African migrations: ­opportunity not crisis

Issues discussed highlight the need for robust data and informed policy to manage mobility and spur economic development.

14 April 2019 | Africa

Ibrahim Governance Weekend

Debating and discussing African migrations, youth and jobs, the 2019 Ibrahim Governance Weekend, held in Abidjan last week, heard that the global view of African migrations urgently needs to be reset since distorted data leads to inadequate policies. African migrations present an opportunity for both the continent and the world, and yet today this topic triggers an emotional reaction and is generally misunderstood.

Driven by the need for jobs and economic opportunity, most African migrations begin and end on the continent. Their arrival in host countries is welcomed, with many Africans saying they would like more migrants in their country.

Mo Ibrahim, chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, said: “Migration in Africa and around the world, is largely about aspiration, not desperation. Africans leaving their home countries are looking for the chance to work and contribute to their host countries. African governments should welcome migrants while ensuring that their own citizens have the education and economic opportunities they deserve. Now is the time to take action before it's too late for our young people.”

Young leaders

The Ibrahim Forum brings together a coalition of African and global leaders to discuss an issue that is critical to the continent's future. The first session – Setting the picture right on African migrations – explored African perspectives on migration, highlighting that human mobility is not a recent phenomenon but a dynamic that has contributed to progress over many centuries. According to former Liberian president, 2017 Ibrahim Laureate and Chairperson of the High-Level Panel on International Migration in Africa Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, “In recent times, there has been a lot of movement of young Africans in search of opportunity. This has created a fear and a very emotional response.

But there is no migrant crisis. The majority of those who cross borders do so legally; they carry with them capital, knowledge, skills, technology; they pay taxes; and they form a sizeable part of the GDP of their host countries.”

Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said that a lack of economic opportunity drives Africans to leave their home countries: “Eighty percent of Africans migrating say they are doing do because they don't have jobs, because our countries don't have the right business or policy environments.”

Jobless growth

In the second session – The African youth bulge confronted by jobless growth – panellists discussed current and future challenges of the African job market.

Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe, said that the youth are deeply dissatisfied. “They feel economically, socially and politically marginalised. African leaders and civil society should address these issues with a sense of urgency. Let's look at the education and skills that our young people actually need, focussing on what is necessary for the current economic situation in Africa.”

Natasha Kimani, Head of Programmes at Well Told Story and a member of the Now Generation Forum, argued for a fresh perspective. “We need to change how we talk about young people and how we talk to young people. Instead of assuming we know what they need, why don't we ask them? And as young people, if we want to thrive, we must hold our governments accountable. We need to put our leaders on the spot and ask them difficult questions. Don't be afraid to challenge authority and ask for what you deserve.”

The way forward

In the third session – The way forward: bolstering mobility, updating skills, sharing responsibilities – pa-nellists explored options to strengthen the capacity of the continent to make the most of its human capital and ensure no one if left behind.

Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana and 2008 Ibrahim Laureate, stressed the importance of responsible leadership in managing migration. “African leaders and governments should go out of their way to explain to their populations that migrants often benefit the countries into which they migrate, correcting the misperception that migrants are taking local jobs.”

Closing the session, Oumar Seydi, Africa Director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted the challenge of population growth. “The elephant in the room is family planning. If you look at the data, you see that the countries with the highest population growth also tend to be the poorest ones. In our experience, investing in family planning is one of the most effective tools that countries have to break the poverty cycle. It enables women to plan their futures and fulfil their potential.”

In a nutshell

• African migrants in 2017 amounted to 2.9% of the continent's population.• African migrations represented around 14% of the global migrant population, much less than Asia and Europe's shares (41% and 24%) in 2017.

• Africa itself hosts a growing part of the global migrant population (+67% since 2000).• Rwanda is the third most welcoming country to migrants at a world level. Egypt is the least accepting on the continent.

• South Africa receives the largest share of African migrants, followed by Côte d'Ivoire and Uganda.• Almost 80% of African migrants are driven by the hope for better economic or social prospects.

• Insecurity is not the major factor for African migrations: in 2017, refugees accounted for only around 20% of African migrants.• Around 60% of Africa's population is currently less than 25 years old, and more than a third is aged between 15 and 34.

• Between 2019 and 2100, Africa's youth is expected to grow by 181.4%, while Europe's will shrink by 21.4% and Asia's by 27.7%• Only half of those who would qualify for lower secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa, are enrolled.

• Unemployment is considered by far the most important problem by African youth.• In Egypt, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa at least 75% of the youth think that their governments do not care about their needs.

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