Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Migrant Africa

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Migrant Africa

Article excerpt

The history of African migration is as old as the history of the continent. Population movement for political economic religious and security reasons, as well as in response to demographic factors, has been recorded from early times. More recently, however, the patterns, directions and motivations of migration have been deeply affected by the colonial experience, which in turn influenced economic, social, cultural, political and demographic development.

The major streams of internal migration include: migration from one rural area to another (rural-rural migration), migration from a rural to an urban/area (rural-urban migration), migration from on urban area to another (urban-urban migration), and migration from an urban to a rural area (urban-rural migration). In the African context, however, the distinction between internal migration and migration across national frontiers is blurred by the cultural affinities between societies arbitrarily demarcated into separate States. Thus rural-rural stream is not confined to internal migration, indeed, most inter-country migration is of the rural-rural type.

Why people


The decision to migrate is trigged first and foremost by economic considerations. People migrate to improve their economic well-being and when they are unable to satisfy their aspirations within the existing opportunity structure in their locality. This does not, of course, apply to those displaced by natural disasters, such as drought or famine, or those fleeing war or political oppression.

Internal migration takes place in large part in response to existing imbalances and inequalities in development, employment opportunities, income and living conditions between the regions of a country, the dominant direction of such movement being dictated by the location of employment-generating projects. Thus, where public and private investment is concentrated in the major city, as is the case in most African countries, the dominant migration stream will be directed towards the capital. Where plantations, mines and other enterprises are located in rural areas and offer ready employment and other opportunities, a substantial stream of rural-rural migration is to be expected. This is the case, for example, in Tanzania, Kenya and Cameroon.

The decision regarding where and when to move is also affected by the experiences of, and information received from, members of the family who have already migrated. Migrants in Africa take advantage of the network of relatives and friends in the towns to ease the migration and relocation process. The welfare system of the extended family supports newly-arrived migrants and shelters them from the strains and stresses of the urban environment. Indeed, migration in Africa is usually a household rather than an independent, individual decision. Migrants also tend to maintain links with their place of origin through periodic visits as well as by the remittances they send back to relatives left behind.

In most of Africa, the structure of employment is such that in plantation agriculture, industry, commerce and transportation, the demand is mostly for men. Consequently, men trend to migrate alone, leaving their wives and families behind, at least initially.

This has shaped the perception of the sex roles, which tends to associate women almost exclusively with the task of housekeeper and mother and with the economic structure of the household. There is a lack of data about the involvement of women in the migratory process owing to the numerical preponderance of males in the migratory streams and the "invisibility" of women who, as wives, merely accompany (family migration) or join migrant males (marriage migration). However, recent studies have shown that autonomous female migration directed towards attaining economic independence through self-employment or wage earning has intensified.

The propensity to migrate is closely correlated to educational attainment. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.