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Contrary to Popular Belief, More Africans are Moving Within the Continent than Going Out

There is a general perception around the world that Africans are leaving the continent en masse, risking their lives for a chance to stay in countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. But a recent report suggests that the perception is ill-informed. Rather, migration in Africa today is taking place within the continent.

According to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) titledEconomic Development in Africa Report 2018: Migration for Structural Transformation, in 2017, 19 million international migrants moved within Africa while 17 million Africans left the continent. Moreover, 5.5 million people came into the continent from outside, making Africa an emigration destination.

According to the report, the top five intra-African migration destinations in 2017 were South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia (all exceeding a million migrants). UN experts say that despite the hostility it often displays to migrants, South Africa remains the top destination for African migrants because of the perceived strength of its economy.

As former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who chairs the UN High-Level Panel on Migration, explains, “countries with relatively higher levels of economic and human development such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, South Africa, Ghana and Senegal tend to have comparatively higher emigration rates outside the continent than poorer countries”.

African countries also benefit from intra-migration. According to the report, international migrants contributed to 19 per cent of Côte d’Ivoire’s GDP(2008), 13 per cent in Rwanda (2012), nine per cent in South Africa (2011) and one per cent in Ghana (2010).

Remittances also helped the continent a great deal. UNCTAD says that both intra- and extra-continental migration are needed to support the continent’s structural transformation. Remittance inflows to Africa almost doubled from U.S. $38.4 billion in the 2005–2007 period to $64.9 billion from 2014 to 2016. According to AllAfrica, this accounted for 51 per cent of private capital flows to Africa in 2016, up from 42 per cent in 2010.

Still, as the report notes, “Images of thousands of African youth drowning in the Mediterranean, propelled by poverty or conflict at home and lured by the hope of jobs abroad, have fed a misleading narrative that migration from Africa harms rather than helps the continent.” Presenting statistics like these is the one way to combat this widely unsubstantiated story.

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