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'Updata-ing' the narrative about African migration

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has begun a new series of collaborative research papers, intended to provide in-depth analysis and insights on key issues relevant to public governance and political leadership in Africa, in addition to our main research outputs. The first paper of this series is co-authored with Afrobarometer and combines their latest research findings with the facts and figures of the recent Foundation Forum Report, Africa’s youth: jobs or migration?.

Migration has become a staple of the news in many countries, filled with images of desperate Africans fleeing an impoverished continent, poised to descend on the West. These reports are not necessarily false, and they can be valuable in highlighting the human stories of migration, but they are not a good basis for helpful action.

Politicians push myths and half-truths to score points but policymakers interested in addressing the complex issues around migration need data that can help them understand who, where, and why and therefore what an appropriate and targeted response might look like. Surely migration is not the same in Malawi as in Morocco?

In addition to official figures, one source of useful data is ordinary Africans – the source, after all, of all African migration. In its Round 7 public-attitude surveys (2016/2018), the research network Afrobarometer asked more than 45,000 Africans in 34 countries how they see and think about migration.

Engaging with the data and scratching beneath the surface of existing narratives is essential if we are to move beyond 'stronger borders' and other simplistic, one-size-fits-all 'solutions'. While statistical data help to reposition the discussion on migration and to cool down debates about 'mass migration', perception data contribute to understanding intentions and motivations. Together they form a strong basis for informing areas for policy action.