Geneva — In an age of emerging populism in both the global north and south, migration often gets a bad rap.
But the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) believes African migration could boost growth and positively transform the structure of the continent's economy.
Launching a new UNCTAD report, Economic Development in Africa Report 2018: Migration for Structural Transformation, in Geneva this month, UNCTAD secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi said that "contrary to some perceptions, most migration in Africa today is taking place within the continent."
In 2017, 19 million international migrants moved within Africa and 17 million Africans left the continent. Africa is also a migration destination for 5.5 million people who came from outside the continent.
"Population movements across borders often offer individuals a chance for a better life with the social and economic benefits extending to both source and destination countries, as well as future generations," Kituyi said in the report.
"Our analysis shows this to be true for millions of African migrants and their families… Yet much of the public discourse, particularly as it relates to international African migration, is rife with misconceptions that have become part of a divisive, misleading and harmful narrative." Kituyi is a Kenyan development expert.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Chairs UN Panel
Addressing journalists on African migration, former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who chairs the UN High-Level Panel on Migration, noted that migration brought a transfer of skills that was sometimes not well known.
She said Africans identified countries where opportunities are better: "So, you see [people from] many countries going to South Africa, going to Kenya, going to Ghana today, to Senegal, to all those places that are perceived to be a prosperous country, as there the opportunities are ample."
But, speaking to AllAfrica, she acknowledged there were two sides to intra-African migration. She had heard from an African economic adviser that while it has its positive impact, it can also create difficulties. She was told, "We have to recognise that migrants are not always 100 percent welcome by the countries' residents themselves. This is because they may be perceived as taking opportunities from citizens and from residents. Yes, there is this tension that has to be dealt with."
She added: "Countries with relatively higher levels of economic and human development such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, South Africa, Ghana and Senegal tend to have comparatively higher emigration rates outside the continent than poorer countries."
In 2017, the top five intra-African migration destinations (receiving countries in descending order) were South Africa, Cote d'Ivoire, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia (all exceeding a million migrants), the report says. South Africa's position as the top destination, despite the hostility it often displays to migrants, indicates the perceived strength of the economy, say UN experts.
Benefit of migration
Behind the numbers lies economic analysis that shows there is a net benefit to migration in Africa, because it is not only the poor who are migrating.
The contribution of international migrants to GDP was measured at 19 percent in Côte d'Ivoire (2008), 13 percent in Rwanda (2012), nine percent in South Africa (2011) and one percent in Ghana (2010).
UNCTAD says both intra- and extra-continental migration are needed for supporting Africa's structural transformation.
Remittance inflows to Africa rose on average from U.S. $38.4 billion in the 2005–2007 period to $64.9 billion in 2014 to 2016. These accounted for 51 percent of private capital flows to Africa in 2016, up from 42 percent in 2010.
UNCTAD's Junior Roy Davis, a lead author on the report, said it also provided evidence of the "intimate correlation between two sides of the same coin: migration and trade."
"Africa is on the cusp of tremendous change," he added. "On 21 March 2018, 44 African countries signed the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area and 30 of them signed the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons.
"These critical milestones follow the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market in January 2018. In this context, the report contributes to a better understanding of the implications of intra-African migration for the continent's socio-economic transformation."
UNCTAD said the report's analysis of the role of intra-continental migration in Africa's development trajectory makes it a reference document that aims to assist in defining an African position in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to be adopted in Marrakesh in December 2018.