Women of the Somali Diaspora

Refugees, Resilience and Rebuilding After Conflict

August 2021 9781787384811 376pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


This book is about Somali mothers and daughters who came to Britain in the 1990s to escape civil war. Many had never left Somalia before, followed nomadic traditions, did not speak English, were bereaved and were suffering from PTSD.

Their stories begin with war and genocide in the north, followed by harrowing journeys via refugee camps, then their arrival and survival in London. Joanna Lewis exposes how they rapidly recovered, mobilising their networks, social capital and professional skills. Crucial to the recovery of the now breakaway state of (former British) Somaliland, these women bore a huge burden, but inspired the next generation, with many today caught between London and a humanitarian impulse to return home.

Lewis reveals three histories. Firstly, the women’s personal history, helping us to understand resilience as an individual, lived historical process that is both positive and negative, and both inter- and intra-generational. Secondly, a collective history of refugees as rebuilders, offering insight into the dynamism of the Somali diaspora. Finally, the forgotten history and hidden legacies of Britain’s colonial past, which have played a key role in shaping this dramatic, sometimes upsetting, but always inspiring story: the power of women to heal the scars of war.


‘A hugely compassionate book written with humanity.’ — Mary Harper, BBC Africa Editor, and author of Everything You Have Told Me Is True

‘The “go to” text for those wanting to understand the incredible strength of Somali women in the diaspora. Beautifully written, cleverly innovative, and powerfully reflective, this compelling and rich oral history allows the women to speak for themselves.’ — Kate Law, historian of African women and the former British Empire, and Research Fellow, Nottingham University

‘A richly researched book and a lucid account of the remarkable resilience of Somalis in the UK. Lewis provides much needed historical understanding of Somali presence in post-imperial Britain, elegantly linking the story to Britain’s colonial past.’ — Aparajita Mukhopadhyay, Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Imperial History, University of Kent

‘In this wonderful book, we hear the voices of Somali women like never before, and learn a deep respect for their resilience, which leads from the harsh life of pastoralism to the refugee camp, and the world of exile.’ — Christopher Clapham, Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge, and author of The Horn of Africa

‘This powerful and moving book offers an intimate account of the strength and resilience of Somali women. Rich in its oral history, it is also a timely reminder of the deep historical connections between modern Britain and Somaliland.’ — Hannah Whittaker, Senior Lecturer in African History, Brunel University London

‘The Somali diaspora is one of Africa’s largest, but is often subject to misapprehension. Lewis animates the lives of women we learn to admire for their resilience, their clarity, and their unconquerable spirits.’ — Ato Quayson, Jean G. and Morris M. Doyle Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies, Stanford University, and co-editor of A Companion to Diaspora and Transnationalism


Joanna Lewis is an associate professor at the London School of Economics, with a PhD from the University of Cambridge. She has written and lectured on African-British history for over twenty years. A newspaper columnist and novelist, she is currently researching the impact of COVID-19 on the Somali diaspora.

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.