Africans, whether as slaves or free immigrants, brought a variety of different cultural influences to the New World.

Like all other immigrant groups, they abandoned some aspects of their culture, modified others, and created new forms. Until the nineteenth century, the annual celebration of carnival was confined to the Afro-Latino population; the upper classes deplored carnival and tried to destroy it as a public festival. By the early twentieth century, however, it had attracted all classes and races, and it currently receives official government support in the Bahamas, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. Although carnival has become respectable, the chief participants are still black.

Many dances that are associated with Latin America culture can be traced back to Africa. The origin of the Argentinean Tango is partly African, while Spanish Fandango is really Moorish. The other source is an African inspired dance called the Candombe, the feature attraction of Afro-Argentine festivals during and after the period of slavery. Brazilian music is thoroughly imbued with African themes, and illustrious composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos have long found inspiration in the African musical heritage. Many Caribbean musical styles have become widely known, including the Mambo from Cuba, Salsa from Puerto Rico, Reggae from Jamaica, and Calypso from Trinidad. African Americans have left a deep impression on the tradition and literature of Latin America.

In some parts, such as Brazil, popular tales and legends are to a great extent of African origin. Themes dealing with slavery have always been popular with Afro-Latino and African American writers. Some, such as the Brazilian poet Luis Gama, were also active in the abolitionist movement. Antônio de Castro Alves was identified as the “poet of the slaves” for his treatment of slavery in his writings, while João da Cruz e Sousa, the son of emancipated slaves, is considered one of Brazil’s greatest poets.

The Modern Day Caribbean

The Caribbean has a huge presence of the African Diaspora. In fact, in some countries one can find over 90% of the population having African heritage. However, what distinguishes the groups in the Caribbean most of the Diaspora communities is their search for a national identity. Unlike other groups of Diaspora, which combine their host nationality with that of their African past, many Caribbean countries just focus on their home nation’s new identity. This is not to say that their African past is forgotten, but rather that is has been integrated so deeply into the new society’s identity that there is no need for them to openly define their new nationality as an African one.

Ever since decolonization, Caribbean people have faced many challenges when attempting to redefine their nationality. This is mainly due to the impact from other countries cultures as a result of globalisation. In his article, “National Identity and Attitudes to Race in Jamaica”, Rex Nettleford describes the feelings of Jamaicans;

“We are neither Africans though we are most of us black, nor are we Anglo-Saxon though some of us would have others to believe this. We are Jamaicans! And what does this mean? We are a mixture of races living in perfect harmony and as such provide a useful lesson to a world torn apart by race prejudice.”

One can see from this that Jamaica’s national identity is based on its understanding of racial prejudice. Instead of segregating themselves through racial definitions, they have created an ‘open-arms approach’ whereby no one is judged. Indeed, Jamaican leaders attempt to promote non-racialism as an important national symbol by declaring at home and abroad that Jamaica and the West Indies are

“made up of peoples drawn from all over the world, predominantly Negro or of mixed blood, but also with large numbers of others, and nowhere in the world has more progress been made in developing a non-racial society in which also color is not psychologically significant.”

Associations and Current Leadership

Afroamerica XXI is a participatory, non-hierarchical coalition through which African descendant communities have defined their goals for the next century. Having designed an Action Plan (Plan de Acción) to collectively fight the problems of racial discrimination, marginalization and exclusion, they promote their interests nationally and internationally and form links to support one another. Afroamerica XXI is made up of NGOs and politically elected Afro-Latin American leaders representing their communities. The specificity of this strategy is based on its cultural roots. The action plan is tailored to suit the present circumstances, cultural strengths, the assets and current limitations of Afro-Latin Americans.

The Organization of Africans in the Americas (OAA) was established for charitable and educational purposes to improve the opportunities and conditions of communities of African descent with special regard for those populations who speak Spanish and Portuguese. It is the only African American NGO from the United States that has actively participated in the inter-American system with respect to Latin America. The OAA was the first institution to present a status report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on human rights facing the Afro-Latino community.

The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) is an independent agency of the United States government that provides grants to non-governmental and community-based organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean for innovative, sustainable and participatory self-help programs. This institution has agreed to match grants of amounts up to US$ 300,000 per country to Afro-American groups in each Latin American country. The resulting amounts will create “endowment funds” to be used in community development.

USAID is an US-agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms. It is an independent federal government agency that receives overall foreign policy guidance from the Secretary of State. USAID has specifically designated Afro-Latinos as a target group and has recently expanded its policy to include helping all those of African descent.

Notable Afro-Latinos

Sylvia del Villard (1928 – 1990) was an Afro-Puerto Rican activist, actress, dancer and choreographer. She studied sociology and anthropology in Tennessee and Puerto Rico. In 1981, she became the first and only director of the office of the Afro-Puerto Rican affairs of the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture. She was known to be an outspoken activist who fought for the equal rights of the Afro-Puerto Rican artists.

Edison Arantes do Nascimento aka Pelé (1940) is a Brazilian football player. He is considered by many people to be the greatest football player of all times. In Brazil, Pelé is hailed as a national hero. He is known for his accomplishments and contributions to football in addition to being officially declared the football ambassador of the world by FIFA and a national treasure by the Brazilian government. He is also acknowledged for his support of policies to improve the social conditions of the poor.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1953) is a Haitian politician. As a priest of the Salesian Order he was elected as a president in the first free presidential election of Haiti in 1990. In 1991, he was dispossessed by a military coup, then went into exile and could only return to Haiti in 1994 as a result of international military pressure and protection by the USA. In 2000, he was re-elected for a further term of office but was forced to resign due to violent domestic conflicts and escaped in 2004.

Mariah Carey (1970 – ) is an US-American pop-singer from New York. She is the daughter of Alfred Roy Carey, an aeronautical engineer of Afro-Venezuelan descent. Along with Whitney Huston and Madonna, she is one of the most successful singers of the USA.

Wyclef Jean (1972 – ) is an American Reggae and Hip-Hop artist from Haiti. He came to the USA at nine years old with his parents. He taught himself the guitar and in 1987 he founded the Hip-Hop-Trio “The Fugees” together with Samuel Prakzrel “Pras” Michel and Lauryn Hill. He has also produced several solo-albums and collaborated with other musicians such as Missy Elliott, Bono, Shakira, Destiny’s Child and The Black Eyed Peas.

Brian Charles Lara (1969 – ) is a retired cricket player from Trinidad. While playing for the West Indies, he topped the Test batting rankings on several occasions and he holds the record for highest individual innings. He also holds the record for the highest individual score in first-class cricket, with a total of 501* for Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston in 1994, as well as the highest individual score in a test innings with 400 not out.

Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley OM (1945 – 1981): was a Jamaican musician, singer/songwriter and Rastafarian. He is the most renowned reggae singer and is celebrated for spreading Jamaican music around the world. His father, Norval Sinclair Marley, was a white English Jamaican and his mother, Cedella Booker, was a black Jamaican.

The Afro-Latin Population by Countries *as of 2008


Afro-Latinos represented 45% of the population of Brazil but constituted 64% of the poor and 69% of the extremely poor. With respect to education, 18% of Afro-Brazilians had completed secondary school as compared to 38% of those who self-identify as white. Afro-Brazilians have, on average, roughly five years of schooling, whereas whites have completed nine years of school. They earned, on average, some 44% less than non-blacks. 41% of Afro-Brazilians lived in houses without adequate sanitation and 21% lacked running water, versus 18% and 7% of white households. The maternal mortality rate of Afro-Brazilian women was three times that of their white counterparts. Afro-Brazilians have lower life expectancies than whites (66 years as compared to 71.5 years at the time) and nearly twice the homicide rate of whites. Recent studies found that violence is becoming the leading cause of death for Afro-Brazilian men.


Colombia has the second largest Afro-descendant population in Latin America after Brazil. While most analysts assert that Afro-Colombians constitute between 19% and 26% of the Colombian population, only 11% of the population self-identified as Afro-Colombian in the country’s 2005 national census. Most Afro-Colombians resided in rural areas on the country’s Pacific Coast, but many had also fled to poor neighborhoods in the country’s large cities as a result of the country’s ongoing armed conflict. Some 80% of Afro-Colombians lived in conditions of extreme poverty, and 74% of Afro-Colombians earned less than the minimum wage. Chocó, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombians, has the lowest level per-capita of government investment in health, education, and infrastructure. Around 30% of the Afro-Colombian population was, as of 2008, illiterate, with illiteracy in some rural Afro-Colombian communities exceeding 40%. The Colombian health care system covered only 10% of Afro-Colombian communities, versus 40% of white communities. Despite their marginalized position in Colombian society, Afro-Colombians reside on some of the country’s most bio-diverse, resource-rich lands.


Afro-Latinos represented between 5% and 10% of the Ecuadorian population. Some 69% of Afro-Latinos in Ecuador resided in urban areas, primarily in the coastal regions of Guayas and Esmeraldas. Afro-Ecuadorians generally live in slightly better conditions than the indigenous population, but both groups post poverty rates significantly above the country’s average at the time (90% and 74% respectively as compared to 62%). This poverty is perpetuated by a lack of access to health care, sanitation, education, and well paying jobs. For example, Esmeraldas, a region whose population is 80% Afro-Ecuadorian, has infant mortality rates double the national average. At a national level, only 15% of Afro-Ecuadorians aged 18 and over had completed secondary school as compared to 23% of the general population. As a result, although Afro-Ecuadorians have a high labor participation rate, the vast majority are employed in low-wage jobs.


In 2008, Afro-Latinos represented roughly 2% of the population of Honduras. The Afro-Honduran population is primarily composed of Garifuna and Afro- Antilleans. 80% of Garifuna resided in rural communities along Honduras’ northern Atlantic coast, while 85% of the Afro-Antilleans resided in the Bay Islands. The 2001 Honduran census reports that these regions, though poor, have lower poverty levels than the rest of Honduras’ departments. According to the national census, some 55% of Garifuna households and 63% of Afro-Antilleans report having their basic needs met. In addition, while the national illiteracy rate is estimated at 20%, the illiteracy rate for Garifuna is 9% and for Afro-Antilleans is 4%. The Garifuna are a high-risk group for HIV/AIDS, with over 8% of the population infected (as compared to the national prevalence rate of 1.8%).


Afro-descendants constitute roughly 9% of the Nicaraguan population. Nicaragua is the second poorest country (behind Haiti) in the Western Hemisphere. Although Afro-Nicaraguans do not reside in the poorest regions of the country, their communities are located in some its most isolated coastal regions. Most Afro-descendants reside in the Caribbean lowlands of Nicaragua, a region that was never part of the Spanish empire but rather a de facto British protectorate from the 17th through the late 19th centuries. As recently as 1993, there were no paved roads connecting lowland Caribbean communities to Nicaragua’s Pacific region. The World Bank has recently reported that although an average of 60% of Nicaraguan households has access to potable water and 49% have electricity, comparable figures for the Atlantic coast are 21% and 17% respectively.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Haiti and the Dominican Republic have the fourth and fifth biggest populations of African Diaspora. At the time of writing, Haiti’s African decent population stands at 97.5% and 84% of Dominicans are thought to be of black or of a mixed race. However, official census figures show that only 11% of Dominicans are of African descent. This springs from a deep-rooted Dominican belief that they are of Spanish ancestry and Haitians are of African descent. Therefore many Dominicans consider any ‘blacks’ in the Dominican Republic to actually be Haitians, and this antagonizes the long-standing divide between the two countries and encourages waves of ‘Antihaitianismo’ or Anti-Hatianism. In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, less than 50% of children undergo basic schooling and unemployment exceeds 30%. The situation is very similar in the Dominican Republic and is exacerbated by the fact that it is a key in the illegal smuggling of drugs from Columbia to the US and Europe.

For further information:

Bowser, Frederick P. 1984 “Africans in Spanish American Colonial Society.” In Cambridge History of Latin America. Vol. 2, ed. Leslie Bethell, 357-379. London: Cambridge University Press,1984. Online. DSL. 10 December 2008.



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