June 13, 2018

On Wednesday, May 9, 2018, the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination hosted a lunch seminar on African migration within the continent and to Europe. Professor Loren Landau, Dr. Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, and Hannah Postel presented a draft of their foresight reflection paper on “The Future of Mobility and Migration within and from Sub-Saharan Africa,” which was commissioned by the European Political Strategy Center (EPSC), a Directorate-General of the European Commission and formerly known as the Bureau of European Policy Advisers.

Dr. Loren B. Landau and Dr. Caroline Wanjiku Kihato

Through an examination of existing data and drivers of African mobility, their foresight paper argued that economic inequality (within the continent and between Africa and Europe), climate change, persecution and conflict will all encourage movement. At present, Africa remains proportionally among the least migratory regions in the world. However, even though the percentage of Africans leaving their homes is unlikely to rise sharply, the substantial increase in the number of young adults means a substantial growth in the absolute number of people likely to leave home. Small increases in Africans’ income within the continent will also make possible longer-migration journeys.

As is now the case, the vast majority of those moving will stay within their countries, largely relocating to cities and secondary towns. Still, even if more than 80% of Africans’ international migration remain within African Union (AU) member states, migration towards the European Union will continue to grow in absolute terms.

Crucially, and controversially, the authors argued that, despite policy proposals to sedentarize Africans through development, there is little evidence that investments in African economic development are likely to create the kind of labor absorption required to halt movement. For this to occur, African states would almost universally need to sustain two decades of economic growth at a pace previously unseen in global history. Given Africa’s current labor market outlook, this seems particularly unlikely. Even if it were to occur, this growth would need to avoid the kind of heightening inequality that has previously characterized economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa. Even modest economic growth will spatially concentrate opportunities promoting more movement. Similarly, education and vocational training may help generate small increases in African-based employment, but it is more likely to generate earning potential and unmet earning expectations.

While heightened restrictions on crossing borders within Africa or along its external frontiers may slow or distort movements, they are only likely to make moving more dangerous and permanent. Unless the European Union is able to make entry to its territory extraordinarily expensive – through a mix of coercion and penalties – Africans will continue to make the journey north.

The authors described three possible scenarios for the future. First, under the Containment Compact, European and African leaders both seek to limit mobility without countering heightening socio-spatial inequality, resulting in widespread violence, criminalization, and conflict across Africa and in to Europe. Within the Cosmopolitan Concord, European and African leaders promote openness in ways that limits corruption and violence while promoting socio-spatial equality and migrant inclusion. The final scenario, the Militerranean, seemed to especially pique the interest of the LISD audience. As the name evokes, the Militerranean results from continued European closure to African migrants countered by African openness with moderate levels of inequality within Africa. In this scenario, sub-Saharan Africa faces reduced violence and corruption, but the Mediterranean becomes militarized and securitized, and Europe an ideological battleground.

Hannah Postel, Dr. Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, Dr. Loren B. Landau, Dr. Caroline Wanjiku Kihato seated at conference table

Professor Landau is Chair of South African Research Chair in Human Mobility and the Politics of Difference based at the University of the Witwatersrand’s African Center for Migration and Society. He is currently a visiting fellow at Princeton’s Institute for International and Regional Affairs. Dr. Caroline Wanjiku Kihato is WIEGOs Urban Policy Program director, a Visiting Associate Professor at Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg, and a Global Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Washington, DC. Hannah Postel is a doctoral student in Demography and Social Policy at Princeton University where she focuses on international migration and development.