Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Migration in Africa plays growing development role, report reveals


Migration in Africa plays growing development role, report reveals

Migration in Africa plays growing development role, report reveals
Photo credit: Intel

A comprehensive analysis of population movement within Africa demonstrates it could have unexpected economic benefits and support development on the continent.

African migration could boost growth and positively transform the structure of the continent’s economy, UNCTAD’s 2018 Economic Development in Africa Report reveals.

“Population movements across borders often offer individuals a chance for a better life, with the social and economic benefits extending to both source and destination countries, as well as future generations,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said.

“Our analysis shows this to be true for millions of African migrants and their families. Yet much of the public discourse, particularly as it relates to international African migration, is rife with misconceptions that have become part of a divisive, misleading and harmful narrative.”

The new report, subtitled “Migration for Structural Transformation”, does much to counter this narrative. Historically and in line with established trends, the report says that most African migrants move within the continent.

In 2017, the report says, 19 million international migrants moved within Africa and 17 million Africans left the continent. In addition, Africa is a migration destination for 5.5 million people who came from outside the continent.

Behind the numbers

The report follows the stories of Mamadou and Ramatoulaye from Senegal, and Afwerki from Ethiopia. While they are fictional avatars for two different types of migrants – skilled and low-skilled – their stories illustrate the benefits and pitfalls that intra-Africa migration has for trade and development on the continent.

In 2017, the top five intra-African migration destinations (receiving countries in descending order) were South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia (all exceeding 1 million migrants), the report says.

Behind the numbers lies economic analysis that shows the net benefit of migration in Africa.

The contribution of migrants to GDP was measured at 19% in Côte d’Ivoire (2008), 13% in Rwanda (2012), 9% in South Africa (2011) and 1% in Ghana (2010).

Meanwhile, remittance inflows from outside and within Africa rose on average from $38.4 billion (2005-2007), to $64.9 billion (2014-2016). These accounted for 51% of private capital flows in Africa in 2016, up from 42% in 2010.

This is why both intra and extra-continental migration are needed for supporting Africa’s structural transformation.

Migration and trade

The report provides evidence on the “intimate correlation between two sides of the same coin: migration and trade” said UNCTAD’s Junior Roy Davis, a lead author on the report.

“Africa is on the cusp of tremendous change,” he said. “On 21 March 2018, 44 African countries signed the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area and 30 of them signed the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons.”

He added: “These critical milestones follow the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market in January 2018. In this context the report contributes to a better understanding of the implications of intra-African migration for the continent’s socio-economic transformation.”

The report’s analysis of the role of intra-continental migration in Africa’s development trajectory makes it a reference document that aims to assist in defining an African position in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to be adopted in Marrakesh in December 2018.

Facts and Figures

​There were about 41 million people counted as international migrants from, to, or within Africa. Of these:

  • 19 million resided in Africa,

  • 17 million left the continent,

  • and 5.5 million were immigrants from the rest of the world.

Intra-African migration as a mechanism for fostering economic growth and promoting structural transformation.

Migration can contribute to economic growth and structural transformation in the following ways:

  • As a catalyst for economic growth, intra-African migration can positively impact structural transformation in destination countries. If properly managed, intra-African migration could lead to a substantial increase in GDP per capita for Africa by 2030.

  • Through trade (including in food imports from sending countries and heritage (nostalgia) trade) and by increasing within-sector productivity in agriculture, construction, mining, services, information technology (IT) and manufacturing.

  • By fostering inclusive growth and poverty reduction, including through remittances and diaspora investment in countries of origin, and through taxes and consumption in destination countries. Intra-African migration also provides opportunities for Africa’s female migrants who comprised 47 per cent of Africa’s international migrants in 2017, and youth (ages 15-24) who accounted for 16 per cent of the continent’s international migrants.

  • African countries can yield further benefits from migration:

    • by aligning migration, trade and investment policies with development objectives;

    • leveraging remittances and harness diaspora for productive investment;

    • adopting more flexible labour policies to ease migrants’ mobility;

    • integrating migrants in labour markets and by allocating resources to address structural determinants of Africa’s socio-economic development; and

    • By adopting gender-sensitive policy measures in order to unlock the potential of female migrants to benefit from migration and contribute to African’s development.

International migration’s contribution to economic growth

  • Migration is projected to boost Africa’s GDP per capita from $2,008 in 2016 to $3,249 in 2030; growing at an annual rate of 3.5% from 2016.

  • Migration contributes to destination countries’ development – through taxes and consumption (migrants spend an estimated 85% of their incomes in destination countries).

Intra-African migration and trade

  • Migration stimulates trade (it's associated with increased food imports from sending countries). Intra-African migrants’ demand for food products increased food imports from sending countries. Emigration from Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to other African countries in 2000 and 2013 corresponded to the increase in food imports from these countries (reflected in the value of food imports from Zimbabwe which rose from $100,000 to $ 1 million, and from the DRC from $100,000 to $650,000 during this time period).

  • Migration can also stimulate heritage (nostalgia) trade. Diaspora populations can play an important role as bridges to broader markets, through the promotion of trade and tourism in their countries of origin.

Intra-African migration and structural transformation (economic sector productivity)

  • Intra-African migration is positively associated with within-sector productivity as an increase in migration stocks is associated with higher sector productivity in agriculture, construction, mining, services, information technology (IT) and manufacturing.

  • If immigration grows at the 10-year average growth rate of 54% in 1990-2000 and 2000-2010, it could boost growth in within-sector productivity and potentially result in a growth take-off for countries with the lowest labour productivity.

Intra-African migration is a driver of inclusive growth

Migration reduces poverty through remittances and diaspora investment.

  • Female migrants are contributing to inclusive growth in both countries of origin and destination.

  • Africa’s female migrants contribute just as much in remittances (in terms of cash and in-kind remittances) as their male counterparts.

Intra-African migration and employment

  • Unemployment has been a key driver of migration in Africa (internal and international). Youth unemployment is a key driver of extra-continental migration from northern Africa migration. In 2016, the youth unemployment in Northern Africa stood at 29.3 %, well above Sub-Saharan Africa’s rate (10.9%).

  • Demand for labour in economic sectors has been a key driver of intra-African migration.

    • Demand in education (Rwanda), engineering (Rwanda), financial services (South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda), and IT (Rwanda and South Africa) has been a key driver of highly-skilled migration to the continent’s regional markets;

    • Demand in construction (Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa), mining (South Africa and Gabon) and services for semi-skilled migration, and

    • Demand in agriculture (Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa) and domestic service (South Africa and Mauritania) and informal cross border trade (in Southern, Eastern and Western Africa) for low-skilled migration.

  • Intra-African migration generates positive effects for migrants:

    • It can contribute to upskilling, with improved skills resulting in better paid, stable employment while enhancing migrants’ productivity. For example, low-skilled migrant farmers from Burkina Faso gained new skills in Cote d’Ivoire that enabled them to secure more stable employment in higher-skilled occupations that was often better remunerated.

    • Employment-related benefits for countries: Destination countries can fill critical skills and labour market gaps, and countries of origin can accrue benefits from knowledge and skills transfer, and through domestic skills development.

    • Lack of policy frameworks that recognize academic and professional qualifications in destinations and high costs associated with obtaining work permits impede highly-skilled migrants’ mobility in regional labour markets.

Intra-African migration and gender

Female migration is growing in importance in Africa.

  • In 2017, international female migrants in Africa represented 47%. The absolute number of international female migrants increased from 6.9 million in 2000 to 11.6 million in 2017.

  • International female migration in Eastern Africa exceeded the continental average (50 % vs. 47%).

  • International female migrants in Africa engage in vulnerable employment in domestic service and informal cross border trade. In addition to being in vulnerable employment, women migrate under more challenging circumstances, given riskier migration journeys, family and care responsibilities at home.

Migration and remittances

  • Remittance inflows to Africa rose from $38.4 billion in 2005-2007, to $64.9 billion in 2014-2016, on average. Remittances accounted for 51% of private capital flows to Africa in 2016, up from 42% in 2010.

  • Countries with a high dependence on remittance inflows as a share of GDP include Liberia (26.7%) and Lesotho (18.2%).

  • The cost of sending remittances in Africa exceeds the global average; Africa 8.9% on average for sending $200 vs.  Global average of 7.3%.

  • Within some African corridors, remittance-sending costs exceed the average cost for Sub-Saharan Africa, which stands below 10%.

    • According to the African Institute for Remittances, in 2016, South Africa-Botswana, South Africa – Angola, South Africa – Lesotho, South Africa – Swaziland and Tanzania – Uganda were the costliest corridors in Africa, with the costs of sending remittances exceeding 15%.

    • Conversely, at 4%, Senegal-Mali was one of the least expensive corridors in the world.


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