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Experts weigh-in on gains of migration for Africa


Africa migrants on their perilous journey across the Mediterranean

Africa migrants on their perilous journey across the Mediterranean

The reality is that short of actively encouraging migration, African countries are most unlikely to wholeheartedly discourage nationals from seeking greener pastures elsewhere
Despite the gory images of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe, Africa receives at least 62 billion dollars worth of Diaspora remittances annually. Contrasting this amount with the 52bn dollars received annually in the form of developmental aid from donors, it means that African migrants abroad send more money than the aid.

The reality of this on the part of migrant’s country of origin is that short of actively encouraging migration, these countries are most unlikely to wholeheartedly discourage nationals from seeking greener pastures elsewhere. “Is there anybody in the government treasury that can argued against this? No. Of course, they are very happy. They say, ‘this Diaspora people are really getting us a lot of cash. These are foreign currencies that countries on the continent are in desperate need of. So, without doubt, there is aspect of migration that is being celebrated,” the United Nations Under-secretary general and executive director of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Mr. Carlos Lopes, recently told The Guardian.

But the problem, according to Lopes and other ‘brain drain to brain gain’ proponents, is that when this money comes, how do recipient countries use it? Unfortunately, the chunk of the financial inflow is expended on consumption. The task confronting Africa now is how to transform the Diaspora fund into a more productive use beneficial not only to the countries, but also to those who are sending it. A mechanism may have to be institutionalized encouraging the transition from brain drain to brain gain. Noting that taking this step is not novel to Africa, Lopes explained that many countries have succeeded in turning to gain the pains of migration.

Ethiopia, for example, may be setting the pace for other African countries in maximal use of benefits of migration. The East African country on the horn of Africa has lots of important projects, including the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam, which mobilise the Diaspora to contribute, not only with money, but also with entrepreneurial activities. For the Renaissance dam, Ethiopia has mobilised over 400 million dollars worth in contribution from the Diaspora. There are countries outside the African continent that have excelled in doing this as well, especially Asian countries.

Migration, developmental economists argue, has a lot of positives for Africa. They also contend that it is positive for the recipient countries as well. Many of these migrant recipient countries have been known to allow migration because they are facing a demographic deficit. Their population is aging and certain kind of activities that require more energy and physical vigour are no longer attended to by their nationals. These countries may on the surface claim that this is not what they want, but a look into their age pyramid, as well as, a look into their debt to GDP ratio paints an increasingly desperate situation. The more the population ages, the higher is going to be the country’s debt to GDP ratio.

Currently, Japan has the world’s highest debt to GDP ratio. If the number of beneficiaries from the country and from the public activities is larger than the number of contributors, the country has to borrow. Despite the perception that Africa has a debt problem, the average debt to the GDP ratio in the continent is about 22 percent. In Japan, it is 200 percent. As such, it is in the benefit of the recipient countries to help migrants to fulfill a lot of roles that their demographic composition does not allow.

Going by this narrative, the risk that often comes, especially with undocumented migration, may not be worrisome to policy-decision makers across the continent. Besides, the total of Africans that migrate outside the continent is about two million, which represents about 0.2 percent of the Africa’s one billion population.
As such, global policymakers will need to balance economic, political, and social considerations when designing policies related to migration.

However, the drain in human capital, especially for highly qualified personnel causes a worry for developing countries. Also, the brain drain delays the growth of an African middle class and the development of sustainable structures of the civil society, which may exert a negative impact on the political and economic stability of the countries of origin, experts posit.

But beyond the question of remittances, migrant gain may also relate to the transfer of knowledge, of innovations and the consolidation or extension of foreign trade relations. New value systems, political and spiritual orientations, acquired by migrants elsewhere, and imported into their home countries often contributed significantly to development, developmental economists have argued.

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