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Migrating in Africa. A continent on the Move.

Globally, in 2017, there were around 258 million international migrants, approximately 3.4% of the world population. Only 35% was from the south to the north of the world. The same trend was encountered in Africa: more than half (19,359,848  about 53.4%) of Africa’s international migrants in 2017 have remained on the continent, while 16,906,580 (46.5%) were living outside the continent, mainly in Asia, Europe, and North America.

The propensity to migrate outside the continent is significantly greater in Northern African than in sub-Saharan Africa, where the share of intra-African migration is much higher: more than 80% of international migrants from the continent reside in Eastern, Middle
and Western Africa.

The main sending countries in Africa have been Egypt (3.4 million) and Morocco (2.9 million). Emigrants from Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria have opted for extra-continental destinations. Emigrants from Somalia (1.9 million), Burkina Faso (1.4 million), the DR Congo and Mali were primarily to other countries on the continent.
In 2017, in Africa, 78.5% of all international immigrants were born in Africa. In other words, 4 of every 5 international migrants in Africa come from the continent. In contrast, with regard to sub-regions, around half the international migrants residing in Northern and Southern Africa were born on another continent.

Demographic explosion

Africa is projected to have the largest population growth of any geographical region by 2050. The population of the continent in 2017 was 1.2 billion (up from 477 million in 1980), and is forecast to rise to 2.5 billion by 2050. This will have important consequences for international migration and major implications for the continent’s economic development.The majority of the world’s population growth will take place in Africa.

The continent has a relatively young population, and the age group of 15-24 years is projected to almost double in size, from 231 million to 461 million in 2015-2050. The working age population of 15-64 years is the group that typically migrates, and Africa’s working age population is forecast to grow by about 70% (450 million) in 2015-2035, as is its share of the world total.
However, given that Africa’s economic growth rates in 2004-2014 were high (at above 5% per year), yet only yielded an average job growth rate of 0.2% per year until 2014, it is unlikely that sufficient jobs will be generated to absorb this additional labour under the current scenario. Migration, therefore, may be an option for many.

At present, Africa is at a critical stage of development, in which population growth is high and the nature of the employment challenge, especially in rural areas, is changing. As population densities rise, farm sizes decline, and farmers increasingly shift towards the cultivation of more ecologically fragile land, both on-farm incomes and agricultural productivity may remain extremely low. Because of these factors, the rate of urbanisation in Africa is forecast to rise from 40% in 2015 to 56% by 2050, and rural-urban migration levels are expected to remain high.

People Move

Africans will move, as they always have done. Yet, the question is not whether people will move, but where they will move to and under what circumstances and conditions, so that any move unleashes their economic potential. Images of thousands of African youth drowning in the Mediterranean, forced by poverty or conflict at home and lured by the hope of jobs abroad, have fed a misleading narrative that migration from Africa harms, rather than helps, the continent.

The future, however, need not be bleak. The Economic Development in Africa Report 2018 – Migration and Structural Transformation, published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), underscores the integral role that well-managed migration can play in addressing Africa’s development challenges. It is the opinion of Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, that “African Governments should harness intra-African migration’s unparalleled growth in order to maximise its benefits for economic growth and structural transformation”.  The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres believes that “migrants make a significant contribution to countries of both origin and destination”. The Report itself argues that “well-managed migration also provides an important means for helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, both in Africa and beyond”. (F.M.)

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