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Who are the African migrants?

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Innumerable stories around African migration have painted the African migrant as someone forced into fleeing insecurity or poverty. They could be young men and women evading violent extremists in the Lake Chad Basin countries, Eritrean nationals seeking refuge from authoritarian rule, or people of the Democratic Republic of Congo pushed into emigration by the economic slump.

In fact these stories form only part of the picture. African countries, like any others in the world, are vulnerable to violent ideologues, yet insecurity and violent extremism are not the major factors behind African migration. As highlighted in the 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report, refugees account for only 20% of African migrants and almost 90% of African refugees flee to another African country.

The Afrobarometer Survey 2018 shows that it is the younger, more educated metropolitans who are more likely than their older, less educated rural counterparts to consider emigrating. The survey also illustrates that of those considering emigration, 43% are most often driven by the desire to find a job, 33% are escaping hardships and 4.6% are looking for better business opportunities.

The 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report also shows that the African continent accounts for only 14% of global migration flows, a majority of which are confined to the continent. In 2017, the African country that accounted for the largest share of migrants leaving was Egypt, ranked 19th in the world. This is contrary to the popular belief that West African countries like Nigeria, and East African countries such as Somalia and Burundi dominate the African migrant population. The 2017 International Migration Report shows that more nationals from North African countries moved outside the continent than their counterparts from sub-Saharan Africa – 1.5 million Algerians migrated to France, 900,000 Egyptians to Saudi Arabia and 700,000 Moroccans to Spain.

African migration has been overwhelmingly intra-continental. According to the 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report, around 70% of sub-Saharan African migrants remain on the continent, 18.5% in East Africa and 16.7% in West Africa. The reality is that in the wake of Pan-Africanism, Africa Rising, home-grown solutions and heightened visa restrictions outside the continent, the African migrant moves more within the African 'neighbourhood'.

As the 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report shows, African migrations are made up mostly of youth, with 60% of irregular African migrants estimated to be under the age of 35. Taking into account the predicted youth bulge on the African continent, this dynamic of African migration is expected to continue. Additionally, almost half (46.1%) of African migrants are female which calls for a more feminist approach to migration policy that does not perpetuate inequality and considers these women’s vulnerability, and sexual and reproductive health.

Given that the facts of African migration demonstrate that there is no mass exodus, African governments need to create frameworks to manage migration and to tap into migrants’ potential. Migrants spend around 85% of their incomes in their destination counties, and migrant contributions to local GDP are estimated at 19% in Côte d'Ivoire, 13% in Rwanda and 9% in South Africa. In the light of these figures, the benefits of the Protocol of Free Movement cannot be overstated.

Setting the record straight on African migration will ensure effective, fact-based policies are designed and implemented for more orderly, collective and productive migration processes.

The 2019 Ibrahim Governance Weekend held in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire was a first step in driving this new narrative, based on factual information about African migrations. It was also clear at the Now Generation Forum that the youth of Africa are dissatisfied with 'waithood'; waiting for better institutions, waiting for an environment that supports young start-ups, waiting for better pay, and waiting for a better political climate. They need a shift from convenient political commentary to actual political will and intentional policies that will tackle the problems they face.