By Akinyi Ochieng and Gregory Thwaites*

With over 30 million Africans living outside of their home countries, migration will play a big role in shaping Africa’s future. While the vibrant and growing diaspora communities in countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and France are gaining in visibility, it is communities of Africans within Africa that will have the most transformative impact on the region’s future. In 2012, the African Union proclaimed the African diaspora as the continent’s sixth region. This population, often presumed to be in the West, is likely to grow quickly as more Africans put down roots in countries beyond their own.  The social, economic, and cultural capital they bring will be vital to ensuring Africa’s demographic boom yields dividends as the continent’s share of the global population doubles by 2050.

Today, 34 million Africans live outside the country of their birth, with over 55% staying within the region. By 2050, we forecast that the African diaspora will have tripled to 100m people. If African countries achieve the good governance necessary for strong economic growth, around 70m of this diaspora will live elsewhere in Africa. The early signs are already there: in Ghana, for example, a thriving Nigerian diaspora has emerged. In Kenya, you’ll find a growing number of Ugandans. Countries like Ivory Coast and South Africa, home to some of the largest numbers of migrants from other parts of Africa, are set to have their populations expand even further.

Tapping into the Skills of Regional Diaspora Communities

Although traders and temporary workers tend to draw the most attention in Africa’s inter-regional migration story, growing numbers of skilled professionals now seek professional opportunities in other regions of the continent. The “brain gain” is not always to the Western world — these migrants sometimes move to neighboring nations. Zimbabwe’s brain drain, for example, skews more towards South Africa rather than the United Kingdom.

If governments are to effectively harness the  valuable knowledge and skills these communities offer, it is critical that they recognise these phenomenon and cultivate ties with these “regional diasporas”. In some ways, these  “regional” re-pats have an advantage over diaspora returnees from North America and Europe — by living in Africa, they might benefit from increased proximity to the cultural contexts of their countries of origin. Networks like CDC-backed Africa List and TheBoardroom Africa, for example, highlight the vast pool of talent that lies within the continent if governments and companies are willing to tap the countryman who might be just a country-or-two away. Some companies are already seizing these opportunities. Ade Ayeyemi, CEO of Togo-based Ecobank, for example, is from Nigeria. Similarly, Acha Leke, a Senior Partner at McKinsey often touted as Africa’s most “well-connected man” hails from Cameroon.

Immigration has been fundamental to economic success in the Western world, but for Africa nations to tap into the talent pools just a few borders away, countries must be more accepting of migrants. Although Rwanda ranks 8.16 out of 10 on the Gallup Migrant Acceptance Index, South Africa hovers at 4.98. If immigrants are not sufficiently integrated into the labour market and everyday life, the next new wave of African migration could generate significant friction.


Growing Inter-African Remittances and Investments

The most obvious impact of the regional diaspora communities is perhaps most visible in remittances and investments. Remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa grew almost 10 percent to $46 billion in 2018, with significant inflows coming from within the continent. Benin, for example, receives over $133 million each year from Nigeria. Nearly $60 million flows from Congo to Rwanda, eclipsing remittances from North America and Europe. It isn’t just person-to-person flows we are seeing—these intra-Africa exchanges are happening at the business level as well. Earlier this year, mPharma, a digital health startup that manages prescription drug inventory for pharmacies and their suppliers, purchased Kenya’s second-largest pharmacy chain, Haltons. Ethiopia-based Apposit is the chief technical partner of Nigeria’s leading mobile payment systems Paga, with its former company’s founder Eric Chijioke also acting as the Chief Technical Officer of the latter. The growth of these inter-regional remittance flows and investments underscores the growing importance of inter-African trade and the economic opportunities that exist if Africa trades more with itself. To take full advantage of the benefits of remittances, governments must work closely will money transfer organisations to introduce progressive monetary policies if technology is to bring down the cost of cross-border payments and investments.

Culture as Connective Tissue

Migration within Africa has re-shaped the cultural fabric of many sub-regions as more and more people become exposed to culinary, artistic, and linguistic influences that previously might not have spread beyond geographical borders. Improvements in Internet connectivity and regional transportation infrastructure means that more Africans are exposed to cultures across the region than ever before. In North Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia have launched a joint bid for UNESCO heritage status for couscous. In West Africa, pidgin has emerged as the lingua franca from The Gambia to Cameroon — with the BBC even launching a Pidgin-language service in 2017. One of the most visible examples of the influence of diaspora communities can be seen in the musical crossovers of Ghanaian highlife and Nigerian afrobeats which has produced a unique blend of contemporary Afropop that Nigerian musician Mr. Eazi has described as “banku music” in homage to one of the Ghana’s most famous dishes.

Unlocking the Potential of Inter-regional diaspora communities

From Ghana’s “Year of Return” to Ethiopia’s recent Diaspora Trust Fund, more governments across the continent are initiating new efforts to effectively engage their diaspora  in the development agenda. These efforts have traditionally concentrated in Western-based diaspora communities; however, the rapid growth of regional diaspora communities calls for more engagement within Africa as well. To maintain ties with inter-African migrants with valuable social, economic, and cultural capital to share with their home countries, countries should undertake mapping exercises within the African continent to better identify these regional diaspora communities, their ideas, capacities and relationship with their countries of heritage. To reduce the costs of sending and receiving remittances, governments should likewise adopt a progressive approach to licensing of money transfer options. Finally, to encourage cultural exchange fuelling creativity, transportation and Internet infrastructure must be improved to facilitate the free flow of ideas.


Akinyi Ochieng is Communications Manager at WorldRemit and Gregory Thwaites, Research Director