Does Africa need a new narrative on migration?

Mar 17, 2021, 1:05 PM

A new narrative on migration in Africa is emerging. It challenges and debunks commonly held perceptions and myths about African migration and African migrants, revealing that most people are not crossing seas and oceans to migrate, but rather crossing land borders in their quest for greener pastures.

In fact, 94% of people who do cross seas and oceans from African countries to reach other destinations do so through regular channels. According to the first-ever “Africa Migration Report,” these people are mostly business travelers and students, taking planes and passing through airports and official land borders. It reveals an unknown and underreported reality - that African migration is predominantly intra-African, contrary to the often horrific, dramatic, and sensationalized impression of irregular migration from Africa across the Mediterranean Sea.

It also finds that Africans only account for 14% of the global migrant population, Asians account for 41%, and Europeans account for 24%.

An Africa-specific migration report emerged in order to address key distortions that continue to characterize public discourse on African migration - the culmination of nearly three years of collaborative work between the International Organization for Migration, the UN Migration Agency, and the African Union Commission. Discussing issues from labor and the environment, to children’s and human rights, the report - published in October - seeks to leverage the African migration agenda toward continental development and integration.

Against the stated goal of challenging false narratives around African migration with facts and data, three points and challenges are worth highlighting:

The first is that migration as an academic discipline is not well-established in academic institutions of higher learning on the continent. The few African researchers on migration are, in turn, also largely influenced by the thinking of the dominant academic views on the topic - consequently influencing the outlook and direction of African policymakers.

The result is that non-African perspectives on migration are sometimes transposed onto Africa, compelling the continent to view migration and mobility in Africa through a prism of a problem to be fixed rather than the reality of life that it is, and a reality that - if well managed - could benefit both sending and receiving countries, and the migrants themselves.

Secondly, while the policies that the AU has put out over the course of the past two decades depict a continental political body that is very progressive in its thinking and outlook on migration, implementation of these policies by its member states has tended to lag behind. The revision of the Migration Policy Framework for Africa in 2018 provides an opportunity for the AU and its member states to recognize the importance of strong policy and institutional frameworks to more effectively manage migration as a key development component rather than only as a burning problem to be fixed.

The policy frameworks and positions on migration adopted by the AU are beginning to show some permeation through policy reforms and practice at the national level, and if fully implemented, have the potential to transform the governance of migration on the continent.

A Guest Editorial

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