African migration: more opportunities than challenges?


While much of the world continues to focus on the current refugee and migration crisis affecting Europe, a new report highlights some of Africa’s solutions to its own challenges surrounding the efficient management of international migration.

International Migration in Africa: Framing the Issues, published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) argues that while irregular migration from Africa to Europe has received extensive attention, in reality intra-African migration dominates the flow of African migrants.

“80 per cent of Africans who migrate do so inside the continent, with only 15 per cent to 20 per cent taking the route to Europe,” says the report, which also reveals that there are 18.6 million migrants in Africa (of which three million are non-Africans).

Even within Africa, movements are dominated by those within the same sub-region. In addition, Labour migration in particular, which has historically been the preserve of men, has become increasingly become feminised.

It is estimated that 3 per cent of the world’s population live outside of their home country, with women now comprising almost half (49 percent) of the international migrant population.

“This is because more women are now educated and are getting job opportunities outside the continent. Many women who work as nurses, domestics or care givers are seeking employment in the West, especially Europe, where other than better employment terms, there is also a demand for their services,” Takyiwaa Manuh, director of UNECA’s social development policy division, told Equal Times.

According to the report, the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon has had a serious impact on Africa’s development with more than half of all highly educated migrants from Africa currently living in the US, Germany, Britain, France, Canada, Australia and Spain.

In many African countries — particularly smaller nations such as Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, and Namibia – highly-skilled workers migrate at a rate 20 times that of the general population.

But despite some of the issues, African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, told Equal Times that migration offers more opportunities than challenges.

“Migration has the potential to reduce youth unemployment by contributing to economic development through remittances and by importing skills, knowledge and technology to both the countries of origin and destination.”

During the inaugural African Development Week ministerial meeting held in Addis Ababa between 31 March and 5 April 2016, African governments agreed to the speedy implementation of a number of social and economic empowerment programmes to improve migration policies and halt irregular migration, particularly amongst the continent’s youth.

Ministers agreed to invest in research and data gathering on south-south migration and to continue the design of new educational policies in the light of challenges surrounding high-skilled emigration.

Ministers also committed to the promotion of pan-African labour policy coherence and the implementation of both global (Agenda 2030) and regional (Agenda 2063) development frameworks, both of which recognise the critical role of migration for sustainable development.

“There is need to promote intra-African movement of labour that will offer durable solution to the migration crisis facing the continent,” said the ministers in a joint statement.

The ministers also agreed that all African countries should abolish all visa requirements for fellow Africans by 2018 in order to promote the free movement of people across the continent.

According to Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, head of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Programming Unit for Africa, the African Union Commission, the ILO, the International Organization for Migration and UNECA are pressing on with the implementation of a joint labour migration program for Africa.

Formally adopted in 2015, it provides a strategic regional intervention to leverage migration for development as well as to protect workers’ rights.

“The aim of the program is to protect the rights of migrant workers, enable global and regional portability of skills, portability of social security benefits for the migrants and fair recruitment practices for the migrants,” Samuel-Olunjuwon told Equal Times.


Long-standing phenomenon

Although conflict-induced or forced migration has been a long-standing global phenomenon, it has gained recent prominence as a result of the current scale of the crisis, as well as its unprecedented impact on Western Europe.

“Protracted conflicts in countries such as Syria, Libya, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic as well as the heightened activities of terrorists, violent extremists and radicalised groups in North and West Africa and the Middle East have contributed to increased and widespread forced displacement of persons, in search of basic safety and security,” says the report.

The section of the population hit hardest by these developments is Africa’s youth. While young people made up 35 per cent of Africa’s working age population in 2015, according to the latest ILO World Employment Social Outlook, the youth unemployment rate in sub-Saharan Africa is almost three times higher than the rest of the working population.

The ministers, therefore, reaffirmed the need to promote migration in Africa for development.

“Migration broadens the opportunities available to individuals and is a crucial means of broadening access to resources and reducing poverty,” Manuh told Equal Times.