Displacement Economies Dialogue – University of Copenhagen

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Displacement Economies Dialogue

Naohiko Omata (Oxford) and Léonie Newhouse  (Max Planck Institute) chaired by Amanda Hammar (CAS)
The Centre of African Studies is very pleased to host this important event in which the author of The Myth of Self-Reliance: Economic Lives inside a Liberian Refugee Camp (2017, Berghahn Books), Dr. Naohiko Omata, engages in dialogue with feminist political geographer Dr Léonie Newhouse. This will take place in the newly launched Wangari Maathai Auditorium (Room 8b-1-14).

The Myth of Self-Reliance provides a detailed account of Liberian refugees’ socio-economic lives in a protracted refugee camp in Ghana. Synthesizing long-term ethnographic research, the work challenges the reputation of Buduburam Refugee Camp as an exemplary model full of ‘self-reliant refugees’ and sheds light on the considerable economic inequality among camp residents. In-depth analysis reveals that this inequality has deep linkages to ethno-political privileges in refugees’ pre-displacement lives in Liberia and their access to transnational migration to the Global North. These ethnographically-grounded findings challenge the UN Refugee Agency’s enduring myth of Buduburam Camp as an empowered economic centre, and critically contests claims by the international refugee regime that economic self-reliance can be a ‘solution’ to protracted refugee populations. The book makes a crucial and timely theoretical and empirical contribution to understanding protracted displacement in the Global South in the face of the contemporary global refugee crisis. 

Dr. Naohiko Omata is a Senior Research Officer at the Refugee Studies Centre in the Department of International Development, University of Oxford. He has been leading the large-scale multi-country research programme entitled Refugee Economies which focuses on economic outcomes for refugees and host populations in East Africa. Naohiko received his PhD in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, where he subsequently taught in Development Studies. He has also worked as a practitioner and consultant for UNDP, UNHCR, and international and local NGOs in Sub-Saharan African countries. He has published widely on refugee economic lives based on extensive research in Sub-Saharan Africa. His book, The Myth of Self-Reliance, was recently short-listed for the BSA/BBC Ethnography Award (2018).

Dr Léonie Newhouse is a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen. As a feminist political and economic geographer, she is interested in the intersections of global geopolitics, migration, international development and humanitarian response. Léonie’s PhD in Geography from the University of Washington focused on an ethnographic examination of the political economy of refugee return migration to South Sudan. For over 15 years, her professional work and scholarship has focused on the experiences of both forced and economic migrants as they seek to reconstruct their lives and livelihoods in the wake of conflict. She is co-founder of the Academy for African Urban Diversity, which supports emerging scholars addressing questions of mobility and diversity in Africa's growing cities.