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Africa, migration and the SDGs: the continent’s journey to development?

Migration is nowadays a worldwide concern due to the fact it has become an issue that should be addressed by all countries. One can choose to leave their country because of harsh economic situations (unemployment, poverty); natural disaster outbreaks (flood, hunger, and drought); political unrest (bad governance, corruption, human rights’ violations, wars, interreligious or ethnics conflicts) in pursuit of better living conditions, security, quality education or health. Out of every 10 international migrants, nine move because of economic reasons which builds the case for a deeper understanding of the drivers of this type of migration.

Being a complex phenomenon, international organizations are getting more involved so that it could be organized and profitable to countries anywhere. It is for this reason that the United Nations has adopted in September 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development encompassing 17 goals geared towards reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable development. Those SDGs concerning migration focus more on the situation of migrant workers, highlighted in SDG 8 on economic growth and decent work, the issue of trafficking, mentioned in several SDGs (16) on peaceful societies and migration status which is mentioned specifically as a factor for disaggregation during the follow-up and review in SDG 17. Among all targets, SDG target 10.7 is the center-piece for migration in the 2030 Agenda. It calls for ‘well-managed migration policies’, and hence encompasses all aspects of migration. Having a look over this matter, I would ask: how can migration policies contribute efficiently, in accordance with the SDGs, to the development of African countries?

Some 215 million people or 3 percent of the world’s population are believed to live outside their countries of birth according to the United Nations (2009). While the focus in the literature has been on South-North migration, the number of migrants between developing countries is estimated to be as large as the number of migrants moving from South to North. Thus, the development implications of migration and the need to manage in-migration are as relevant to the South as they are to the North.

Migration and remittances have both direct and indirect effects on the welfare of the population in the migrant sending countries. The huge contribution of Senegalese diaspora and Malian diaspora to the development of their country of origin, perfectly illustrate this opinion. Furthermore, a cross-country study of 71 developing countries by Richard Adams and John Page found that a 10 percent increase in per capita official international remittances will lead to 3.5 percent decline in the share of people living in poverty. For a sending country, migration and the resulting remittances lead to increased incomes and poverty reduction, improved health and educational outcomes, and promote economic development. Yet these gains might come at substantial social costs to the migrants and their families. In that sense, migration, in particular contributions from the diaspora can be a powerful driver for sustainable development and economic growth in a developing continent like Africa.

Hence, the diaspora serves as a link between the sending and receiving communities, expands the opportunities to access international financing, and facilitates networking. It also contributes through philanthropic remittances, and the development of their former communities through hometown associations and collective financing of development projects such as schools, health facilities and community infrastructure such as the Tres Por Uno program in Mexico. According to the World Bank Group, access to information through the diaspora and the skills learned by returning migrants can improve technology, management and institutions in the sending country, and lower the fixed cost and knowledge requirements for setting up an international business. Emigrants may also be an important supply of foreign investment, as their knowledge of their home country institutions may mean that they incur lower investment costs and/or higher returns, compared to other international investors.

In addition, in the current environment of a credit crunch after the financial crisis happened in 2008, several countries have started looking at the diaspora abroad as potential sources of capital. African countries should especially involve their diaspora at all levels of development in Africa in order to benefit economically and socially from them.

Many of African migrants are vulnerable. But the inclusion of migration in the SDGs plays a key role by highlighting the vulnerability of migrant, reinforcing their protection from forced labor and human trafficking, their access to life-long learning opportunities with the ultimate goal of enabling their contributions to sustainable development in Africa where some people are facing extreme poverty and hunger.

Moreover, if well managed, migrations within and from Africa will surely have positive impact on developing growth sectors. This impact has already proven by investments done by migrants in their countries of origin such as Kenya, Mali, Morocco and Cameroon. Officially recorded, remittance flows to developing countries are expected to reach EUR 382 billion in 2014, which represents three times the volume of official aid flows to developing countries. This amount shows without doubt the huge participation of migrants in the developing process that is even more efficient than the aid afforded through bilateral or multilateral cooperation. Investments made by migrants are numerous and more visible such as building infrastructures, improving access to health and education, promoting employment than “development aid” in Africa. From this perspective and based on experiences of other non-African countries such as Mexico, China and South Korea, it is clear that migration within and from Africa can represent powerful positive forces for development in Africa and should be promoted further in accordance with the SDGs.


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