Sensing a new trend

Oui, on va rentrer

In the last six months when talking to Ivorians and Africans in general living in Europe, it seems like everybody is seriously planning on returning to Africa for good.  Two or three years ago I didn’t at all hear the same talk, so it looks like a new trend.

And it makes a lot of sense with a stagnating (at best) European economy and many African economies doing better than at any time since independence.  Also, if you are reasonably well off, there are plenty of business opportunities as well as advantages in terms of lifestyle (weather, childcare, affordability of maids etc) when living in Africa. On top of that I think issues such as hidden xenophobia and a sense of feeling snubbed contribute to incentives to moving to Africa.

What’s surprised me recently is hearing several Ivorians living in Europe for over 10 years, with good jobs, children growing up in Europe, and European passports, having moved to Abidjan or saying they are planning a permanent move. One said he was happy to switch from going up early to go to work in the cold and rain, to having his own business and own office in Abidjan.

Temporary Migration

All of this doesn’t mean less people will want to emigrate out of Africa though.  With Africa getting wealthier, I believe emigration will actually increase as the effect of more people having the means to emigrate is greater than the effect of increased number of people wealthy enough not to have economic incentives to emigrate.  Difference in average living standards between a growing Africa and a stagnating developed world will still be large enough to push migration for quite some time. (Though more Africans may choose to go to Asia instead of Europe in the future.)

What’s happening is that migration is temporary and circular. Philippe Legrain explains it well in an Economist article entitled Moving out, on and back:

“Circular” migration, in which people come and go between destinations, is on the rise, as is “on-migration”, where a migrant moves first from China to Canada, say, and then on to America. OECD researchers reckon that at least 19% of migrants who arrived in America at the turn of the millennium had left for other destinations five years later. On-migration is also common among migrants from Africa and Asia. Europeans, for their part, tend to live abroad for only a limited time.

“The notion that migration is a one-way movement of permanent settlement is outdated. Most of it is temporary—and it’s time the debate about immigration recognised this reality,” argues Philippe Legrain, an analyst of immigration and the author of “Aftershock”, a recent book analysing economic changes in the wake of the financial crash.

Far from disappearing in the wake of the crash, Ms Sumption says, migration is still “a sensible long-term investment for many people.” Although hard times may change migrants’ destinations, they do not sap the will to move in search of a better life. This is good news: migrants did not contribute to the economic crisis, and they may yet help to overcome it.


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