While the topic of migration once was a low priority for African governments, it has gained traction as a strategic policy area for the continent over the past decade.
Part of this interest stems from a growing acknowledgment that migration is a main driver of development and must be addressed more comprehensively.
But it also derives from an increase in European Union (EU) migration-related investments in the region, especially since 2015, and the establishment of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF). As a result, many African states have now integrated migration as a main dimension in their national development strategies and mainstreamed it across policy domains such as health and education. Perhaps more importantly, in countries such as Mali and Morocco, immigration has moved into the public sphere and is now a topic that can influence electoral outcomes.
In recent years, much of the conversation around Africa and migration, particularly from a European perspective, has been on curbing flows from Africa, based on the widespread sense that demographic growth in the continent will inevitably lead to an exodus towards EU countries. But a closer look at the reality of migration flows from and within Africa points to a different picture. Projections by the United Nations and research institutes indicate that migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are likely to represent at most 3 percent to 4 percent of the population in the global North. By contrast, 71 percent of the migrants born in sub-Saharan Africa remain there. Therefore, the common perception that Africa is mainly a migrant-sending continent is misleading and underestimates how critical intra-continental migration flows are to African countries, in terms of economic development, social dynamics, and security trends.
As with other places around the globe, African initiatives aimed at enhancing migration’s potential to aid economic development and that recognize it as a cross-cutting phenomenon that must be addressed across policy portfolios are increasingly common at national, regional, and continental levels.
The African Union (AU) in 2018 updated its Migration Policy Framework for Africa and Plan of Action (2018-30) to cover areas including labor migration, migrants’ rights, internal migration, and migration data management. And in December of the same year, all but two African countries (Algeria and Libya) joined 152 other UN Member States in endorsing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, which sets out the first international policy framework on migration and calls for a multi-sectoral approach to migration management.
While these actions are promising on paper, questions remain about the extent to which they will translate to more effective migration management. A number of challenges have made it difficult to move from policy design to implementation, including lack of migration data, capacity, and resources. Moreover, as these policy changes bring about a reorganization of how African states manage migration, with an increasing number of actors involved in migration governance, more efforts are needed to coordinate with stakeholders at all levels, in and out of government.
A Guest Editorial