Willing Migrants — 1997

Soninke Labor Diasporas, 1848–1960

By François Manchuelle

"This book speaks to those interested in labor migrations, to those interested in the origins of contemporary migrants in France, as well as to Africanists in general who are hungry for a well-researched monograph that shakes up current assumptions."

James L. A. Webb Jr. — Colby College

Eighty-five percent of Black African migrants to France come from a single ethnic group in a single region of West Africa. The Soninke have the oldest tradition of labor migration within Africa and were also probably the first itinerant traders of West Africa; an important proportion continue to be merchants today.

The first major study of the Soninke labor migration within Africa and to France, Willing Migrants is based upon critical analysis of French precolonial and colonial records and oral interviews with Soninke migrants. François Manchuelle shows that these migrations were driven by a search for improved economic conditions and that these labor movements have a great deal in common with European and American migrations.

The empirical evidence runs sharply contrary to the theoretical arguments common in the Africanist literature that have stressed the role of the colonial state in forcing migration through coercive violence and taxation. Providing a vital link between African Studies and the study of labor migrations around the world, Willing Migrants marks a major advance in Africanist labor migration literature and should initiate new lines of historical inquiry and set off wide-ranging debate.


François Manchuelle was killed on TWA 800 flight to Paris in 1996. He taught at Georgia Southern University, Bowdoin College, New York University, and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. At the time of his death, he was Associate Director of Africana Studies and the Institute for Afro-American Affairs at New York University.

Cover of 'Willing Migrants'

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