unctad.org | Africa must look to internal migration to boost development
Africa must look to internal migration to boost development
25 septiembre 2018
United Nations
Ahead of the Global Compact on Migration to be signed by leaders in December, UNCTAD hosted a high-level panel on migration and economic transformation in Africa during the United Nations General Assembly.


The economic benefits of managed migration in Africa were debated by heads of state and government, ministers and diplomats at a special event co-organized by UNCTAD during the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 25 September.

Also organized by the Governments of Morocco and Rwanda, the High-Level Panel on Migration and Structural Transformation in Africa provided a platform to raise awareness and discuss maximizing the economic and development impact of migration on the world’s second most populous continent.

The debate took place as world leaders prepared to gather in Marrakesh, Morocco, in December to sign the landmark Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Hosting the event, UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said that for a long time the narrative on African migrants has been driven by fear, but UNCTAD concentrated on evidence-based discussion on the patterns of migration with analysis in the 2018 edition of its Economic Development in Africa Report.

“Contrary to media projections, the largest movement of African migrants is within Africa,” Dr. Kituyi said. “Migrants also make a very clear contribution to the economy of the country they move into.”

This contribution included labour productivity, economic growth and taxes, he said. They also contribute to their home countries through remittances and other trade connections.

Call for dialogue

“But it’s not good enough to celebrate what they are doing. What can we learn from this for policy? For example, we see that women migrants go through the most difficult, trying times, and they pay an inordinately high cost for remitting to their home countries.”

He called for a dialogue on how to lower such costs as an example of how to construct policies that can lower barriers for positive migration in Africa.

Joining the debate, the president of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, Fernanda María Espinosa Garcés, commended UNCTAD for its analysis and for inviting her to the meeting.

In looking at the positive narrative around intra-African migration, Ms. Espinosa Garcés highlighted the value of remittances “which dwarfs official development assistance to developing countries”.

“In Africa alone, remittance inflows grew by 11% in 2017 to $38 billion,” she said. However, the high costs of money transfer “inhibited” the benefits of remittances, she said, echoing Dr. Kituyi’s earlier point.

She also called for better data collection and capacity building to “harness the power of diasporas”, as well as expressing support for the “road to Marrakesh” leading to the global compact.

“Migration is about development. Migration is about economic growth. Migration is about human rights,” Ms. Espinosa Garcés concluded. 

Partnership of equals

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, said she was grateful for the opportunity to “for helping us focus on the positive sides of migration”.

“We Europeans often forget our recent history. We forget that we used to be migrants not so long ago. European migration to the Americas, for example, made and still makes, our continents stronger,” she said.

“The same is true of migration today, and of migration inside Africa,” she said.

Ms. Mogherini called for a “political partnership of equals” between Africa and Europe in which each side listened to the other’s needs.

“A stronger Africa makes a stronger Europe,” she said.

The good, the bad and the starting point

Nasser Bourita, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Kingdom of Morocco, said that a better understanding of the facts of migration in Africa was needed to better devise policy solutions.

He said that, for example, only two African migrants in 10 moved in an irregular way. He also bust the myth that most African migrants left the continent when they moved.

“When Africa migrates, it stays in Africa,” he said.

Finally, he called for policies to make migration “a choice, not a necessity,” he said, reminding the meeting that “youth is the future of Africa”.

Retaining this young talent was the “starting point of structural transformation”, he said.

Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and East African Community, Louise Mushikiwabo, thanked UNCTAD for “bringing the science” to the topic of intra-African migration.

“The good of migration must be highlighted and the bad of migration must be tackled urgently,” she said. “Get ready for a meaningful conversation about the good and the bad in Marrakesh later this year.”

Speakers from Canada, Spain, Malta, the United Kingdom, Norway, Senegal, Egypt, Angola and Gabon contributed to the discussion from the floor.

Representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa to the United Nations Secretary General, the Universal Postal Union, the International Organization for Migration, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the African Union also added their voices to the debate. Several non-governmental organizations also spoke.

Underlying causes

Pioneering work on the issue was at the heart of UNCTAD’s Economic

Development Report in Africa 2018: Migration and Structural Transformation, speakers said.

On the one hand, well-managed migration can yield significant benefits for countries of origin and for destination states.

For example, 85% of the benefits of intra-African migration go to the host country, with the rest going back to origin countries in trade and remittances. In addition, most migration in Africa is not driven by distress, but by entrepreneurship. 

On the other hand, mismanaged or unmanaged migration can have detrimental consequences for the welfare of states and migrants and generate security threats.

With Africa projected to be the region with the largest population growth by 2050, job creation has become a top political priority, the Economic Development in Africa Report says.

However, in the context of Africa’s regional and continental integration, vulnerability to low commodity prices and rising national unemployment threaten acceleration of the continent’s agenda for facilitating the mobility of persons.

Furthermore, drivers such as the depletion of environmental resources or disasters exacerbated by climate change, as well as conflicts and political crises, have gained prominence in the analysis of the underlying causes of migration patterns, the report says.

Migration milestones

The landmark Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration will represent an important milestone in the efforts to advance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and meet the goals of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Earlier this year, African nations agreed to advance the African Continental Free Trade Agreement with 31 nations signing its Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment.


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