Document Type

Migration and Development (MAD) Series

Publication Date



Balsillie School of International Affairs


Migration is clearly a major issue across Africa. Indeed, migration – both within countries and across borders – can be seen as an integral part of labour markets and livelihoods across much of the continent for at least the last century. Over time, and in different places, migration has taken a number of different forms. It has cut across class and skill boundaries, and exists in widely different geographical and demographic contexts. Migration represents an important livelihood strategy for poor households seeking to diversify their sources of income, but is also characteristic of the better off, and indeed of many African elites.

In practice, however, the link between migration and poverty is often viewed more negatively. It is assumed across much of the continent that it is poverty that forces poor people to migrate, rather than migration being a potential route out of poverty. The poor are also generally seen as those worst affected by conflict-induced migration, itself a prominent feature in Africa. The movement of skilled and/or wealthy Africans is also generally viewed negatively (e.g. there is long-standing concern on the African continent with the impact of the ‘brain drain’ of African professionals). Only slowly, and in relatively few quarters, is understanding emerging of the potentially positive role that migration itself can play in reducing poverty, or of the possibilities for ‘mobilisation’ of the African diaspora in the fight against poverty. Meanwhile, public policy remains a long way from building effectively on such understanding.

The aim of this study is to synthesise existing research on migration in Africa, and its relationship to development policy. The report focuses on the relationship between migration, poverty and pro-poor development policy. Pro-poor policy is taken here to mean policies that are context-specific, listen and react to poor people’s voices, and/or seek to assist poor people to become less vulnerable and build up their income and assets. Government health and education policies might not be considered intrinsically pro-poor, but become so where they are targeted at widening access to health and education services, and especially basic health and education services (e.g. primary care, vaccination campaigns, primary schooling), or at responding to the specific needs of the poor. Pro-poor policies might also seek to identify and support poor people’s livelihoods, through the promotion of social protection mechanisms (ranging from pensions, health insurance, maternity benefit and unemployment benefits to food aid and other social assistance) or enhancement and enforcement of poor people’s rights. In turn, our focus is not only on the policies of developing country governments, but also on those of non-government and intergovernmental organisations, and of donor nations. In terms of migration, the study covers both international and internal migration.

In the sections that follow, issues are dealt with first in relation to sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, and then in detail for three regions – West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. The sections on Africa as a whole, and on West and East Africa were completed by researchers at the Sussex Centre for Migration Research at the University of Sussex, whilst the section on Southern Africa was written by researchers at the Southern African Migration Project.