Group photo of speakers and panelists at the Mo Ibrahim governance weekend

African Migrations: Opportunity, Not Crisis-Mo Ibrahim Foundation


By Andrew Nsoseka

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, debating with a host of experts and opinion leaders, has declared that African migration is an opportunity that should rather be exploited for growth, rather than treated as a crisis, by the various governments within and out of the African continent.

In its discussions, on April 8, the foundation and experts stressed on the urgent need for robust data and informed policy to manage mobility in order to spur economic development.

The APO group, in a press statement noted that debating and discussing African migrations, youth and jobs, the 2019 Ibrahim Governance Weekend, in Abidjan April 5-7, strongly suggested that the global view of African migrations urgently need to be reset since distorted data leads to inadequate policies. Amongst the take-home messages of the governance weekend, was the observation and suggestion that African migrations present an opportunity for both the continent and the world, and that today the topic rather triggers an emotional reaction thus making it to be generally misunderstood.

In details supported by research data, discussions at the forum suggest that 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. The number travelling beyond Africa, are comparatively few, totalling only 14% of the global migrant population in 2017 (significantly less than Asia, 41% and Europe, 24%).

The APO quotes Mo Ibrahim, Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, who 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 – our continent’s greatest asset – have the education and economic opportunities they deserve. Now is the time to take action before it’s too late for our young people.”

Amongst some of the high profile personalities who came to participate in the discussions, were Akinwumi Adesina, Mark Malloch-Brown, Graça Machel, Kojo Annan, Jane Ibrahim, Mo Ibrahim, Amina J. Mohammed, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, H.E. Alassane Ouattara, Joaquim Chissano, Pedro Pires, Festus Mogae, Hifikepunye Pohamba, Mary Robinson, Cellou Dalein Diallo, Bono, Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe, Yves Leterme.

At the session, it was highlighted that human mobility is not a recent phenomenon but a dynamic that has contributed to progress over many centuries.

Liberia’s former President and 2017 Ibrahim Laureate and Chairperson of the High-Level Panel on International Migration in Africa Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, on her part, noted that “In recent times, there has been a lot of movement of young Africans across borders 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.”

UNECA’ Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe highlighted how a lack of economic opportunity is driving Africans to leave their home countries, noting that the conversation on migration is essentially a conversation on governance and what leaders need to do to ensure Africans do not go outside the continent. “80% of those Africans migrating say they are doing so because they don’t have jobs, because our countries don’t have the right business or policy environments.” She explained.

Abdourahmane Cissé, Minister of Petroleum, Energy and Renewable Energy of Côte d’Ivoire, outlined his country’s efforts to create economic opportunities for its youth, stating that there is a need to ensure that they have access to the necessary resources, particularly information technology. He revealed that his country focuses more on vocational training and technical skills, and have in this light, invested in areas that help students access jobs, including creating tax incentives to provide internships and hire recent graduates. “We need to see many more young people engaged in politics so that they can be part of the discussions about their future.” The Minister said.

Ethiopia’s Former PM, Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe, noted that African youth are deeply dissatisfied because they feel economically, socially and politically marginalised.  He advocated an urgent address of the young people’s dissatisfaction. “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.” The former PM appealed.

African Development Bank Group’ President, Akinwumi Adesina, stressed on the need to involve more young Africans in agriculture: “We always talk about the great potential of our continent, but nobody can eat potential. We need to take this great demographic asset that we have – our young people – and turn it into an economic powerhouse, both for ourselves and the rest of the world. We’ve got to get young people into agriculture and create a new group of ‘agri-preneurs’”.

Suggesting a new approach to responding to the problems of young people, Natasha Kimani, Head of Programmes at Well Told Story and a member of the Now Generation Forum, said, “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 – because the more you ask, the more you get!”

Proposed Way Forward for Africa

On the way forward especially in bolstering mobility, updating skills, sharing responsibilities and making use of human capital, and ensure no one is left behind, Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, said: “The countries where mobility works are the countries which manage mobility, that don’t leave mobility purely to market forces…We have to recognise that migrants are often different – different in religion, culture, colour, sexual preference – this also needs to be discussed and managed. Mobility introduces diversity and diversity means strength.”

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.”

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 have also tended 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.”

The Ibrahim Forum brings together a powerful coalition of African and global leaders to discuss an issue that is critical to the continent’s future. The 2019 Ibrahim Forum focused on the Foundation’s latest report, Africa’s Youth: Jobs or Migration? In recognition of the importance of young people to Africa’s development, this year the Foundation welcomed back the Now Generation Forum, a meeting of young leaders from 35 countries whose recommendations fed into the discussion.

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