news analysis advocacy

Support AfricaFocus and independent bookstores!

Make non-profit your first stop for buying books.
See books recommended by AfricaFocus.


Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Format for print or mobile

Africa: Migration within the Continent

AfricaFocus Bulletin
April 9, 2019 (190409)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Reporting on recent surveys from 34 African countries, Afrobarometer reports that the average preferred destination for those seeking to migrate breaks down with 29% opting for a country in their own region, 7% for elsewhere in Africa, 27% for Europe, 22% for North America, and 13% for some other region. The real message of this and other reports, however, is not a single highest-ranked location, but the wide diversity of migration experiences. Breakdowns by region within Africa and by country make this lesson even more pointed.

The Afrobarometer report, for example, cites ranges from highs over 80% opting for their own region (Lesotho, eSwatini) to under 5% (Senegal, Gambia, Cape Verde, Morocco, and Mauritius). Of the 20 largest migration corridors in the latest (2017) estimates from the United Nations, 11 are within the continent, 5 from Africa to Europe, and 4 from Africa to Western Asia.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts and selected infographics from the World Migration Report 2018 and from the Afrobarometer report, published in March this year, highlighting the diverse statistical patterns.

Another AfricaFocus sent out today, and available on the web at, highlights the dangers of political mobilization of anti-immigrant sentiment (xenophobia), particularly aimed at immigrants from other African countries, evident in recent events in South Africa, but also potentially a source of violence in other African countries as well.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration, visit

See, in particular, for an overview from the UN Economic Commission for Africa:

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Migration and Migrants: Africa

World Migration Report Update

This World Migration Report update provides an overview of the latest data on international migrants in Africa. It is based on the most recent estimates from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). Released in December 2017, the international migrant stock datasets estimate the number of international migrants by age, sex and origin.

In addition to presenting current data on international migrants in Africa, the update briefly discusses trends in African migration.

Migration in Africa involves large numbers of migrants moving both within and out of the region. As shown in figure 1, in 2017 over 19 million Africans were living in another African country, a significant increase from 2015 when 16 million Africans were estimated to be living within the region. The number of Africans living in a different region only grew moderately during the same period, from around 16 million in 2015 to around 17 million in 2017.

Figure 1 reflects that since 2000 international migration within the African region has increased significantly. And since 1990, the number of African migrants living outside of the region has more than doubled, with the growth to Europe most pronounced. In 2017, most African-born migrants living outside the region were residing in Europe (9.3 million), Asia (4.4 million) and Northern America (2.6 million).

One of the most striking aspects to note about international migrants in Africa, as shown in figure 1, is the small number of migrants who were born outside of the region and have since moved there. Between 2015 and 2017, the number of migrants born outside the region remained virtually unchanged (around 2 million), most of whom were from Asia and Europe.

The African countries with the largest number of emigrants tend to be in the north of the region. These are shown on the left-hand side of figure 2, where countries are ranked by their overall numbers of migrants (i.e. the combination of immigrants in the country and emigrants from the country). In 2017, Egypt had the largest number of people living abroad, followed by Morocco, Somalia, Sudan and Algeria. In terms of the number of immigrants, South Africa remains most significant destination country in Africa, with around 4 million international migrants residing in the country (or around 7% of its total population). The number of migrants moving to South Africa increased by nearly 1 million between 2015 and 2017. Other countries with high immigrant populations as a proportion of their total populations included Gabon (14%), Libya (12%), Djibouti (12%), the Gambia (10%) and Côte d’Ivoire (9%).

The migration corridors above, calculated on the basis of the number of people born in the origin country now resident in the destination country, include 11 between neighboring African countries, 5 from North Africa to Europe, and 4 from North Africa to the Middle East.

There are significant migration corridors within and from Africa, many of which are related to geographic proximity and historical ties, as well as displacement factors. The size of a migration corridor from country A to country B is measured as the number of immigrants from country A who were residing in country B in 2017. …

In search of opportunity: Young and educated Africans most likely to consider moving abroad

Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 288 | Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny, Carolyn Logan, and E. Gyimah-Boadi

March 25, 2019 – Direct URL:


By 2050, it is projected that one in every four humans will be African as the continent doubles its population, accounting for more than half of global population growth (United Nations, 2015; World Economic Forum, 2017). Even with a land mass greater than India, China, the United States, and Europe combined, and blessed with one-third of the earth’s mineral resources (Custers & Mattlysen, 2009; Bermudez-Lugo et al., 2014), will Africa be able to provide the livelihood opportunities its people demand and need?

Despite significant economic growth in many African countries over the past two decades (United Nations, 2018), a substantial number of Africans still see leaving their country to seek out a better future as their best option. Willing to risk abuse and enslavement, death in the desert or at sea, and hardship upon arrival, African emigrants have placed themselves on front pages and political agendas around the world (Kekana, 2018; O’Toole, 2018).

Although only 14% of the 258 million international migrants worldwide in 2017 were born in Africa – one-third the number of Asian-born migrants (United Nations, 2017) – sub-Saharan African nations account for eight of the 10 fastest-growing international migrant populations since 2010 (Pew Research Center, 2018). The number of emigrants from each of these sub- Saharan countries grew by 50% or more between 2010 and 2017. At the country level, only Syria had a higher rate of growth in the number of citizens living in other countries.

While migration can have positive effects – filling labor gaps in destination countries (Rapoza, 2017) and producing remittances to help families back home (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2017) – it can also have negative consequences. Analysts have pointed to its drain on emerging economies (Capuano & Marfouk, 2013), and populist movements in the West have decried immigration as a threat to domestic employment, security, and national culture (Galston, 2018; Roth, 2017; Ratcliffe, 2017).

For policy makers faced with managing the challenges of international migration, a detailed understanding of its forms, patterns, and causes is critical. A growing literature explores “push” and “pull” factors shaping emigration, highlighting the failure of African countries to create economic opportunities for their citizens (Kainth, 2015; Stanojoska & Petreveski, 2015; Gheasi & Nijkamp, 2017) but also arguing for the importance of social and political factors (Flahaux & De Haas, 2016).

This dispatch draws on new Afrobarometer data from 34 national surveys to explore the perceptions and preferences of ordinary Africans when it comes to international migration. Findings show that more than one-third of Africans have considered emigrating, though far fewer are making actual plans to leave. The data support concerns about human-resource drain: The young and the educated are most likely to consider going abroad. Finding work and escaping economic hardship are the most frequently cited reasons to consider emigrating – fully in line with our earlier findings that unemployment is the most important problem that Africans want their governments to address and that among the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, SDG8 (“decent work and economic growth”) is the highest priority for ordinary Africans (Coulibaly, Silwé, & Logan, 2018).

The most preferred destination for potential emigrants is neither Europe nor the United States, but another African country.

Afrobarometer survey

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues across more than 30 countries in Africa. Six rounds of surveys were conducted between 1999 and 2015, and findings from Round 7 surveys (2016/2018) are currently being released. Interested readers may follow our releases, including our Pan-Africa Profiles series of Round 7 cross- country analyses, at #VoicesAfrica and sign up for our distribution list at

Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent’s choice with nationally representative samples that yield country-level results with margins of error of +/-2 to +/-3 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.

This dispatch relies on data from 45,823 interviews completed in 34 countries between September 2016 and September 2018 (see Appendix Table A.1 for a list of countries and fieldwork dates). The countries covered are home to almost 80% of the continent’s population. The data are weighted to ensure nationally representative samples. Each country is weighted equally; the Africa-wide data below are thus averages of national data, without adjustment for the size of the national populations.

Key findings

  • On average across 34 countries, one in four Africans (25%) say someone in their family has lived in another country during the past three years. About one in five (21%) say they depend at least “a little bit” on remittances sent from abroad.

  • More than one in three Africans (37%) have considered emigrating, including 18% who have given this “a lot” of thought. A majority of citizens say they have thought at least “a little bit” about leaving Cabo Verde (57%), Sierra Leone (57%), the Gambia (56%), Togo (54%), and São Tomé and Príncipe (54%).
  • Among those who have considered emigrating (“potential emigrants”), on average one in 10 (9%) – or about 3% of the total population – say they are currently making preparations to move. These proportions are highest in Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

  • Young adults and highly educated citizens are most likely to consider leaving their country: Around half of each group say they have considered it at least “a little bit.”

  • In contrast, individuals’ experience of poverty does not have a large impact on their interest in emigrating, though it does significantly affect the reasons why they consider such a move: The poorest are much more likely to see emigration as a means of escape from their hardships, while the wealthiest are more likely to cite diverse motivations such as education, adventure, and business opportunities.

  • Among potential emigrants, more than one-third would like to move to another country within their region (29%) or elsewhere in Africa (7%). This preference for staying on the continent is especially strong in Southern Africa (58%) and weakest in North Africa (8%). Europe (27%) and North America (22%) are the most preferred destinations outside Africa.

  • In almost all countries, by far the most frequently cited reasons for emigrating are to look for work (44% on average) and to escape poverty and economic hardship (29%).

  • In line with widespread interest in intra-regional migration and the pursuit of economic opportunity, a majority (56%) of Africans think people should be able to move freely across international borders within their region. But the same proportion (56%) say they find it difficult to cross borders to work or trade in another country.

Family abroad and remittances

Since general ideas about emigration may be shaped, in part, by family experiences, Afrobarometer started by asking respondents whether they or anyone in their family had gone to live in another country for more than three months during the previous three years. On average across 34 countries, one in four people (25%) say they or relatives had lived abroad, ranging from about one in 10 in Madagascar (9%), Tanzania (10%), Tunisia (10%), and Zambia (11%) to more than four in 10 in Lesotho (44%), Zimbabwe (43%), and Niger (41%) (Figure 1).

When asked to what extent, if at all, they depend on receiving remittances from relatives or friends living in other countries, about one-fifth (21%) of respondents say they rely “a little bit” (10%), “somewhat” (7%), or “a lot” (4%) on such monies from abroad. Almost half (47%) of Gambians say they depend at least “a little bit” on remittances, followed by 37% of Basotho, 31% of Cabo Verdeans, and 30% of Nigerians, compared to fewer than one in 10 Tanzanians (9%).

Desire to emigrate

How many Africans are thinking about leaving their home country to live elsewhere? On average across 34 countries, almost four in 10 (37%) say they have considered migrating, including 18% who have given this “a lot” of thought and another 19% who have considered it “somewhat” or “a little bit” (Figure 2). In five countries, more than half of respondents have at least considered migrating (“a little,” “somewhat,” or “a lot”): Cabo Verde (57%), Sierra Leone (57%), the Gambia (56%), Togo (54%), and São Tomé and Príncipe (54%). More than one-third of citizens in Cabo Verde, Sierra Leone, and São Tomé and Príncipe have thought “a lot” about leaving their country, and one-fifth or more of citizens have given serious consideration to departing in another 12 countries. Tanzania (14%) and Madagascar (13%) are the only countries where fewer than one in seven citizens have even considered emigration. Only 3% have given this prospect serious consideration in Madagascar, far below all other countries.

Regionally, the desire to migrate is highest in Central Africa and West Africa, where more than four in 10 citizens (46% and 41%, respectively) have given thought to leaving their country (Figure 3). In contrast, fewer than one in three have considered emigration in Southern and East Africa (31% and 28%, respectively).

Respondents were asked: How much, if at all, have you considered moving to another country to live? Potential emigrants are more numerous among men (40%) and urban residents (44%) than among women (33%) and rural dwellers (32%), while thoughts of moving abroad are about equally common among the relatively well-off and the poor 1 (Figure 4).

But differences by respondents’ education level and age confirm concerns about migration’s draining effect on emerging economies, especially the resultant loss of valuable human resources: The most-educated and the youngest adults are most likely to consider leaving their country. On average, more than half (51%) of all respondents with post- secondary educational qualifications say they have given at least “a little” consideration to emigrating, including one in four (24%) who have considered it “a lot.” By comparison, potential emigrants make up 43% and 29% of respondents with secondary and primary schooling, respectively, and 24% of those with no formal education.

Similarly, almost half (47%) of the youngest respondents (aged 18-25 years) report having considered moving elsewhere – about two to three times as many as in cohorts above age 45. This pattern of larger proportions of potential emigrants among younger and better- educated respondents is the same in almost all surveyed countries (see breakdown by country, age group, and education level in Appendix Table A.2). But countries vary widely in the proportion of their youngest adults (aged 18-25) who have thought “a lot” about leaving, ranging from one in 10 or fewer in Burkina Faso (10%) and Madagascar (6%) to the extreme of 53% in Cabo Verde (Figure 5).

Staying close to home?

Despite the notion that Africans are on the move in search of greener pastures outside the continent, the International Organization for Migration (2017) reports that in fact more than 80% of Africa’s migration involves moving within the continent. This is to some degree reflected in responses when Afrobarometer asked those who have considered emigration where they would be most likely to. A plurality of potential migrants express a preference for a destination within Africa: 29% cite another country within their region, while 7% look elsewhere on the continent (Figure 8).

For many others, the real costs and risks of emigrating may eventually temper ambitions to move around the globe, rather than around the region or the continent. But at least in the prospective stages, substantial numbers also consider destinations outside Africa: About one in four would prefer Europe (27%), followed closely by North America (22%); Australia and the Middle East (3% each) and Asia and Central/South America (2% each) attract much less interest.

Southern Africans are most likely to want to stay within the region (51%) or on the continent (7%), although there is wide variation across individual countries in the region (Figure 9). More than eight in 10 potential migrants in Lesotho (84%) and eSwatini (83%), and more than two- thirds in Malawi (71%) and Zimbabwe (67%), prefer to remain within the Southern Africa region. In contrast, if residents of South Africa – the primary destination country within the region – are considering migration, they are far more likely to be looking outside the continent (69% say Europe, North America, or some other non-African destination), as are potential emigrants in Mauritius (87%) and Madagascar (76%).

Compared to Southern Africa, residents of other regions are, to varying degrees, more likely to look outward. West Africans look beyond the continent by a margin of nearly 3 to 1 (72% vs. 25%) (Figure 10). But again, variation within the region is enormous: In Niger, 83% would stay in Africa, as would 63% of Burkinabè, but in Sierra Leone (91%), Senegal (91%), the Gambia (94%), and Cabo Verde (98%), more than nine out of 10 potential emigrants would opt to leave the continent. Europe is the first choice for Ivoirians (45%), Gambians (47%), Senegalese (54%), and Cabo Verdeans (66%), while Liberians (47%) and Sierra Leoneans (56%) are more inclined to look toward North America.

In both Central and East Africa, an average of four in 10 (41% each) say they would stay within the region or the continent, while majorities (56% and 57%, respectively) would leave Africa (Figure 11). Only a handful of potential emigrants in North Africa would stay within the region or continent (just 14% in Sudan, 7% in Tunisia, and 1% in Morocco). Instead, Europe is the most popular destination for a majority in Morocco (68%) and Tunisia (58%), while the preferred destination for Sudanese would be a Middle Eastern country.

Views on cross-border movement

In line with high interest in intra-regional migration and the pursuit of economic opportunity, a majority of Africans favour free cross-border movement within their region. But they also say that crossing borders is difficult.

In Afrobarometer’s Round 6 survey (2014/2015), 56% of respondents across 36 African countries said they “agree” or “agree very strongly” that people should be able to move freely across borders in order to work or trade in other countries in the region. Regionally, the call for citizens to be allowed to move freely across international borders is endorsed most strongly in West Africa (66%) and East Africa (64%) and is least popular in North Africa (38%) and Central Africa (44%) (Figure 16).

More than three-fourths of citizens support free cross-border movement in Burkina Faso (81%), Benin (78%), and Kenya (76%). But in 15 countries, fewer than half of citizens agree. The view that governments should limit cross-border movement to protect citizens against foreign job- seekers and low-priced goods is strongest in Namibia (60%), Gabon (60%), Tunisia (58%), Botswana (57%), and Madagascar (51%) (Figure 17).

Respondents were asked: Which of the following statements is closest to your views?

Statement 1: People living in [your region of Africa] should be able to move freely across international borders in order to trade or work in other countries.

Statement 2: Because foreign migrants take away jobs, and foreign traders sell their goods at very cheap prices, governments should protect their own citizens and limit the cross-border movement of people and goods. (% who “agree” or “strongly agree” that people should be able to move freely across borders)


A sampling of the views of ordinary citizens in 34 African countries appears to confirm widespread concerns about the potential scale of out-migration. More than one-third of Africans have at least considered emigrating to another country, including nearly one in five who have given it a lot of thought. And while the proportion of citizens who are actually making plans to move is far lower, this still represents very substantial numbers of potential emigrants in absolute terms.

The profiles of those who consider leaving, and the reasons they give for contemplating this radical option, are revealing. While it is commonly assumed that most migrants are simply a country’s most impoverished citizens, Afrobarometer data show that – by large margins – youth and education are far more strongly correlated with interest in emigration than poverty. While we see a mix of both “push” and “pull” factors in the reasons that people cite for considering emigration, the youthful, educated profile of the pool of potential emigrants suggests that the pull of opportunity is the key factor here, rather than the push of poverty. Poverty has more impact on shaping the particular motivations individuals cite for seeking greener pastures, but it does not appear to significantly affect the overall desire to do so.

These findings provide some appreciation of the importance of stemming the tide of migrants within and out of Africa – not just for destination countries that are concerned about their ability to absorb large numbers of immigrants, but also for the countries of origin, which are at risk of losing some of their most educated, motivated, and creative young people. In large numbers, Africans are considering – and even taking concrete steps toward – moving abroad, whether within their regional neighbourhood or across the globe. They are overwhelmingly motivated by a hunger for jobs and economic opportunity that they lack at home. In response, African governments must continue to grow their economies and expand opportunities for gainful employment and secure livelihoods at home in order to ensure that they continue to benefit from the productivity and creativity of their youngest, most motivated, and most productive citizens.

Further, in light of strong popular interest in intra-African migration, it is telling that while a majority of Africans demand free movement across international borders within their region, the same proportion find it difficult to cross borders to work or trade in another country. African leaders have little control over stringent entry rules for the European Union and the United States, but they can, in the spirit of integration, act on citizens’ call for the removal of barriers to intra-African migration.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Read more on |Africa Economy & Development|

URL for this file: