Visiting scholar researches ethics of immigration

September 30, 2021
Jepson School visiting scholar brings an international perspective to the ethics of immigration

The term global citizen aptly describes Dr. Frank Aragbonfoh Abumere. The political philosopher has spent time studying, researching, and/or teaching in his native Nigeria as well as in Zimbabwe, Italy, Germany, Norway, England, and the United States. This year, his Jepson Hall office will serve as his base for conducting research on the global ethics of immigration. He will teach a spring-semester course on global justice.

Abumere brings his international perspective to the Jepson School of Leadership Studies as its 2021-2022 Zuzana Simoniova Cmelikova Visiting International Scholar in Leadership and Ethics. He will spend a year at the School, developing courses, designing programs, and conducting research related to leadership and ethics.

His current research on the global ethics of immigration focuses specifically on African immigration.

“I am interested in how Americans and Europeans receive African immigrants,” Abumere said. “African migration to Europe tracks with the former colonial empires. So, for example, Nigerians tend to migrate to the United Kingdom and Mozambicans and Angolans to Portugal.

“What are the similarities between European and U.S. policies toward the ‘other’—Black immigrants? Although the United States doesn’t have empire ties to Africa, it has a long history of racism tied to slavery. My research examines how racism in the United States and Europe and the global rise of populism affect African migration.”

The political philosopher also researches migration between African countries. “It’s easy to fall into the reductionist trap of attributing anti-immigrant sentiments to racism or Islamophobia,” Abumere said, “but these don’t necessarily explain inter-African immigration attitudes.   

“South African Blacks welcome immigrants from other parts of the world, but not from other African countries. They fear African immigrants will take their jobs. Ghanaians don’t want Nigerian immigrants, and vice versa. I am looking at the many different factors at play.”

His personal experience offers some insights, he said. A native of southern Nigeria, he spent part of his childhood in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria and later in predominantly Christian Ghana. Although he is Christian, he did not think of himself as an immigrant or outsider when he lived in northern Nigeria, because he spoke the language.

He first became aware of his "other" status when his parents had to pay three times the going rate for him to attend high school in northern Nigeria, simply because he—and more importantly, his ancestors—were from predominantly Christian southern Nigeria.

Understanding the nuances of intersectional identities, including race, gender, language, and religion, contributes to understanding the immigrant experience, Abumere said. Leaders' and societies' prejudices regarding various identities have implications for the ethics of immigration. 

“What are the moral obligations of our leaders and individual citizens to immigrants?” he asked. “We have to be conscious that we do not see the ‘other’ as insignificant.”