By John Oucho
Africans don’t just leave their countries. There are legitimate reasons for their emigration. In their piece on international emigration, four migration scholars, led by Prof Douglas Massey, in 1993, advanced “Theories of migration,” distinguishing between those initiating the process and those perpetuating it.Two years later, the Australian professor Reginald T. Appleyard led a group of migration scholars from the developing world on the project Emigration Dynamics in Developing Countries, which, in 1995, produced four volumes on sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean; and the Arab World.
The regional studies unveiled five clusters of factors: Economic, political, demographic, socio-cultural and environmental. Against the backdrop of migration in and out of Africa, Prof Aderanti Adepoju, who co-ordinated the African emigration dynamics study, has argued that Africa’s economic history is one of large population movements attributed to various reasons, among them the slave trade and colonialism, violent conflicts, poverty, ecological degradation, population pressure and a certain cultural propensity of some ethnic groups for outward expansion. Highlights of the five clusters show that emigration has become Africa’s latest export in a globalising world. Sadly, it is an export few African countries endeavour to manage well given that it is a blessing in disguise for most national economies that have failed to create adequate job opportunities for their nationals. The only time African countries recognise their emigrant nationals is in reference to remittances to them that supposedly contribute to homeland development.
Emigration in no way implies a lack of patriotism. At the end of the day, the head of a household has to live up to the household’s expectations; a home maker has to undertake her responsibility and make the home front liveable; a child has to attend school up to the highest level, should payment of fees permit this; and after school, the educated, whom their nations boast of, should be working in occupations that match their education/training. Whenever these are unattainable or perceived to be challenges lurking on the horizon, emigration becomes the logical response. Many African economies have skewed income distribution which, as the economist Michael Todaro theorised in 1969, stimulates rural-urban migration to non-existent urban employment, and nurtures urban migrants for subsequent emigration.
Mr Todaro’s rural-urban labour migration model has stood the test of time; the clarion calls by the founding fathers of newly independent African nations, such as Jomo Kenyatta’s “go-back to the land,” fell and continue to fall on deaf ears; Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa villages was later acknowledged as a failed experiment; and Mobutu Sese Seko’s deployment of security forces to forcibly return urban migrants to their villages failed miserably. Rarely do rural folk wake up and decide on migrating to the US or to the UK unless they are visiting with earlier immigrants there who could be close relatives or friends, or are recruited by a firm out there. Those directly recruited by a firm are more likely than not to be urban migrants or natives whose horizon of propensity for emigration has widened over time and who, exuding self-confidence on account of their qualifications, generally migrate to sell their knowledge or skills.
Virtually all African countries rely on developed countries, though the recent norm has been their reliance on China, whose aggressive Sino-African engagement is yet to yield definitive outcomes. Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the past three decades. In a review of Robert Guest’s (2005) book, The shackled continent: Africa’s past, present and future, Anthony Daniels of the Sunday Telegraph notes that: two fifths of African nations are at war, Aids has lowered life expectancy to as young as 40 and investment is almost impossible as houses that could be used as collateral do not formally belong to their owners.
Effect on the poor
Most shocking of all is the evidence that the billions of dollars of aid given to Africa have had little perceptible effect on the poor. Hopefully, remittances to Africa that have surpassed overseas development assistance (ODA), better known as foreign aid, will change the fortunes of African countries but only if properly utilised. After African countries attained Independence, beginning with Ghana in 1957 and peaking in the 1960s, a spate of military regimes emerged targeting the intelligentsia and those who were best placed to change their countries’ fortunes for the better. In the process, Ghanaian, Nigerian, Ugandan and Ivorian intellectuals fled their countries as refugees and asylum seekers; Nigeria lost Wole Soyinka, whose homecoming was but a veiled pardon occasioned by his winning the Nobel Prize for literature; the illustrious Chinua Achebe returned to his country in a coffin after many years in the United States; Kenya’s ever green novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, remains in that country even after the repressive regime that he fled from exited; and many Ethiopian scientists who fled their country during their country’s protracted civil war and Malawian doctors who fled the Kamuzu Banda regime see no reasons for returning to their countries.
With many African countries now endorsing dual citizenship, the return of Africa’s greats and their descendants is very much in doubt. Dual citizenship can be both a boon for African countries and a liability when their nationals choose to stay and invest in the second country. Demographically speaking, rapid population growth in most African countries has systematically bloated the size of the labour force (theoretically the population aged 15-64 years), crippling the job market. Rampant unemployment is a blessing in disguise for African countries that never bother when their young, best educated nationals migrate abroad. African countries cannot simply retain them or risk the liability of the “youth bulge,” which could threaten national security and plunge the countries into irremediable problems. Youth demonstrations, accompanied by the chorus “haki yetu” no doubt send shivers down the spines of national leaders of all walks of life including those responsible for moulding the youth to become responsible citizens and future leaders.
Unemployed human resource
Emigration from Africa is thus sustained by a large unemployed and unemployable human resource base and a stream of emigrants that understandably are ready to seek employment abroad. Usually, the best educated and skilled lot migrate using their own means, while their unskilled and semi-skilled compatriots become the cargo of traffickers to the Gulf States, from the Horn of Africa through Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi to Mozambique and South Africa and beyond, as well as other destinations where they live under slavery-like conditions. It is surprising that African regional economic communities embrace “free movement” of persons are indifferent to the inhuman migration taking place from the continent.
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