Nine statements to better understand African Migration to Europe

blog Ton April 2017 MIxed migration routes through Africa

Source: Global Migration Data Analysis Centre: Data Briefing Series Issue no 8, March 2017

This blog post is based on my notes for the High-level Taskforce on Migration in the Netherlands (meeting 29/3/2017).

  1. The world currently has 7.4 billion inhabitants. Three per cent of those are international migrants. Of those 244 million people, 10 per cent, or 25 million, are recognized international refugees (although there are an additional 40 million displaced people). Most refugees live in the Global South. A minority have come to Europe. 2014-Eurostat data (published before the 2015-2016 Syrian refugees crisis) show that of a total of 2.7 million migrants to the EU, an estimated seven per cent was regarded as irregular.
  2. In Africa, the majority of the population is young and increasingly well informed thanks to access to mobile phones and internet, feeding rising aspirations to migrate. The economic growth between 2000 and 2015 as well as cheaper travel creates greater capabilities to migrate. Many African youth see convincing examples around them (in their cities, on television, online) of successful migrants, and growing and successful remittances.
  3. Africa’s population has been growing rapidly, and will continue to increase (2017: 1.25 billion; 2100: probably between 3.3 and 4.5 billion Africans; this, despite demographic transition towards fewer children per woman). There is an even greater and rapid urbanization going on, particularly in African coastal cities. In Africa, place mobility, not place stability, has become the norm. The poor go to the most vulnerable sites in the rapidly expanding cities (e.g. near the ocean, where they become victim of occasional floods and storms, as well as the effects of rising sea levels, and have to move on again).
  4. Migration within Africa is partially a calamity-driven migration (although it is set to grow as a result of a combination of climate change and increased vulnerability). However: most migration in Africa is due to economic and social aspirations and capabilities: quests for higher income, better jobs, improved education levels, better health as well as: adventure, love, religious pilgrimages (both Islamic and Christian), and ‘travelling the world’. A growing form of migration is lifestyle migration: getting away from oppressive norms, e.g. towards sexual orientation, and getting away from dominant and repressive elders (at home and in local and national governments).
  5. Of all migration movements in and from Africa, more than 95 per cent is within Africa. This is and remains true for all three types of migration. The 16 million current Africans who live outside Africa are just 1.3% of all current Africans.
  6. It is a fact of life (and one of the cornerstones of current thinking in social demography) that more development creates more migration, and will continue to do so until average levels of economic success reach roughly €7000 per capita (depending on levels of inequality). Higher and rising levels of development (also successful development assistance) produce more migration and more international migration. The direction of that migration depends on its relative attractiveness (determined by perceived costs and risks, perceived benefits, and the effectiveness of political barriers or welcoming strategies). From Africa, there has recently been a shift towards Asia, but there still is considerable aspiration to go to Europe. It will take decades before Africa reaches an immigration-outmigration equilibrium. For many decades, successful development (in particular, creating jobs for the youth and major industrialization) will also mean more (international) migrants. And for many families in Africa, (international) migration has become part of a diversification strategy, to spread risks and create/use opportunities. Existing geo-patterns of migration strengthen new waves of enhanced migration. A significant amount of migration is and will be facilitated by religious-social networks.
  7. The political message for Dutch/European public opinion and politicians is: “get used to it”. There will be many more migrants within Africa, and a number of them aspire to careers in Europe (circulatory migration). Migration will grow slowly, but can suddenly be enhanced by calamities, and particularly those that occur in areas that are home to large numbers of youth with high aspirations and with some capability to finance migration (e.g. if Egypt experiences a food crisis and/or another youth revolt, or if things go very wrong in South Africa). In general, the prediction is that international migrants (also to Europe) will mostly come from middle-class backgrounds and middle-income countries.
  8. Strengthening border controls means higher costs and higher risks for migrants, but also (much) higher rewards for migration-facilitating entrepreneurs, i.e. smugglers, and increasing business opportunities along migration routes. The higher the profits are, the more likely migration-facilitating entrepreneurs will successfully bribe border police and other anti-migration personnel of state and private agencies, creating more, instead of less migration loopholes, and increased corruption. This will result in a race between ever-more sophisticated anti-, and pro-migration agencies.
  9. Creating more legal migration opportunities in Europe (also by making visa regulations less cumbersome), for selected groups of African youth, and stimulating circularity and remittance-strengthening behaviour, will ease some of the tensions and will undermine the profitability of the international migration industry. But of course a lot will depend on Europe’s labour market development and the need to ‘import’ labour, and the possibilities to absorb labour migrants.

One of the sources that underpin this article is the work of Hein de Haas, Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam and founding member of the International Migration Institute (IMI) at the University of Oxford. Read Hein de Haas’ blog


Co-create South Africa? Co-create access to universities!

House of the FutureMark Rutte and 200 Dutch business representatives from the Netherlands visited South Africa in mid-November 2015. The Netherlands Embassy in Pretoria and its innovative Ambassador, Marisa Gerards, had organised a House of the Future in Johannesburg and in Cape Town, with many events that attracted a lot of visitors and much attention in South Africa. Some of it reminded me of the Africa Works conferences that we co-organised with the NABC in 2012 and 2014. Ambassador Gerards had tried to go beyond the ‘promoting business’ formula and wanted to involve the knowledge sector as well. She succeeded in involving Delft University of Technology and VU University Amsterdam, who sent 15 students from the Netherlands to work with students from South Africa on ideas to solve problems in Johannesburg. The findings were presented to the deputy mayor of Johannesburg in the presence of the Dutch Prime Minister. Five teams presented pitches about coping with the challenges in agrifood, energy, logistics, water and health, and they did so creatively. The logistics team got the prize for the best performance with a suggestion to combine a cycling plan for the city with apps for cyclists.

The Rector of the VU University and I had been invited to enjoy this example of ‘CoCreateSA’. Thus, ‘knowledge’ was added to ‘business’ and that also meant that we could talk to university leaders currently coping with a lot of turmoil in South Africa’s universities. Together with Harry Wels (VU University and ASC Leiden) and the new Rector of the VU University, Vinod Subramanyam, I was privileged to have an informative meeting with the beleaguered Vice Chancellor of North-West University, Prof. Dan Kgwadi. North-West University includes Potschefstroom Campus, which seems to be the only remaining campus in South Africa where Afrikaans is still the language of instruction (the University of Stellenbosch changed to English last month). During a lunch at Union Buildings in Pretoria, hosted by President Zuma, I sat next to Prof. Cheryl de la Rey, Vice Chancellor of the University of Pretoria. Both meetings gave me an opportunity to better understand the anger of many South African students, and the explosive situation in South Africa’s universities, which is spreading to other parts of society in ways that may result in a new revolution. And a nasty one if some signs are to be taken seriously.

What's left of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in front of UCT: the pedestal. (Photo: Fenneken Veldkamp)

What was left of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in front of UCT last April: the pedestal. (Photo: Fenneken Veldkamp)

Statues appear to have become the symbols of the student protest. At the University of Cape Town students successfully campaigned to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, that was regarded as an insult by many South Africans. “Rhodes Must Fall!”. But later, turmoil centred around the higher student fees announced – and later withdrawn – by Zuma’s government: “Fees Must Fall”. It does not take much for anger on South Africa’s campuses to descend into violence, as happened at the University of the Western Cape.

Talking to the Vice Chancellors and others during my visit, it became clear how layered the anger is, and how problematic some of the claims for redress for ‘damage done’ during Colonialism, Apartheid, and ANC mismanagement are. I can see four layers of anger, which become manifest in different places. The first one is resistance to the ‘remains of Apartheid’: the white majority of students that is still common in some of the bulwarks of (former?) Afrikaner universities (of which the Potschefstroom campus is an example) and the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction. This is perceived as an exclusion of ‘black’ students in South Africa, and ‘black’ means everyone ‘non-white’, but often ‘white women’ also perceive themselves as under-privileged as well and in need of the same policies to fight the ‘discriminatory practices’ at (some) South African universities. When SANPAD was conceived as the Dutch support programme for research and capacity building in South Africa, its PhD programme (ca 1999-2012) was open to anyone who was not a white male PhD student.

The second layer of anger consists of the fact that many ‘black’ students still find their professors and other lecturers ‘very white’, and they feel that ‘black empowerment’ in South African universities is progressing too slowly. White professors complain that the quality of non-white newcomers is not as good as it should be from an academic perspective (their academic perspective). And within the new ‘black’ staff there are many from outside South Africa (Zimbabweans, Nigerians, Ghanaians, etc.), compounding a degree of xenophobia among South African (‘black’) staff and students, even within campuses. The fact that so many of the most successful newcomers are South Africans of ‘Indian’ origin is also seen as a problem by many. One often hears the complaint that Zulu, Xhosa, and other ‘black South Africans’ do not want jobs as teachers and professors in South Africa’s universities because they can earn much more in government and in ‘black empowerment’ businesses.

#FeesMustFall protest march to Parliament (photo:

#FeesMustFall protest march to Parliament (photo:

The third element of anger (and particularly in the humanities and social sciences) is that the curriculum used has been copied from US and UK textbooks and experiences, and so does not reflect or address ‘African realities’ and ‘African problems’. Indeed, many South African students do not learn much about the rest of Africa, and some not even about their own country. This has led to a movement called ‘Decolonizing the Curriculum’. And our colleagues in the Centre for African Studies of the University of Cape Town have a lot of very useful things to say on this! But in the context of the student protests this ‘decolonizing the curriculum’ mantra also means resistance against quantitative methods, against scientific rigour, against examination norms, all of which is fed by a reality of relatively bad secondary schools, particularly in relation to mathematics (South Africa scores extremely low in international comparisons). Students who fail tests sometimes blame their results on a conspiracy to teach them things that are irrelevant and that will lead them to fail. Now, some students are also demanding that the ANC speeds up the process of ‘decolonizing’ ‘white privileges’ in the economy, and that includes ‘getting back our land’ Zimbabwe-style (’White Farmers should Fall’; and indeed, many have been killed since 1994). There is an ugly element of reversed racism in some of this.

Finally, the fourth layer of anger goes deeper, and is something that always exists when a social emancipation movement enters universities: students who are the first generation to study, coming from backgrounds where no one did so before. Emancipatory students often come from poor backgrounds where studying requires a relatively high investment for (grand)parents in order for their children to enjoy better life chances, only to see later that many of ‘their’ graduates do not get proper jobs. Students from a poor, non-intellectual background are often treated badly by privileged intellectuals in key positions in the university system. Sometimes in very insulting, denigrating and even very visible and audible ways; but more often than not in much more subtle ways. They simply ‘don’t belong’ and are made to feel that. From what I hear, this is also the situation in traditionally English-speaking universities in South Africa, like UCT, Rhodes (when will the name go?), and Wits. The stiff upper lip imitations, the harsh and impersonal looks one gets if one is ‘different’, the indifference in work and person.

Student leaders are now campaigning for completely free, state-paid, education: the abolition of all fees, and much wider access to universities. However, most of South Africa’s students still come from an upper- and middle-class background, where paying fees is not a major problem. It is a major problem for (potential) students from poor backgrounds (black AND white). If the ‘student movement’ succeeds in abolishing fees it will mean that the state can’t spend money on the many things in South Africa that are even more urgent. It will mean the impoverishment of universities and it will mean that the students from rich backgrounds will go to private or foreign universities (and many do so already). Wouldn’t it be much better for students to campaign for equal access (and a more African curriculum) by increasing subsidy programmes for students from underprivileged backgrounds? And wouldn’t it be wise for Europe (including the Netherlands) to contribute to those efforts? CoCreateAccess! Not only in South Africa but in Africa as a whole!