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 countries along the Mediterranean Sea, with Spain, Italy, and Malta being the most effected. Thousands of Africans journey monthly in search for work and a better life. The European Union states are under increasing pressure to reform their immigration and asylum practices. 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, have 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 taken a stricter approach. In May 2007, the new Immigration Minister, Brice Hortefeux, announced a plan to offer monetary incentives for legal immigrants to encourage them to return to Africa.

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.


Historical Overview

Although the main reason for the African Diaspora lies in the colonization of many African countries by North America and Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century, the first Africans came to Europe around 1600. German salesmen, missionaries and travelers brought African people to their homes as aids for household chores and businesses. At that time the living conditions of the African workers in Europe were similar to their European-born counterparts. Sponsored by a German duke, Anton Wilhelm Amo from Ghana became the first African to attend a European university during the 1720s where he taught and wrote about philosophy. About 150 years later, the phase of ‘New Imperialism’ was at its height and the consequences of colonialism were strongly affecting the European-African relationship.

In the nineteenth and twentieth century Germany owned four colonies in Africa later to be named Togo, Namibia, Tanzania and Cameron. The establishment of German colonies became the main reason why African people came to Germany. The ‘Bismarckkonferenz’ in 1884-5 initiated an emigrational movement and resulted in the relocation of African men to Germany. In Germany they established local networks and started families. The extension of German colonies increased the need for skilled African employees for the colonial administration and economic work.

Although many young Africans were coming to Germany for education in German schools and universities, the majority were trained in mission and colonial schools as local mission teachers or skilled laborers for the work in the colonies. Others worked on the ships of the German Africa Line primarily as cooks, stewards and firemen. Frequently, Africans were appointed as language assistants for German explorers or they came to Germany as members of the former protection squad, Askari. Many German merchants and travelers brought a large group of young Africans home to assist with household and business chores and affairs. Some even regarded Africans as a sentimental ‘souvenir’.

After World War I, many French Senegalese soldiers and their offspring, ended up in the Rhineland region and other parts of Germany. Estimates vary, but by the 1920s there were about 10,000 to 25,000 Afro-Germans in Germany, most of them in Berlin or other metropolitan areas. During the 1920’s black musicians and entertainers became a common feature in the German nightlife scene. However, the national socialist dictatorship led to deteriorating living-conditions of Africans, Afro-Germans and their families worsened. Africans, who were nationalized Germans, lost their passports and were replaced by stateless identity cards.

Inequality continued to exist after World War I. Travelling abroad became increasingly difficult and the working conditions for Africans engaged in music, vaudeville, the circus or movies worsened. A weekly obligation to report to the police office was introduced later which led to a feeling of social exclusion for being black. The worst measures of African and Afro-German prosecution was the forced sterilizations and abductions to concentration camps. Historians estimate the number of people of African origin who were killed in concentration camps was approximately 2,000. Some research on black concentration camp prisoners confirmed that 34 black civil prisoners were detained on the grounds for some outlandish reasons such as being political prisoners, crossbreed (Mischling), or for buying shoes without a coupon.

After 1949, the division of Germany continued to influence the lives of the black population. Berlin was especially important in this regard not only due to its size, but also because of its separation by the wall. From then on, the Black Community in West Berlin was mainly shaped by the presence of African American soldiers and their relatives. Its counterpart in East Berlin was politically and culturally influenced by African or Afro-Cuban students and contract workers. Today, Berlin also has a big Afro-Brazilian community.

The Current Situation

It was not until the 1980’s that the term ‘Afro-German’ was created. The phrase ‘Afro-German’ goes back to the black feminist and lyricist Audre Lorde who played a central role in the Black Movement. She worked together with the black German lyricist and pedagogue May (Opitz) Ayim and her associates of the Berlin woman’s publishing company ‘Orlanda’. A consequence of their work was the foundation of the associations: ADREFA – Black Women in Germany and ISD – Initiative of Black People in Germany who celebrated their twentieth anniversary in 2005-6. The term ‘Afro-German’ developed in a context of heightened politicization of the Black Community in Germany and from their efforts to distinguish themselves from external definitions, but rather, to name themselves. Nowadays, Diaspora academics play a central role in the definition of the black community in society.

Generally, considerably more Africans and African descendants live in Germany than in the states of Eastern and Southern Europe, but still considerably less than in other West European states which owned colonies long after the World War I. According to the Statistische Bundesamt, about 305,600 Africans lived in Germany in 1999 and it is estimated that there are 300,000 to 500,000 people with African heritage which make up 0,37 – 0,65% of the German population.

In contrast to France and Great Britain, it is not possible to establish a relationship between colonialism and the immigration of Africans to Germany. The majority of people of African heritage living in Germany do not come from the former colonies. Hamburg and Bremen are the only states, in which the African population makes up 1% of the total amount of foreign population. In these cities, people from Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia form the biggest groups of African inhabitants. Africans and Afro-Germans continue to witness racism from political right movements which occasionally arouse public attention.

Yet, there are also racist assaults on black people as well as other ethnic minorities. There is also a positive image of black people especially in the fields of music, TV and other forms of mass media. There are many prominent figures within the entertainment industry with African roots. One example is in television: due to an increasing Americanization of German private TV stations, more and more Afro-Germans appear as moderators or cultural producers. However their presence is by no means unproblematic: it opens up a new area of conflict, in which on the one hand a consumer-oriented ‘ethicizing’ of the entertainment industry becomes visible but on the other hand the use of new media allows great chances for young artists to go their own ways. Hereby a new kind of everyday culture is being established within which different realities and determinations of positions are made public and are being renegotiated.

Notable Afro-Germans

Xavier Kurt Naidoo (1971 - ) is a German singer and songwriter of Indian and South African descent. He is known for his soulful voice and has collaborated with several famous artists. Many of his lyrics show his deep Christian beliefs. He sings in a number of styles, including soul, R&B and hip hop. His most famous releases include "Ich kenne nichts", "20,000 Meilen", "Soul on Fire", "Dieser Weg", "Danke" and "Sie sieht mich nicht" featured on soundtrack for the German film, Asterix. Naidoo's popularity has massively increased since he joined groups like Söhne Mannheims, and Brothers Keepers and the charity project Zeichen der Zeit in the early 2000s.

May Ayim (1960 - 1996) was an Afro-German poet, educator, and activist. She was born to Ghanaian parents but a German family later adopted her, who then became subjects of her poems. She wrote her thesis, "Afro-Deutsche: Ihre Kultur- und Sozialgeschichte aus dem Hintergrund gesellschaftlicher Veränderungen" (Afro-Germans: Their Cultural and Social History on the Background of Social Change), at the University of Regensburg. It was published in Farbe Bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte and published in English under the title, Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out. Ayim also co-founded the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche (Initiative of Black People in Germany) and became a prominent figure for explaining the feelings of African’s in Germany, who were trying to find their place in society.

David Odonkor (1984 - ) was born to a German mother and Ghanaian father. He is a German international footballer playing for La Liga side Real Betis. He often plays as a side midfielder or winger but is also capable of playing as a striker.

Associations and Current Leadership

Currently the range of clubs, associations, web forums, blogs and websites for Africans and Afro-Germans varies in Germany. In 2008, ‘The New Black Movement’ looks back on 23 years of existence. It was launched by Afro-Germans who wanted to break free from their isolation of the post-Nazi-Germany and were searching for self-determined definitions of their subsistence and their own appropriate lifestyle. Even before the reunification of Germany in 1989, Afro-Germans from both sides of Germany contacted each other despite Germany’s separation. The Black Movement has continued to grow on both a local and national level.

The ISD (Initiative Schwarzer Menschen in Deutschland) and its sister organization ADREFA (Afro-deutsche Frauen / Schwarze Frauen in Deutschland) were constant driving forces in Afro-German movements. The ISD is a registered association which encourages African consciousness, knowledge about African and Afro-German history, the visibility and acknowledgement of the contributions by African descendants to all social areas like arts and culture, scholarship, history and medicine. It fosters communication among Africans and Afro-Germans, and also between Africans and anti-racist groups all over the world. Furthermore they have the goal to scandalize racism and to promote an anti-racist attitude toward the whole population. The ISD established annual nationwide meetings for the African Diaspora where they can discuss, exchange knowledge, form their opinions or just enjoy the community of young and old in the African Diaspora. Here they also develop concepts for political, pedagogic work in order to form a foundation on the basis of mutual acceptance and communication.

‘Der Braune Mob e.V.’ is another association founded by Afro-Germans who work in the German media and/or public. Their goal is to ensure that the display of Africans and Afro-Germans in German media and public is carried out in a fair way without discrimination. Founded in 2001, ‘Der Braune Mob e.V.’ was the first organization of this kind.

The Black European Studies Program (BEST) is conducted at the Johannes-Gutenberg-University in Mainz on the African Diaspora. The Study Center, Black Europe, analyzes the historical and current political and social consequences of the growing presence of Africans and Afro-Europeans in Europe. Regional working conferences are held in Northwest, East and South Europe which provide a forum of exchange for scholars and activists. BEST is also concentrating on developing an archive which will bundle sources on Afro-Europeans that are scattered in numerous archives and private collections. The plan is to make these resources available through an online portal.

In 2006, the consortium, SFD (Schwarze Filmschaffende in Deutschland), was founded and it accumulated for the first time the creative works by Afro-German directors, producers, screenwriters, actors and film-makers. The aim of the SFD is to present the realities of Afro-Germans and to challenge their existing portrayals in the media.

‘Blackprint’ is an online blog dealing with the representation of Afro-Germans in the media, socio-political engagement and other aspects concerning the Afro-Diaspora.

For further information:

Adams, Anne V. “Showing Our Colours/Afro-German Women Speak Out.” London: Open Letters, 1992.

Blackshire-Belay, C. Aisha. “The African Diaspora in Europe: African Germans Speak Out.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 31, no. 3 (Jan. 2001): 264-287.

Eggers, Maureen Maisha. “Schwarze Community in Deutschland: Positive Eigenbilder, die Diaspora als zentrale Referenz, Identitätsspektren und Zusammenschlüsse.” Online. DSL.10 December 2008.

Lauré al-Samarai, Nicola, “Schwarze Menschen im Nationalsozialismus.“ Nicola 30. July 2004.

McBride, David, Leroy Hopkins, and C. Aisha Blackshire-Belay. Crosscurrents: African Americans, Africa, and Germany in the Modern World

Oguntoye, Katharina. “afrikanische Zuwanderung nach Deutschland zwischen 1848 und 1945.” Bundeszentralefürpolitische Bildung, 30 July 2004. Online. DSL. 10 December 2008.

Okpara-Hofmann, Julia. Schwarze Häftlinge und Kriegshäftlinge in deutschen Konzentrationslagern

Oppermann, Jan. “Die Organisierung von Schwarzen Menschen in Deutschland“, Informationsdienst für kritische Medienpraxis. 08 Jan. 2007. Online. DSL. 10 December 2008.

Reed-Anderson, Paulette. “Ein Platz an der afrikanischen Sonne.” Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. 30 July 2004. Online. DSL. 10 December 2008.

Wawrzyniak, Barbara, “Schwarze Diaspora. Afrikaner in Deutschland und ihr Leben in der Black Community.” 26 February 2008. Online. DSL. 10 December 2008.

Great Britain

Historical Overview

The African community became recognizable in British culture in the 1730s as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. Merchants brought Africans to sell as slaves in order to work in the British ship building cities, such as Liverpool. However it was not until the colonization of extensive parts of Africa that African Diaspora could be seen in British society.

The time of British colonization of Africa coincided with the era of scientific racism as represented by social Darwinism - survival of the fittest. Many Brits believed that because they had superior weaponry and were therefore more technologically advanced than the Africans, they had a right to colonize and exploit the resources of the Africans in the name of promoting ‘civilization’. Britain was a main player in the colonization of Africa and was, at one time or another, in control of 18 African states. These African states were mainly towards the Eastern side of the continent. This strong tie to the African world meant that there was extensive forced migration and re-settlement of Africans to the British Isles.

In the early twentieth century, many people of African descent living in the British colonies in the West Indies came to Britain in search of work. Here, they faced poverty and hardship. At the onset of World War I, a few thousand African descendants were living in Great Britain. Although British law did not allow soldiers of African descent to fight in the war, some worked as members of sailing crews in the navy or in factories providing some relief to the scarcity of labor due to the war.

In the aftermath of the war and the soldiers return to Britain, many workers of African descent found themselves jobless which created a high unemployment rate leading to social unrest. In 1919, race riots erupted in cities including Liverpool and Manchester.

In response to this prejudice and mistreatment, the black population formed political and educational organizations such as the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP) to improve the welfare of the African Diaspora through legal and diplomatic means. London also was the center of the Pan-Africanist movement. Pan-Africanism is a movement which brings together people of African descent who struggle for freedom and justice. People of African descent published newspapers such as the African Times and Orient Review. The West African Student Union was established in London to facilitate the study of African history and culture.

More people of the African Diaspora came to Great Britain with the outbreak of World War II. They came looking for work in factories and as soldiers and sailors. After World War II, many of those who had fought in the war hoped that their lives would improve as a result of their service to the country. Since World War II was a war fought against racism and fascism, African descendants living in Great Britain and inhabitants of Africa, thought that the war would bring an end to colonialism. In 1941, England did sign the Atlantic Charter, which stated that all nations had the right to self-determination. In the 1960s, most African countries gained independence from British colonial rule.

In recent history, Afro-Brits in Great Britain have had to confront racism and legislation that has prevented other African migrants from coming to the Great Britain. The Commonwealth Immigrants Bill of 1962 and the Immigration Acts of 1968 and 1971 restricted the entry of colonial subjects, including those from Africa. As they had in the past, people of African descent living in England responded to this situation by organizing both cultural events that celebrated their African heritage, and political groups that assisted them in gaining the freedoms.

The Current Situation

Today, almost two million people of African descent live in Britain. The majority of this population consists of immigrants from the West Indies, but this population also includes a growing number of African born people. In spite of discrimination, people of African heritage contribute socially, culturally and economically to Britain. Indeed, the most recent population census of Britain shows that the African population is more highly educated than the general white population. 26% of the black population has had at least some college education. This compares to 13% of the white population in Britain.

Notable African British

Olaudah Equiano (1745 – 1797) grew up in Nigeria before being caught and sold into slavery. He was forced to work as a Naval captains personal servant. Through education and determination he was able to purchase his freedom from slavery and gain independence. He settled in Britain, where he wrote his autobiography which, through its depiction of slavery, helped to change the attitudes of lawmakers in Britain towards the slave trade.

Diane Julie Abbott (1953 - ) was the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons when she was chosen in the 1987 General Election to represent the Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency. In 2008, she was named one of the ten most powerful black women in Britain.

Dr Wilfred Denniston Wood KA (1936 - ) was born in Barbados. He later became the first black bishop in the Church of England and is noted for promoting racial justice and equality. On 30 November 2000 - Barbados Independence Day - Queen Elizabeth II appointed Wood as Knight of St Andrew (Order of Barbados) 'for his contribution to race relations in the United Kingdom and general contribution to the welfare of Barbadians living here'.


There are many events and organizations that aim to celebrate, support and promote the black community in the United Kingdom.

The Voice: is a newspaper that is dedicated to the promotion of information about the black community in the UK. promotes the spread of information and creative ideas in order to tackle problems for Diaspora in urban areas in the UK and worldwide.

Black History Month: in the United Kingdom takes place in October rather than February as in the US and Canada. It does however have similar aims. It has been celebrated for over 30 years and has been celebrating the achievements of the black community in many different fields, including History, Education, Arts and Culture.

Miss Black Britain: is a yearly celebration of black beauty both physical and inner beauty. It works to provide young men and women with a platform of opportunity in the modeling industry. With limited opportunities presented to black models in the United Kingdom, aspiring black models need support and guidance.

For further information:

Adi, Hakim. “Pan-Africanism and West African Nationalism in Britain.” African Studies Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (Apr. 2000): 69-82.

Bullen, Roger. “France and Britain in Africa. Imperial Rivalry and Colonial Rule (A Review).” The English Historical Review, vol. 88, no. 349 (Oct. 1973): 864-866.

Ciecko, Anne. “Representing the Spaces of Diaspora in Contemporary British Films by Women Directors.” Cinema Journal, vol. 38, no. 3 (Spring 1999): 67-90.

Crabtree, W. A. “Great Britain in West Africa.” Journal of the Royal African Society, vol. 19, no. 75 (Apr. 1920): 196-205.

Hynes, William G. “Britain and the Conquest of Africa: The Age of Salisbury (A Review).” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 8, no. 3 (1975): 489-493.

Sanderson, G. N. “Britain and Germany in Africa: imperial rivalry and colonial rule (A Review).” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 33, no. 1 (1970): 235-236.


Historical Overview

France has a similar story to Britain, with regard to colonization, as it was the main route through which Africans were introduced into French society. The French also had a large empire which included North America, the Caribbean and India. In the 19th century, France established a new empire in Africa and South East Asia after losing their previous settlements through wars with Great Britain.

France’s main areas of colonization focused mainly on Northern, Western, and Central Africa (including the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic and Republic of Congo). The French followed the principle that it was Europe's duty to bring civilization to 'uncivilized' people. As such, colonial officials devised a policy of Franco-Europeanization in French colonies, most notably French West Africa. Africans who adopted the French culture, language and who converted to Christianity were granted French citizenship including the right to vote.

Immigrants from Africa to France after World War II were predominantly from North Africa. Immigration from Sub-Saharan Africa has always remained relatively small in comparison to this. The French heavily depended on African troops from their colonies in the two World Wars. However, afterwards, most of the soldiers repatriated while only a small number stayed.

In the post-war period, North African immigration to France regenerated due to the shortage of labor which was needed to re-build the war-torn infrastructure. A lot of these were of Muslim faith and therefore with them came a conflict of faith that made integration difficult. Following racist attacks on the workers in Marseilles, France ordered the halt of labor immigration in 1973. At this time many people from the African Diaspora had already set up their lives in France.

The Current Situation

The French decolonized during the 1960s, but people of African descent living in France still face many problems. There is only one black member representing continental France in the National Assembly among 555 members; no continental French senators out of some 300; only a handful of mayors out of some 36,000, and none from the poor Parisian suburbs.

Also, the percentage of black people in France who hold university degrees is 55, compared with 37 percent for the general population. But the number of black people who get trapped in the working class is 45 percent, compared with the national average of 34 percent. This shows how black people are not easily accepted into higher society.

Just three years ago, Mr. Sarkozy, as head of the center-right party (i.e. not yet president), supported a law that compelled French schools to teach the “positive” aspects of colonialism. France is said to be color-blind in that if you assimilate your culture you will not be judged by your color. This has led to no statistics as to how many black people actually live in France today, however rough estimates vary between three million and five million out of a population of more than sixty-one million.

Notable African French

Zinedine Zidane (1972 - ) is a French national footballer who was born in Marseille to Algerian parents. He has dual citizenship in both France and Algeria.

Albert Camus (1913 - 1960) was a philosopher born in Algeria. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 "for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times."

Sonia Rolland (1981 - ) is a French actress and former Miss France 2000. She was the first African-born, Miss France pageant winner. She has also competed for the Miss Universe title where she placed ninth overall. Born to a Tutsi mother and a French father, her family fled the civil unrest in Rwanda in 1990 to the neighboring country of Burundi. With the growing unrest that led to the Burundi Civil War, they immigrated to France in 1994.

For further information:

Laachir, Karima. “North African Diaspora in France and Colonial Legacies.” In Diasporas: Movements and Cultures, ed. Nick Hewitt and Dick Geary. Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communication Press, 2007.

Vaurs, Roger. “The Role of France and the French in North Africa.” Annuals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 306 (Jul. 1956): 17-25.

Wauthier, Claude. “France and Africa: Long Live Neo-Colonialism.” Issue: A Journal of Opinion, vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 1972): 23-26.

The Netherlands

Historical Overview

The main role the Netherlands played in the seventeenth century was the dispersal of Diaspora. The Netherlands, although a small country in terms of resources, was heavily involved in the trade industry and in particular the slave trade. The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) was established in 1602, when the State-General of the Netherlands granted it a 21 year monopoly to carry out colonial activities. This meant that they were responsible for the spread of many Africans, particularly from West Africa, all over the world to wherever there was a need for cheap labor. As a consequence it also meant that many different races were introduced into The Netherlands.

The story of Dutch colonialism is much smaller than that of its European counterparts, as they only colonized one country in Africa. In 1652, a Dutch expedition of ninety Calvinist settlers, under the command of Jan Van Riebeeck, founded the first permanent settlement near the Cape of Good Hope. They arrived, on April 6, 1652, on board five ships. The purpose was to provide food and shelter to sailors on passing ships in the fleet.

The colony was unique, as it had very fertile land and a nice climate, but yet was still sparsely populated. Originally, the workers were discouraged from mixing with any locals, and only did so when the low labor force required them to make contact. They released a small number of Dutch workers from their contracts and permitted them to establish farms, with which they would supply the settlement from their harvests. The arrangement with these then named, ‘free burghers’, proved highly successful as they produced abundant supplies of crops.

The small initial group of free ‘burghers’ steadily increased in number and began to expand their farms further north and east into the territory of the Khoikhoi. It was soon realized that South Africa had many resources from which the Dutch could benefit including gold and precious stones. This settlement expanded from the ninety settlers in 1652 to 32,839 by 1794, to approximately 12,000 additional free burghers. The Dutch South Africa was then captured by the British in 1795 which they controlled, with the exception of four years between 1802 -1806, until decolonization.

The Current Situation

This history with South Africa, combined with the other extensive colonization of regions of the Americas as well as the Caribbean and Asia, has contributed to the spread of Diaspora to the Netherlands. This combined with the many Diaspora who were relocated as part of the World Wars, has led to 3% Afro-Caribbean population in the Netherlands.

There is also a large North African population, the most prevalent of which is Moroccans who make up 1.9% of the population. 300,000 so-called “guest workers,” mainly Turks and Moroccans, came to Holland in order to help the re-building of country after World War II. The Netherlands is a very diverse country and although famous for its tolerance of different cultures, there has recently been a rise in Islamic fundamentalism which has led to fractions in Dutch society.

Notable Afro-Dutch

Klein Verzet is the first Muslim Mayor in the Netherlands. He was appointed as the mayor of Rotterdam, Holland’s second largest city, and has dual (Moroccan and Dutch) citizenship.

Ali B (Ali Bouali) is a Dutch rapper of Moroccan decent. He is also a stand-up comedian and owns the label SPEC, which he established himself. Ali B. spent his first years in Zaanstad but moved to Amsterdam at the age of two. After hearing Osdorp Posse's song Moordenaar he became interested in hip-hop and started to rap. At 14, Ali moved with his mother to Almere, where he tried to start a serious musical career. In Almere, Ali B. gave his first performances and won the Poetry Slam in 2000/2001. He calls himself "Ali B" to reflect the way in which criminals are named in the Dutch media.

Ruud Gullit (born as Ruud Dil in 1962) is a Dutch football coach and former player, who played professionally in the 1980s and 1990s. He was the captain of the Netherlands national team that was victorious at Euro 88 and was also a member of the squad for the 1990 World Cup. He was named the European Footballer of the Year in 1987 and the World Football Player of the Year in 1987 and 1989. He was born in Amsterdam to George Gullit and his wife, an Afro-Surinamese migrant, married with three children. He grew up in Amsterdam’s inner city district, Jordaan.

For further Information:

Feinberg, H. M. “New Data on European Mortality in West Africa: The Dutch on the Gold Coast, 1719-1760.” The Journal of African History, vol. 15, no. 3 (1974): 357-371.

Postma, Johannes. “The Dimension of the Dutch Slave Trade from Western Africa.” The Journal of African History, vol. 13, no. 2 (1972): 237-248.


Historical Overview

In the nineteenth century, Portugal had lost its territory in South America and all but a few bases in Asia. During this phase, Portuguese colonialism focused on expanding its outposts in Africa into nation-sized territories to compete with other European powers there. Portuguese territories eventually included the modern nations of Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique.

The Portuguese originally started their colonial campaign with two colonies to the west and east of the continent and attempted to expand so that they joined in the middle. This, however, clashed with the British ‘Cape Town to Cairo’ objective which they aimed to have colonies running the length of the African continent. This caused the British to send an ultimatum to King Carlos I of Portugal and prevented the Portuguese expanding any further. However Portugal did hold on to its colonies for a long time (1822-1961), indeed one of the main reasons why Portugal entered World War I was to protect its colonies from German troops.

After World War II, the wave of decolonization started to gain momentum. However, Portugal perceived its colonies as ‘overseas provinces’ and therefore, in the 1950s and 60s, while other European nations left their colonies, Portugal did not. They believed instead that the states should stay multiracial and that the colonies should be further integrated into their home nation.

They argued that they were already closely related though a large amount of intercultural marriages. Also, many trained Portuguese Africans were allowed to occupy positions in several occupations including specialized military, administration, teaching, health and other posts in the civil service and private businesses, as long as they had the right technical and human abilities. The Portuguese also set up two universities in these colonies.

The independence of many African countries led to a wave of nationalism for people in the Portuguese colonies. These nationalist soon turned into a guerrilla movement and to ‘The Portuguese Colonial War’ (1961-1974). 1980 marked the end of white minority rule in their former colonies. Portugal had been the first European power to establish a colony in Africa when it captured Ceuta in 1415 and it was one of the last to leave.

The Current Situation

This long history between Africa and Portugal has meant that there has been many African’s relocated there. According to a 2007 study approximately 32,728 Angolans and 5,681 Mozambicans now live in Portugal, while African Diaspora make up approximately 2.0% of the 10,605,870 population.

The present Portuguese nationality law is based on the principle of Jus sanguinis (nationality based on heritage, rather than place of birth). As a consequence most people of African descent in Portugal maintain their respective nationality of origin.

In 2006, the Portuguese Foreigners and Borders Services provided figures on the Africa population in Portugal.

Country/Continent Total
Africa 149,982
Angola 33,215
Cape Verde 65,485
Guinea-Bissau 24,513
Mozambique 5,854
São Tomé and Príncipe 10,761
Rest of Africa 10,154

Notable Afro-Portuguese

Eusébio da Silva Ferreira (Eusébio) (1942 - ): Eusébio was a Portuguese football forward of Mozambican origin. He helped the Portugal national team reach third place at the 1966 World Cup, being the top goalscorer of the tournament with nine goals (six of which were scored at Goodison Park) and was elected the European Footballer of the Year in 1965. He played at the club Benfica for 15 years, and is the team's all-time top scorer. Nicknamed "The Black Panther", or "The Black Pearl", Eusébio scored 727 goals in 715 games.

For further information:

Alpers, Edward A. The Journal of Modern African Studies. vol. 7, no. 3 (Oct. 1969): 544-546.

Duffy, James. “Portuguese Africa.” In The Journal of Negro History, ed. Irene Diggs. vol. 44, no. 3 (July 1959): 261-264.

Hammond, R. J. “Portugal and Africa 1815-1910: A Study in Uneconomic Imperialism.” In The Journal of Negro History, ed. Irene Diggs. vol. 52, no. 2 (Apr. 1967): 152-155.

Henriksen, Thomas H. “Review: History of Portuguese Colonialism.” African Studies Review. vol. 14, no. 3 (Dec. 1971): 505-507.
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