Photo: African migrants atop border fence on one of their countless dangerous journeys to Europe
For Africa and Africans, migration is a way of life and this is also largely true of people of the other continents. Mobility has always been critical in sustaining or the reestablishment of affinity among people, and for Africa, this phenomenon predates the scramble and partitioning of the continent by the colonialists.
To a large extent, the great Trans-Saharan Trade, and the attendant migration, was part of attempts at achieving economic development, boosting cultural exchanges and integration. Thus, migration can be described as an agent of development, which has impacted positively on the Gross Development Products of many African countries, and the economic contributions, in remittances by the African Diasporas to their home countries, which is a boost to the annual budgets.
Furthermore, the transfer of capacities and technology from the Diasporas has contributed immensely to the development of the region, even though, the host countries of the African Diasporas remain the primary beneficiaries.
But in recent times, there has been a paradigm shift in the Africa migration trends, with diverse reasons for migration, involvement of all gender and the perception of migration both at national and global levels as core elements and critical players in the Africa migration matrix.
The unraveling global migration crisis has itself, engendered the deployment of a range of policies and measures designed by developed countries (or countries of destination) to check the influx of migrants from the developing world. African countries and their economies have been hardest hit by the negative impacts of these anti-migration policies and measures, which go against grain of sustainable migration management, with calamitous consequences both on Africa and the world at large.
The world is today grappling with an upsurge in criminal activities; African states are overwhelmed by the dimension of criminal sects with global affiliations and financing, and these have left the region with paucity of funds and lack of capacities to combat emerging crimes or for economic development. In many cases, State funds are concentrated on the provision of security with little attention paid to economic growth and development or institutionalization of good governance and provision of basic amenities for the citizens.
Migration experts are always quick to cite the so-called push and pull factors of migration and these include social, economic, political and environmental reasons, to name but a few. But while the developed nations do everything to prevent non-skilled immigrants, they surreptitiously encourage the outflow of skilled labour from the already hard pressed developing counties.
The combined consequences of perennial conflicts in Africa, poverty, bad governance, unemployment and lack of opportunities or sheer opportunism have seen thousands of African youths perish on perditious journeys to Europe through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean. Even those who had made it to Europe and other continents, including Africa are constantly being deported back to their home countries in their hundreds or become targets of violent xenophobic attacks, accused of “stealing” jobs meant for indigenes. But as if to demonstrate that wars, conflicts and socio-economic problems are not a preserve of any race, region or greed, the same Europe and indeed the world, is now gripped by an immigration crisis of mammoth proportions.
Instead of the erstwhile unilateral piece-meal measures, the solution to the global migration crisis requires a holistic, strategic all-inclusive approach, predicated on the fact that restriction of movement will only compound the present quagmire. For their part, developed countries must take into cognizance the benefits of migration on the origin and the envisioned impact in the derailment of the world economic order. A preferred strategy must be right and appropriate, otherwise the world should brace for an apocalypse period in migration crisis if due consideration is not given to ensure that migration flows across board are encouraged with flexible and mutually beneficial agreements, compromises and give and take by stakeholders. Migrants’ countries of origin should not be hoodwinked into signing agreements that are inimical to their own existence. Migration agreements must be realistic and tenable and focus on transfer of technology and capacities, infrastructure development, promotion of good governance and respect for the rights of migrants.
For Africa, migration management initiatives must acknowledge the contributions of the African Diaspora both to their countries of origin and countries of destination. Programmes at national and regional levels within the framework of bilateral and multilateral agreements should also be encouraged to protect citizens and ensure continuity of the valuable roles played by the Diaspora. Africa has a teeming young population and as the global migration crisis rages, what are mechanisms put in place to ensure regular mobility of young Africans to acquire knowledge and impact on the region?
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has developed and adopted migration policies to encourage mobility of persons within the ECOWAS space hinged on three cardinal areas of intervention – rights of entry, residence and establishment in territories of member states. These rights are sacrosanct and pivotal to the economic development and the regional integration agenda of ECOWAS member states. Beyond these initiatives, the region has experienced a revolution in migration governance with the adoption and harmonization of travel documents. Of note is the recently adopted ECOWAS Biometric Identity Card, which is a landmark achievement in the region’s integration drive, with the principal objective of demystifying the passport as a travel document, enhancing the security architecture and encouraging mass participation in regional development.
As part of measures to boost intra-regional mobility, the ECOWAS Heads of State have also adopted the ECOWAS Common Approach on Migration, which outlines a broad spectrum of action plan towards achieving coherence in migration management. The implementation of this programme being supported by the ECOWAS-EU Fund, has six cardinal intervention areas focusing on: facilitation of movement, regular migration, combating irregular migration, mainstreaming gender dimension in migration management, harmonization of migration policies, and addressing the refugees and asylum Immigration issues.
The ECOWAS Common Approach may not have all the answers to the region’s migration challenges, but it is a roadmap to the desired destination. Issues related to Climate change still pose serious migration problem and has been identified as a factor that triggers indiscriminate migration in the region. Essentially, the regional action plan is envisioned to foster development and encourage talent mobility in line with the vision of the ECOWAS founding fathers.
By and large, various migration policies and measures as they stand today, have not achieved the desired deliverables. Developing countries are yet to mainstream migration as a critical sector in their national development agenda to address youth unemployment and social problems. The requisite negotiation skills required at international fora on trade and migration are yet to be harnessed, while the institutional framework to create the necessary linkages between migration and development require requisite expertise to achieve the desired results.
The plethora of immigration services and other institutions charged with the statutory mandate to enforce migration laws and regulations require the capacity to properly advice governments on critical areas to bring developing countries on the same pedestal with the developed nations in reaching sustainable and mutually beneficial migration management policies that will benefit all concerned.
To mitigate the anticipated collateral damage from the global migration crisis on the African economy, it is pertinent that African countries re-strategize and optimize their endowment with a view to transiting from providers of raw materials to industrialized nations. The factors pushing Africans out of their countries on the dangerous search for non-existent so-called greener pastures abroad must be addressed.
The world is also watching Africa as a growing number of its citizens make the Forbes list of the world’s richest men and women, while the majority of the continent’s population remains among the poorest in the world. Wealthy Africans should make their wealth count in their own countries. The private sector should also partner with institutions of higher learning, especially those with bias for vocation and skills acquisition to strengthen their capacity needs for the absorption of graduates. This will help reduce unemployment and poverty, boost economic growth and development, and minimize emigration from the continent, especially by the restless youth.
* Tony Luka Elumelu Ph.D. is Principal Programme Officer at the ECOWAS Free Movement and Tourism Directorate