Emigration from Africa has increased dramatically in the last three decades, going from just 1 per cent in the 1990s to 31 per cent by the 2000s. Migration by people has been a fact of life throughout their evolution. At this point in history, we should look at the reasons for such numbers of migrants and the attempts to stop them by the destination countries. Tougher regulations, increasing the number of detention camps and prosecuting the people-traffickers are not solutions. Political ‘courage’ means having the will to dismantle the policies currently being applied against individuals desperate to relocate.
Socialism is a vision of a world shared among us all, a world of common ownership with free movement for all. The majority of Africans who emigrate remain within Africa, yet as former Liberian president and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf notes, it is time to call for an end to the perception of migration as a ‘crisis’.
Migration policies are often based on misperceptions, she says. Africans make up only 14 per cent of global migration flows and the vast majority stay within the African continent. About 65 per cent of the world’s migrants come from Europe and Asia. African migrants are mostly young and educated and almost half are women. The decline in fertility rates combined with increased life expectancy in most parts of the world means not only a slowing of population growth but also an older population. Many in the developed world have difficulty in understanding that the current state of welfare in numerous countries is unsustainable. They require young productive workers.
Between now and 2050, Africa will double its population. This will generate a much bigger flow of young Africans looking for opportunities in an ageing Europe and elsewhere. Africa is rich but its people have never enjoyed its wealth. Native and foreign exploiters have subjected its people to abject poverty and endemic misery for generation upon generation. Unchecked exploitation of the continent’s natural resources by global corporations has forced desperate choices upon the people.
Your chance of having better economic prospects than your parents has been relatively low in Africa. If your father is a peasant farmer, and your grandfather was too, what are the chances that you’ll make something different of your life? Because of human misery, because of despair, people have little option but to move even if conditions awaiting them are just as difficult as those they fled. African migration is predominately within the continent, particularly between neighbouring countries. In 2013, 65 per cent of the 20 million sub-Saharan African migrants, who had left their countries, were still living in the region.
However, Africa’s loss of skilled and educated people remains a major negative consequence of migration. ‘Brain drain is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa,’ says the World Economic Outlook (October 2016). While all refugees are migrants, not all migrants are refugees. Whether or not they meet the official definition of a refugee, many desperate people are escaping dire conditions that pose a threat to their survival and already we have a growing number of climate change ‘refugees’.
We are all members of the world working class and have a common interest in working together to establish a world without frontiers in which the resources of the globe will have become the common heritage of all the people of the world and used for the benefit of all.
Innocent men women and children, making impossible choices with few alternatives, are not the villains in this ongoing human tragedy, they are the victims. Migration has been an essential mechanism for survival for as long as people have lived. Today, more of the poor and disadvantaged can now see with their own eyes the wide disparity between their level of living and that of the more advantaged people in the world. They want to share in the wealth. To feed oneself, to provide for one’s family, men and women will always seek other lands, and as long as the grass appears greener on the other side then men and women will endeavour to reach it. The fortunate few may strike it lucky. But for most, it is only a temporary respite before the new conditions and the new exploitation begin to wear them down once again. In capitalism, there is no real escape. Only when it is possible to maintain an adequate living standard at home, will our fellow-workers wish to stay put. That is something capitalism will never be able to offer many people throughout Africa.
Published in June 2019 Socialist Standard