Economic Development in Africa: Migration for Structural Transformation

31 May 2018

New report shows that international migration in Africa is primarily a continental phenomenon, contrary to popular perception. In 2017, more than half - 53% of Africa's international migrants resided within the continent, many of them circulating within the same African region.

Key Statistics

International migration in Africa: An overview

In the last 27 years, international migration in Africa has grown rapidly. In 2017, there were about 41 million international migrants from, to, or within Africa. Of these, 19 million resided in Africa, 17 million were resident outside of the continent, and 5.5 million were immigrants from the rest of the world.

Migration in Africa has been characterized by outflows primarily to other countries on the continent, and to some extent to extra-continental destinations. Out-migration is a dominant pattern of international movements in Africa as countries that are net senders exceed net receivers.

Sending countries in 2017


Map showing net sending countries in Africa

37 countries in Africa were net migrant-sending countries in 2017. While outflows from these countries were primarily to intra-African destinations, for the top net-sending countries, outflows were to extra-continental destinations.

Egypt (2.9 million), Morocco (2.8 million), Algeria (1.5 million) and Tunisia (700,000) were among the top net sending countries. Other net sending countries in 2017 included Somalia (1.9 million), Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Mali (in descending order).

With economic migration being a key feature of international migration in Africa, the search for economic opportunities is an important driver of mobility in the majority of net sending countries. While distress-push factors, notably, high youth unemployment influence movements from Northern Africa to Europe and the Middle East, demand-pull factors, in particular, employment, trade and investment opportunities in neighbouring economies drive mobility, for instance, from Burkina Faso to Côte d’Ivoire and from Mozambique to South Africa.

Political instability in Somalia, and conflict in the Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic are important drivers of emigration from these countries on the continent. Climate change and the growing competition for natural resources are also driving migration within the Sahel region, with the distress-push factors influencing movements from Mali and Niger.

Receiving countries in 2017

Map showing net receiving countries in Africa

In 2017, 17 countries in Africa were key net migrant-receivers. South Africa (3.1 million), Côte d’Ivoire (1.2 million), Uganda (900,000), Libya (629,000), Kenya (577,000), Ethiopia (426,000), Chad (242,000), Gabon (213,000), Cameroon (206,000) and Tanzania (168,000) were the top net receiving countries.

Demand for labour in key economic sectors has been a driver of migration to South Africa (domestic service, mining and construction) and Côte d’Ivoire (agriculture), both of which are hubs on the continent. Similarly, demand for labour in Gabon’s lumber and mining sectors, oil in Equatorial Guinea and in diversified economies such as Kenya, has influenced movements primarily from neighbouring countries to these economies.

Conflict has been a driver of migration to Uganda and Kenya, both of which host a large number of refugees from South Sudan, and to Chad, which hosts refugees primarily from the Sahel region. Cameroon hosts refugees from the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tanzania hosts refugees from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Libya - a top net receiving country, and Mauritania are transit countries that receive migrants en route to Europe primarily from West Africa, and from Eastern Africa.

Trends in international migration in Africa

Since 2000, international migration in Africa has increased significantly, rising by 67% from 15 million in 2000 to 25 million in 2017 (annual average growth of 2.8 per cent per year). In addition, international migrants as a share of total population in Africa increased from 1.8 per cent in 2000 to 2 per cent in 2017.

  • In 2017, out of 100 immigrants[1] in Africa, 79 were from Africa.

    Figure 1
  • International migration in Africa occurs primarily in the same African region. In 2017, 4 out of 5 international migrants residing in Eastern, Middle and Western Africa were from the same African region, underscoring intra-regional migration’s importance. However, since 1990, intra-regional migration has declined across all African regions.

    Figure 2
  • Among Africa’s migrants of working age, the proportion aged 25-64 years rose from 49% in 1990 to 57% in 2017. Conversely, the share of young migrants, aged 15-24 years declined from 21 % to 16% during the same period.

    Figure 3
  • Female migration is growing in importance in Africa. Since 1990, the number of international female migrants increased from 7.4 million to 11.6 million in 2017. This trend is reflected in the corresponding increase in Africa’s female population, which rose from 318 million in 1990 to 629 million in 2017.

    Figure 4
  • At the regional level, trends in female migration vary markedly. International female migrants as a share of the total female population doubled in Southern Africa from 2.5 per cent in 1990 to 5.8 per cent 2017, and rose slightly in Middle Africa. In Northern and Eastern Africa, and to a lesser extent, in Western Africa, international female migration declined during the same period.

    Figure 5
  • Africa’s population is projected to rise to 2.5 billion by 2050. By then, the continent will have the largest population growth of any global geographical region. In 2050, 25 per cent of the world’s working age population will live in Africa, up from 8 per cent in 1950. Given these demographic projections, the continent will need to generate 55,000 jobs a day according some estimates, in order to absorb the additional labour.

    Figure 6

[1] Immigrants refers to non-nationals who move into a country for the purpose of settlement. Emigrants are individuals who depart or exit from one country to live in another.