The Multifaceted Nature of Migration in Africa: Impacts, Policies, and Perspectives

May 17, 2023

by Tania Nzomo

Migration is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that has significant implications for individuals, communities, and countries. In Africa, laws and policies related to migration play a crucial role in shaping the movement of people within and across borders, including transboundary, sub-regional, and regional migration.

Existing laws and policies related to migration in Africa are influenced by a multitude of factors, including historical, social, economic, and political contexts, and aim to address a wide range of issues, including labour mobility, regional integration, human rights, and security concerns.

Drivers of migration

One of the key drivers of migration in Africa is the search for better economic opportunities. Many Africans migrate in search of employment and livelihood opportunities, both within and outside their countries of origin. In response to this reality, some African countries have adopted liberal approaches to migration, aiming to facilitate labour mobility and promote regional economic integration. For example, the East African Community (EAC) has established a Common Market Protocol, which allows for the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labour among its member states. Similarly, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has implemented a Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Residence, and Establishment, which promotes the free movement of persons within the region. These initiatives are aimed at fostering economic development, trade, and investment, and are facilitated by laws and policies that promote labour mobility across borders.

Climate change is another relevant driver in the African context, for countries in the Global South, and for pastoral communities. Communities such as Maasai, Bedouins, Berbers, and Borans, among others, are heavily influenced by climatic changes that necessitate or shape their pastoral migration patterns. Climate change is also a compound proponent that plays into migration and results in different types of migration such as permanent migration, seasonal or circular migration, internal migration, international migration, labour migration, or transhumance.

In addition to economic and climatic factors, social and political considerations also influence migration patterns in Africa. Conflict, persecution, and instability in certain regions of the continent can push people to seek refuge in other countries. In response to this, some African countries have adopted policies that prioritize the protection of refugees and asylum seekers.

Other forms of migration

While there exist formal and documented channels of migration, it is important to note that not all migration in Africa is formal or driven by economic or humanitarian factors. Irregular migration, including undocumented migration and human trafficking, is a persistent challenge in the region. Many African migrants face risks and vulnerabilities, such as exploitation, abuse, and discrimination, as they undertake dangerous journeys in search of better opportunities.

In response to these challenges, some African countries have implemented stricter immigration policies to manage irregular migration and enhance border security. However, these policies can also have unintended consequences, such as increased risks for migrants and violations of their rights. Finding a balance between managing migration and protecting the rights of migrants is a complex challenge that requires comprehensive and coordinated approaches.

Regional initiatives

Another important aspect of migration in Africa is the role of regional organizations in shaping migration policies and practices. Regional initiatives play a vital role in the achievement of the goals and objectives of the various organizations put in place to combat the obstacles in migration. Different regional organizations have taken different courses of action in the policies and sanctions in place in response to migration. Regional organizations such as the African Union, EAC, ECOWAS, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) play a crucial role in promoting regional integration and cooperation on migration issues.

These organizations develop protocols, agreements, and frameworks that aim to facilitate the movement of people across borders, protect the rights of migrants, and foster regional development. However, the implementation of these policies can vary among member states, and there may be challenges in harmonizing migration policies and practices across diverse contexts. Greater coordination, harmonization, and cooperation among African countries and regional organizations is needed to address these challenges and ensure that migration is managed in a way that promotes the well-being of migrants on all spheres.

For example, in addition to the Global Compact on Migration, the United Nations has also developed a Global Compact on Refugees, which aims to promote the protection and well-being of refugees and support the countries that host them. African countries have also adopted regional frameworks, such as the African Union’s Migration Policy Framework for Africa, which underscores the importance of protecting the rights of migrants and refugees and ensuring their access to basic services. These policies are important in promoting human rights and social cohesion in the context of migration.


In conclusion, laws and policies related to migration in Africa are influenced by numerous factors and play a crucial role in shaping migration patterns in the region. Economic opportunities, social and political considerations, irregular migration, and the role of regional organizations are all important aspects of migration in Africa. While some policies aim to facilitate labour mobility, protect refugees and asylum seekers, and promote regional integration, challenges such as irregular migration, human trafficking, and inconsistent implementation of policies remain. Finding a balance between managing migration and protecting the rights of migrants is a complex challenge that requires comprehensive and coordinated approaches.

A range of stakeholder is working on to address migration-related issues in Africa and find solutions such as providing humanitarian aid, strengthening border management, promoting legal migration channels, combating human trafficking, and addressing the root causes of migration. International and regional organizations work with African governments and other stakeholders to provide support to refugees, internally displaced persons, and other people on the move. These solutions aim to improve migration management systems, promote the rights of migrants, and ensure that migration takes place in safe, orderly, and regular ways within national and regional policy frameworks.

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About the Author

SLYCAN Trust is a non-profit think tank. It has been a registered legal entity in the form of a trust since 2016, and a guarantee limited company since 2019. The entities focus on the thematic areas of climate change, adaptation and resilience, sustainable development, environmental conservation and restoration, social justice, and animal welfare. SLYCAN Trust’s activities include legal and policy research, education and awareness creation, capacity building and training, and implementation of ground level action. SLYCAN Trust aims to facilitate and contribute to multi-stakeholder driven, inclusive and participatory actions for a sustainable and resilient future for all.