Greek historiography has primarily dealt with the Greek migration to Europe, America and Australia. With the exception of Egypt, limited work has been done on the Greek Diaspora in Africa. The main reasons for this fact is the scattered presence of the Greeks in dozens of countries throughout the continent and the difficulties of conducting research in Africa.
The history of the Modern Greek Diaspora in Africa can be traced back to the mid-18th century, a period when Greeks settled in the northern regions of the continent which at that time formed part of the Ottoman Empire. The majority of the Greeks were traders who took advantage of the then developing trade routes connecting the Ottoman Empire with Central Europe and the Italian ports. Especially during the Napoleonic wars, when agriculture in Europe was severely affected, cereal trade from the Ottoman Empire became a highly lucrative activity. The presence of the Greek merchants in the established commercial networks, both inside and outside the geographical area of the Ottoman Empire, was particularly important and, at the beginning of the 19th century, a significant part of the international maritime trade of grain from the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea to the western Mediterranean fell into the hands of the Greeks.
The increasing commercial traffic in the Mediterranean harbours led to the creation of Greek communities in North Africa, such as in Alexandria and Tunis, which consisted of people dealing with small and medium-sized enterprises, maritime trade, shipping and financial activities (Chaldeos, 2013). The sporadic migration of the Greeks within the Ottoman Empire during the 18th century, which was directed primarily to Egypt and secondly to Tunisia, was followed, mainly in the first quarter of the 19th century, by a massive flow to the same destinations.
The second phase of development of the Modern Greek Diaspora in Africa took place later in the 19th and in the 20th century. In that period, the global Greek Diaspora experienced a change in its character and orientation, due to the establishment of the Greek state and the fact that the Greeks migrated to new locations such as America and Australia, in addition to Europe and Africa (Hasiotis 2006:99). Emigration outflows were mostly the result of problems in local economies leading to an imbalance between population and production resources (Page-Moch 1992: 6-13; Baines 1995:8; Lucassen, 1997: 9,39). Typical was the case of the Greeks from Lesvos Island, who emigrated massively to various destinations, including Africa, after the natural disaster of 1850. Emigration flows were reinforced for a number of social and economic reasons, such as the poverty and chronic malaise that plagued the rural population of the country, the frequent famine or large agricultural disasters, as well as the heavy financial burdens occasioned by the dowry custom. Additionally, they were closely connected with the failure of the states to organize their agricultural production and the unequal economic and technological development of the industrial societies at a local and international level (Μazower, 2004:93).
The first immigrants acted as a reception base for later ones, causing chain migration flows from particular locations in Greece. Flows of information about and from those who had already experienced living abroad, induced among local communities aspirations for achieving a better life through migration. As Charles Tilly argues (1978), those who were moving were not just individuals but human networks connected through kinship or/and common origin ties. These networks provided not only information about migration destinations but also support, during both migration and settlement in the host country. Upon their settlement, the newly arrived reproduced and expanded the operation of these networks, providing information and support to new potential immigrants.
The Modern Greek immigration to Africa was also connected with certain geopolitical changes. With the opening of the Suez Canal the duration of the journey from Europe to Asia decreased. New ports were founded which served to refuel the ships and gradually became the starting points for exploration into the unknown, but rich in natural resources, Africa. It was the period of intensified competition between European countries for the exploitation of Africa, creating the background and the conditions for the settlement and the employment of European citizens in that Continent (Chaldeos, 2015).In addition, the need for infrastructure, both to move the European military forces in a continent where the landscape was covered by desert, jungle and large rivers, and to open up trade routes, led to a high demand for a skilled workforce (Tawse-Jollie, 1927: 97). Finally, we should note the key role of the introduction of steamships, which facilitated long-distance migration, especially for the islanders.
Between the late 19th and the early 20th century, the Greeks gradually emigrated to more than 25 countries throughout Africa. Although they were not numerous in most of the countries where they settled in, their role in the local economy and society was decisive. However, during the 1970s, the Greeks began to leave Africa as a result of the widespread changes of the post-colonial era, including extensive programmes of nationalization. Today, although the official data do not provide us with a very accurate picture, the total number of Greeks living in Africa is estimated at 100,000 people, excluding the descendants of mixed marriages who do not have Greek passports and who resided mostly in Ethiopia, Sudan and South Africa. The majority of the Greeks live in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Congo and Nigeria.
Apart from South Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia and Congo, the remainder of the Greek communities are declining demographically. The church remains the connecting link between the Greeks since, due to the small number of children, many Greek schools have closed down. In some cases, foreign schools have been established where Greek is taught as a foreign language. However, in the last few years, the Greek communities in Africa experience are slowly increasing again, as a result of the crisis that plagued Greece. In particular, Greeks who used to live in Africa and returned home in the 1980s or 1990s have, due to the difficulties in finding work in Greece, re-emigrated to several African countries and either invested money in their compatriots’ businesses or started their own activity as entrepreneurs.
Baines, D., 1995, Migration from Europe 1815-1930, Cambridge.
Chaldeos, A., 2013, I elliniki paroikia tis Tinisias (16os-21os ai.) [The Greek community in Tunisia (16th-21st cent.)], Athens.
Chaldeos, A., 2015, The Greek community in Mozambique. Forrmation, organization, entrepreneurship, Athens.
Hasiotis, I., Katsiardi-Hering, O., Ambatzi, E., (eds), 2006, I elliniki Diaspora 15os-21os [The Greek Diaspora 15th - 21st], Athens, Greek Parliament.
Lucassen, J.& Lucassen, L. (eds), 19973, Migration, Migration History, History: Old Paradigms and New Perspectives, Bern, Berlin, Bruselles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, International and Comparative Social History.
Mazower, M., 2002, Ta Balkania [The Balkans], trans. By K. Kouremenos, Athens, Patakis.
Page - Moch, L., 1992, Moving Europeans. Migration in Western Europe since 1650, Indiana University Press.
Tawse-Jollie, Ε., 1927, ‘Southern Rhodesia: A White Man's Country in the Tropics’, Geographical Review, (17:1).
Tilly, C., 1978, ‘Migration in Modern European History’, in W.H. McNeil / R.S. Adams (eds.), Human Migration: Patterns, Implications, Policies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press