Debunking the Narrative on African Migration

Augustine is a Youth Think Tank Researcher from Tanzania, he attended the Now Generation Forum hosted by The Mo Ibrahim Foundation earlier this month.

The issues of African Migrations has been a prominent headline in the global news. Many media reports say that African Migrants are moving to Europe and North America. While it is true that there has been such migration, contemporary data on the topic tells a different story.

More than 70% of African migrations happen within the African continent, and in 2017, African Migrants represented around 14% of the global migrant population; much less than Asia and Europe’s share (41% and 24%).

Although African governments have been receptive of migrants, recent developments of inward-looking practices and policies suggest that the north has increasingly grown less tolerant and welcoming.

‘This narrative of bias migration is harmful, but how can we change this?’

This question was answered by leaders at the ‘Now Generation Forum’ of the 2019 Ibrahim Governance Weekend held on the 5th to the 7th  April. Delegates from all over the world gathered in Abidjan, Invory Coast for the event organized by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. I was among them representing Restless Development.

Why do Africans, particularly youth, migrate?

Many push and pull factors to migrations can affect youth in different ways. At the Now Generation Forum, it was explained that most youths migrate in search for better jobs, economic opportunities, friendly business environment, peace and security, the quest for new experiences, less climate change and the human nature of migrating. Although many African economies have recently recorded increasing levels of GDP, its effects have not reached the whole of its youth population. While 18 million jobs need to be created annually to absorb new entrants into the labour market, only 3 million jobs are being created.

It was also revealed that some African governments are reluctant to allow free movement of goods and services within the African continent. This happens through denying investments from big African investors such as Aliko Dangote, who claimed to be facing this challenge. It also happens through delays in processing the movement of goods and services from foreign businesspersons across borders.

Openness to such movements would create millions of jobs for the youth of recipient countries. Alongside improvements in infrastructure and maintaining stable macroeconomics, it remains imperative for African governments to improve the management of private and public sectors. This would lead to a friendly environment to do business, more jobs in the short-term and attraction of foreign talents.

Beyond direct economic reasons, peace and climate change stand as strong push factors. African countries such as Sudan that have been facing war have recorded a larger amount of youth migrating to neighbouring countries where they can settle peacefully and pursue economic opportunities. War has led to forced migrations where youth do whatever it takes to move to a new country. It has also led to the rise of human and organ trafficking groups that are dangerous to forced migrants.

Similarly, climate change effects on agriculture has forced many Africans from rural areas to migrate. Changes in weather conditions that have affected farming seasons have posed a threat to rural Africans who are dependent on farming for subsistence and commercial purposes. This has pushed them to migrate to where there are better environmental conditions to pursue their economic activities.

As stated by Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, there is a need to harness technology in practising smart agriculture that will be friendly to the environment.

Coming out uniquely, Africa’s big population of youth was laid out as a big challenge to increasingly better macroeconomic results that are unable to offer required jobs. It was acknowledged that the prevalent high fertility rates caused by cultural, socio-economic and religious reasons contribute to such a burst in the population.

Especially in rural areas, a high number of young women under the age of 18 have unplanned pregnancies and give birth to their first children. While teenage girls face fertility issues, some parents in rural and peri-urban areas decide to have many children in the hope that one of them will be successful to take care of them as they age. Many efforts have been made by advocates for family planning on keeping a good gap of years between siblings but one thing appears to be missing – the need for families to have a number of children in relation to their income. It is, therefore, necessary to address these barriers through increasing access to contraceptives particularly in rural areas and challenge cultural and religious norms leading to the rapid increase in population.

Does migration harm recipient countries?

While proponents of inward-looking practices will agree to the question, it is worth answering it from a liberal perspective. Countries that are receptive of migrants tend to have better economic development, better governance and have more open-minded citizens.

Of all African countries, data shows that the Ivory Coast and Rwanda are the most welcoming to migrants. In this case, the estimated contribution of migrants to their local GDPs is estimated at 19% in Ivory Coast and 13% in Rwanda. These countries are also scoring well in terms of governance. While the two countries are taking the lead in harnessing migrations, Egypt, Tanzania and South Africa are most inhospitable to migrants.

As evidenced, migrants have the potential to contribute to the economic growth of recipient countries. South Africa stands a good chance if it becomes more hospitable of migrants since its current migrants contribute 9% to its GDP, making it the third country where migrants have a higher contribution to GDP. To better realise economic gains, there is a need to ratify deliberations on the free movement of labour across the continent.

Consequences of the narrative on African migrations present a stark contrast between the United Nation’s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and the African Union’s Common African Position (CAP) on the Global Compact.

Whereas the CAP is open to migrations within and outside the continent, GCM appears to be inward looking through proposing stricter border controls to mainly forced migrants. This approach is more likely to deny the economic benefits of migration to transit and destination countries and to lead to consequences such as human trafficking. It has also led to forced migrants taking precarious routes to cross borders, which leaves governments with inaccurate data on migration – a challenge in informing changes in migration policy. A better harmonization is needed between the two to ensure that they have a viable intersection.

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Debunking the Narrative on African Migration

by wearerestless Reading time: 4 min