Event Reports

Migration and Demography in Sub-Sahara Africa

Dr. Stephen Smith, Professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University and Author of the Scramble for Europe speaks at the New York Office of Konrad Adenauer Foundation on January 15th, 2019.
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Dr. Smith hoped to offer, what he called a “fresh perspective on human geography”. He described that Africa’s population, for instance, doubled in population of approx. 150 million in the 1930 to approx. 600 million in the 1990. Dr. Smith pointed out that 4 out of 10 Africans today are under the age of 15. He explained that this de facto means half of the population not being able to participate in political processes. The demographic composition of African societies also brings to the fore central questions, like how young people can effectively contribute to peace and security. Too often, Dr. Smith explained, are young Africans confronted with the reality that they carry little social weight and recognition. Due to the principle of seniority and the rule of elders, young people, especially women, often find themselves handicapped in their personal growth and development as well as in working to achieve their aspirations. An experience that prompts many to leave, either by resettling to urban hubs in their regions or by migrating, oftentimes to Europe. In the majority of urban African slums, for instance, 90% of the population is under the age of 30.  While the vast majority of young Africans still migrate within Africa (68%), this number is trending downward. In the 1990 for example, closer to 90% of young African migrants stayed within Africa. Dr. Smith cautioned in regards to a generally upheld theory proclaiming that increased investments into development aid will lead to decreased migratory flows. He explained that there is a general misconception about migrants, in a sense that many believe them to be the “poorest of the poor”. In reality however, Dr. Smith pointed out that it is members of an emerging middle class – currently roughly 150 million Africans – who would have the means to migrate. Dr. Smith referred to opinion polls that found approx. 40% of Africans would migrate if they had the necessary resources to do so. He also pointed out, that requests for the US green card lottery system are as high as 1/3 of the population in some African countries. Dr. Smith therefore expects an increasing migratory pressure that has so far been held back because of a necessary prosperity threshold that Africa has not crossed yet. He forecasts this threshold to be crossed by 2050, at which point he predicts migration to increase exponentially. Most African migrants, according to Dr. Smith, will select Europe as their destination of choice due to reasons like close proximity, existing diaspora communities and post-colonial ties. Most importantly however, Dr. Smith presumes the European social security systems to be the main pull factor within the decision-making process of African migrants. In this regard, he urges European policy makers to consider whether they wish to uphold their traditions of robust social security systems or rather to reorient themselves towards becoming migratory states like the US. With a migration push towards Europe, coexistence of extensive social security systems and open migratory policies, according to Dr. Smith, will not be sustainable for European states in the decades to come.Dr. Smith hoped to offer, what he called a “fresh perspective on human geography”. He described that Africa’s population, for instance, doubled in population of approx. 150 million in the 1930 to approx. 600 million in the 1990. Today, Africa is the most populous continent with an estimated population of 1.3 billion. Dr. Smith pointed out that 4 out of 10 Africans today are under the age of 15. He explained that this de facto means half of the population not being able to participate in political processes. The demographic composition of African societies also brings to the fore central questions, like how young people can effectively contribute to peace and security. Too often, Dr. Smith explained, are young Africans confronted with the reality that they carry little social weight and recognition. Due to the principle of seniority and the rule of elders, young people, especially women, often find themselves handicapped in their personal growth and development as well as in working to achieve their aspirations. An experience that prompts many to leave, either by resettling to urban hubs in their regions or by migrating, oftentimes to Europe. In the majority of urban African slums, for instance, 90% of the population is under the age of 30.  While the vast majority of young Africans still migrate within Africa (68%), this number is trending downward. In the 1990 for example, closer to 90% of young African migrants stayed within Africa. Dr. Smith cautioned in regards to a generally upheld theory proclaiming that increased investments into development aid will lead to decreased migratory flows. He explained that there is a general misconception about migrants, in a sense that many believe them to be the “poorest of the poor”. In reality however, Dr. Smith pointed out that it is members of an emerging middle class – currently roughly 150 million Africans – who would have the means to migrate. Dr. Smith referred to opinion polls that found approx. 40% of Africans would migrate if they had the necessary resources to do so. He also pointed out, that requests for the US green card lottery system are as high as 1/3 of the population in some African countries. Dr. Smith therefore expects an increasing migratory pressure that has so far been held back because of a necessary prosperity threshold that Africa has not crossed yet. He forecasts this threshold to be crossed by 2050, at which point he predicts migration to increase exponentially. Most African migrants, according to Dr. Smith, will select Europe as their destination of choice due to reasons like close proximity, existing diaspora communities and post-colonial ties. Most importantly however, Dr. Smith presumes the European social security systems to be the main pull factor within the decision-making process of African migrants. In this regard, he urges European policy makers to consider whether they wish to uphold their traditions of robust social security systems or rather to reorient themselves towards becoming migratory states like the US. With a migration push towards Europe, coexistence of extensive social security systems and open migratory policies, according to Dr. Smith, will not be sustainable for European states in the decades to come.

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