Redefining African Migration
by Mukhisa Kituyi-GENEVA – Few issues are as emotional as human migration. Images of desperate people on the move – whether trying to cross the US-Mexico border or packed onto rickety boats crossing the Mediterranean Sea – have heightened tensions and forged a narrative that migration has no upside.
But these images have also blinded us to the fact that people have always moved, and that migration is necessary and beneficial for human development. Nowhere is this fact more relevant today than in Africa.
Despite the ongoing political crisis surrounding African migration to Europe, the reality is that fewer Africans are migrating to European countries than when the numbers peaked in October 2015. As it happens, most African migrants move within Africa. And for African governments in particular, that fact creates an opportunity to harness the positive power of human mobility.
Understanding how migration can build wealth in Africa requires closer attention to migratory trends. According to data from my organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), of the 41.5 million people who migrated from, to, or within Africa in 2017, nearly half – 19 million – remained on the continent. Some 17 million people left Africa, while 5.5 million migrated to Africa from other parts of the world.
African migrants include both blue- and white-collar workers, and those who move within Africa often do so to fill labor gaps. For example, labor shortages in mining, construction, agriculture, and domestic services have fueled migration to South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire, two of the most important economic hubs on the continent. Elsewhere, Gabon’s lumber and mining sectors, Equatorial Guinea’s oil industry, and various industries in Kenya have also attracted migration from neighboring countries.