Ama Sarpomaa: There are more human beings than words

Throughout my research this summer, I have prioritized the people who have been driven out of their homes by forces outside their control. As a researcher, it is easy to reduce folks to mere numbers. After all, “90%” can sound more significant than “90 people”. My research mentor, Professor Lahmann-Rosen has emphasized to me the importance of filling in any gaps that I see in research about environmentally-induced displacement, specifically in the Sub-Saharan region. Finding information dedicated to the historiography of environmentally-induced displacement in the aforementioned region is not just difficult—it’s near impossible. I have found myself spending hours browsing through websites, data collection sites, and libraries, sometimes to no avail. On the days where I relentlessly keep on searching for secondary sources on my topic, I have happened upon works such as that of Tschakert and Tutu’s “Solastalgia: Environmentally Induced Distress and Migration Among Africa’s Poor Due to Climate Change.” This paper altered the course of my research in an unexpected way. The authors of this piece conducted research on environmentally-induced displacement in the Upper East and Upper West regions while simultaneously gathering information from the areas they often migrate to—Kumasi and Accra. Prior to reading this paper, I had not considered comparing the Northern Village I was focusing on (Savelugu), to an area in the south where displacees often flee to. The inclusion of data from both resource poor and resource rich areas allows for an observation of the relationship between environmental degradation and economic violence.

Welfare indicators for Ghana and two northern regions (from a 2003 statistical survey)

The idea of Solastalgia, or, “The sadness, depression, or desperation caused by significantly altered environments”, played a key role in informing the way Tschakert and Tutu approached their research in Ghana. An understanding of the deep psychological pain and turmoil that comes with uprooting one’s life due to circumstances out of their control is an essential part of conducting Africa-centered research. This piece has allowed me to truly reflect on my research project, and alter it in ways that will result in productive and meaningful work. In addition to Northern Ghana’s Savelugu village, I will be collecting and analyzing data from Accra, the biggest city in the nation. The last few weeks of my research process has been dedicated to connecting with researchers and scholars in the fields of African policy making and migration at The University of Michigan. My time working and studying at the University of Michigan has allowed me to connect with former African diplomats, policymakers, and economists who have helped me hone my skills with data analytics and statistics. These skills will aid in my understanding of the data gathered through secondary sources as well as my own research. My main focus moving forward is establishing the necessary groundwork to ensure that the work I produce centers migrants without reducing them to mere words or numbers. After all, there are more human beings than words.

The University of Michigan’s campus

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