Regional Mobility Trends: Sub-Saharan Africa

Conflict-induced forced migration has long defined population movement in Sub-Saharan Africa, and this remained the case in 2018. Ongoing intra-state conflict in Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, and South Sudan — and associated socio-economic ills such as famine — largely accounts for the estimated 6.3 million refugees currently living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Looking ahead to 2019, elections in the DRC and the spread of extremist violence from northern Mali to the country’s more populated south and central zones could lead to further forced migration from these two states.

A number of positive developments that took shape in 2018 have the potential to change some of these long-standing patterns, however. Notably, warring parties in South Sudan reached a negotiated settlement in September 2018, formally ending the country’s five-year-long civil war. In addition, stabilizing political conditions could see the return of displaced populations from countries such as Uganda and Sudan and an overall reversal in the region’s migration trends.

This would build upon an emerging trend in East Africa, linked to the stabilization of Somalia and the return of displaced communities residing in the country’s neighboring states. Also within the Horn of Africa, the unprecedented decision by Ethiopia and Eritrea to end an almost two-decade-long political impasse has resulted in a marked increase in bilateral migration across the countries’ erstwhile disputed borders. These movements are expected to only continue in 2019, as East African states strengthen the social, political, and economic ties between them.

The easing of restrictions between Ethiopia and Eritrea can be seen as a microcosm of a wider trend toward greater economic inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa. In March 2018, for instance, African states promulgated the world’s largest and most profitable free-trade agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization. Known as the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA), the initiative authorizes signatory states to remove tariffs from 90% of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent.

The development of key economic sectors across the continent is creating opportunities to absorb the plentiful labor resources that Sub-Saharan Africa has to offer.

Concomitant with this agreement, which is set to increase intra-African trade by 52% by 2022, has been a commitment by member states to lift entry requirements for fellow Africans, in order to maximize the economic dividends accrued from the ACFTA and other associated pan-African trade deals.

Economic benefits remain a significant driver of migration in Africa. The initiation or development of key economic sectors across the continent, and indeed outside of it, is creating opportunities to absorb the plentiful labor resources that Sub-Saharan Africa has to offer. This is particularly the case in the hydrocarbon sector, where an increased demand for oil is increasing production of the commodity and creating employment opportunities.

Similarly, the development of nascent industries in countries such as Kenya, Mozambique, and even Zimbabwe could go a long way in not only addressing unemployment within these jurisdictions, but also attracting unskilled and semi-skilled workers from beyond their borders.

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