News & Media / To curb mass African migration, bring the jobs to Africa

To curb mass African migration, bring the jobs to Africa

06 March, 2019

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.

Even as we lived as refugees in Guinea, my father was never a big fan of mass migration. He saw it as a destroyer of family bonds and a disruptor of emigrant economies via brain drain. To make sure we had an emotional bond to our home country and not desert it in difficult times, he would lecture us about historical figures like Nkrumah and Lumumba who dedicated themselves to building their nations even when they had the means to escape its troubles. He would turn down his friends' request for us to spend time with them in a neighbouring country and frown on any one of us expressing a desire for the many resettlement programs in the camps. He did this not because he hated to see us travel or loathed other cultures – he had been on the road for most of his life. But being a passionate lover of his country, my father thought exposing us to other nations early on in life would rob us of the very love we should have for our own.

This was when my father was younger and most African economies were relatively good. My father believed we could 'aspire and be' without leaving our home country, except for education. Sadly, this is no longer true for most African countries. With civil war, broken national economies, destroyed infrastructure, and poor social services, it saddened my father to see his children leave him for the world in search of better life, greater job prospects, and services.

The story of African migration is a painful one. Apart from the extreme danger and risk Africans endure in reaching their host countries, the emotional paralysis of not seeing one's family and loved ones for decades (or ever) is unbearable. Some of these migrants leave a spouse and kids behind and leave home to escape the life of pain, poverty, and misery. But for them, the choice is easy: either be a migrant or be nothing.

Migration is as old as human history. While some Europeans are worrying over the influx of African migrants, these represent less than 15% of the global migrant population and only 0.5% of the total global population. Excluding North Africa, about 70% of African migrants stay within the continent. Almost 80% of them are economically or socially driven, African refugees being only about 20% of all African migrants, out of which almost 90% stay on the continent.

Migrants who leave their home countries in search of better economic opportunities elsewhere do not only lift their families out economic woes, but they also contribute significantly to the economies of their host countries. According to the World Economic Forum 2017 report on migration, migrants contributed $6.4-6.9 trillion, or 9.4% of global gross domestic product in 2015.

Though for different reasons, my father and public opinion in Europe agree that 'mass migration' should be discouraged. While my father believed mass migration robs Africa of its skills, manpower, and education, many working-class Europeans believe migrants put a strain on their limited social services and increase their competitiveness in a cutthroat world.

What can we do then?

Giving the fact that many people leave their home countries out of a need for economic prosperity and a better future, concerned global leaders should work with their counterparts from developing countries and the private sector to increase foreign investment and fund better skills training programs on the continent.

If developed nations truly want to curb mass African migration, they need to support and encourage both foreign and domestic firms to initiate the development of job intensive sectors like light manufacturing and construction, and support better governance on the continent. Not only will this create better living conditions and opportunities for African youth and yield higher returns on investment, but it will also disincentivise both intra-African and overseas migration.

As the Economist Paul Collier says:

Young Africans are drowning in an attempt to reach our firms. We could so easily encourage our companies to bring the jobs to them instead.

Just like my father, most parents would want their kids to stay and contribute to the growth and development of their countries and continent, but it will be difficult if there is nothing worth staying for.

We need to make staying in our countries and continent worth it.

The Foundation will hold its flagship annual event, the Ibrahim Governance Weekend (IGW) from 5-7 April 2019, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

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