Puheenvuoro 25: Migration trends in Africa

Migration in Africa combines all the dynamics we find in migration patterns worldwide. The regions and situations across the continent frequently overlap and interconnect. The challenge is to deal with the negative forms of migration while facilitating positive mobility.


In East Africa, including the Horn of Africa, we find migration driven by armed conflicts, climate change and environmental degradation as well as political, economic and food crises. The region had over nine million refugees in 2013. Non-refugee migration includes asylum-seekers, displaced persons, economic migrants, and those seeking family reunification and education.

Human trafficking is a growing problem that intersects with the different areas of mixed migration in East Africa. Regular cross-border migration routes used by nomadic pastoralists in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda are expanding as climate change and environmental degradation make larger tracts of land unusable.


In West Africa, migratory movements were reckoned in 2009 to involve over eight million people. The region has the most non-refugee migrants anywhere on the continent. Compared to East Africa, migration in West Africa has been less driven by war and crises in recent years. However, conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Nigeria have increased the numbers of refugees and internally displaced people.

The dominant trend is economic migration. Some 70 per cent of migratory movements are linked to employment. Labour migration is made easier by the free-movement agreements of the Economic Community of West African States.

Worsening instability in Libya, Chad and Northern Nigeria will likely lead to large increases in conflict-related migration, particularly refugees and displaced persons. Other growing problems are trafficking, and irregular and forced migration due to climate change.


Migration in Central Africa is mainly a result of armed conflicts, particularly in the Central African Republic. Economic migration is mainly focused on the oil and lumber industries of countries such Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, turning them into countries of destination for migrants seeking work.

The overall lack of communications and infrastructure severely limit the possibilities free movement and mobility, and the Economic Community of Central African States has yet to prioritise free movement as part of economic development.


Southern Africa is seeing a frenetic surge in mixed migration. Of the four million or so documented economic migrants estimated by the International Organisation for Migration in the region, 2.3 million of them are in South Africa, and half of them are from Zimbabwe. Tensions over lack of services in poor areas resulted in xenophobic attacks on foreigners in 2008 and again this year, a phenomenon government has found it hard to diminish.

There are also many undocumented migrants in the Southern African region. They include large numbers of vulnerable people, particularly women and children, trafficked for slavery of various sorts. Apart from the DRC, the region has been relatively peaceful in recent years, and this has stimulated economic migration, but also a surge in cross-border organised crime.


Mark Waller

Freelance Journalist. Tshwane, South Africa.