Explained: The bittersweet reality of intra-African migration

Published : December 18, 2021 16:01 IST

Photo: DW

Statistics show that intra-African migration is on the rise.

African Union figures show that the level of intra-African migration rose from 13.3 million to 25.4 million between 2008 and 2017. But, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that's only half the story. "We really have a very incomplete picture of the most recent trends and mainly also the number of people moving across countries," Rango Marzia of the IOM's Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) told DW.

A 2020 IOM report confirms that 80 per cent of Africans, responding to a 2017 survey, said they had no interest in leaving the continent. "There's a whole story of migration within Africa and across Africa, particularly across countries in the same regions such as West Africa where interregional mobility is high, that we don't really see in mainstream media," Marzia said. The causes for such massive movement of people across African countries range from economic reasons to the need for security.

Not always welcome

DW asked Christian Kobla Kekeli Zilevu, an immigration official in northern Ghana about the picture within the regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). "People move from one country to the other for survival. Some also travel because they feel their homes are not okay and they want to try another place," he said. One man who left Cameroon because of the insecurity in the English-speaking regions and declines to be named told DW that his life in Equatorial Guinea now is plagued by challenges. "They don't welcome strangers, but we have no choice but to live with it. They have this hate speech they use all the time and maltreat strangers," he said.

The IOM's Rango Marzia acknowledges that the negative perceptions associated with migrationare largely linked to political instability, conflicts and climate change. However, she argues that these problems don't make migration bad but rather the manner in which it is managed. "So it's more of the policies that are in place or are not in place to manage migration and this is also true for migration from Africa to Europe," said Marzia.

Not all gloom

The impact of poorly implemented migration policies affects people like the Cameroonian man in Equatorial Guinea who said his biggest problem is how he and other foreigners are treated by host countries. "Even if you have all the documents, they will still maltreat you." There is constant harrasment, both from citizens and authorties in Equatorial Guinea, he told DW.

The experiences of Africans who are moving between African countries vary. Okwele Joy Nduli left Nigeria and moved to Ghana. "Some of my colleagues came here before me and they were getting good results. That was the main reason why I left Nigeria to build my business and there was tremendous change," Nduli told DW. Another man who fled conflict in Cameroon's English-speaking regions to seek better prospects in Equatorial Guinea told DW about the advantage he found. "I make more money here than in Cameroon."

Is there a solution?

Integration within the ECOWAS zone is still in its infancy, but there is growing hope that it is on the path to success. "We are starting from a point, but I can say categorically that the ECOWAS sub-region is more integrated than previously," Christian Kobla Kekeli Zilevu, the Ghanaian immigration officials said.

The Cameroonian man who feels unwelcome in Equatorial Guinea wants this to become a reality within the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC). Equatorial Guinea is one of the bloc's six member states. "We are in the CEMAC region. They should respect the laws of CEMAC. We are one people, and we should always respect the colour we have as Africans," he said. Zilevu notes challenges, with a tinge of optimism, and says it will take time but successful integration is a possibility. "There will be challenges. So, for the blocs CEMAC and ECOWAS, it's a gradual process."

The prospects of increasing intra-African migration remains huge, according to Marzia. Long before the creation of colonial borders, Africans moved within the continent and beyond. The public debate that fuels anti-migrant sentiments is not often backed by evidence. But efforst are being made to reverse that. "The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration which was adopted in December 2018 by most U.N. member states has 23 objectives. The first is improving data for evidence-based policies and for informed public debate about migration," said Marzia.

The way forward

Accurate data can help significantly in overcoming anti-immigration sentiments so that better cooperation can be established. "The importance is ensuring safe migration, and so protecting migrants at every step of the journey, protecting human rights," Marzia explained. Zilevu said that Ghana is meeting these standards, especially when it concerns those who follow the required procedures. "Ghana is a place where we are very peaceful, very accommodating. But we still work with our laws... that is why at our immigration we say friendship with vigilance,” he said.

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