Migration and Africa's Youth

Leonida Odongo
Posted September 5, 2020 from Kenya

Young people migrate for various reasons. Intra country migration across Africa is mainly from rural areas to urban areas is mainly in search of job opportunities, to attend school for those lucky to go to college or university. Inter country movement takes place on daily basis across Africa, and the bulk of this migration is illegal. This is partly due to border porosity and the hurdles one gets when crossing a border legally. Some countries have strict regulations on entry into their borders whereas in other countries migrants are stigmatised by locals for “coming to steal jobs” and have been victims of xenophobic attacks.

Africa is a youthful population and many young people get churned out of institutions of learning every year to join the unemployed masses. For instance, approximately 800,000 young Kenyans enter the labour market every year and youth unemployment is estimated to be as high as 35%.In 2019, the unemployment rate in South Africa was 28.18. Uganda has Uganda has the world’s youngest population with over 78 percent of its population below the age of 30. With just under eight million youth aged 15-30, the country also has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Migration is a historic and multifaceted phenomenon involving humanitarian, human rights, and demographic issues. It has deep economic, environmental and political implications. It generates many different legitimate and strongly held opinions[1].

Africa is a rich continent, it is home to 15 % of the global population and has a very youthful population. Africa is endowed with vast mineral deposits, good weather, productive soil and the world’s second largest river –the Congo is located in Africa. Africa has approximately 30% of the earth’s remaining mineral resources[2]. For example, North Africa has vast oil and natural gas deposits. In the East Africa Region, Tanzania has fuel minerals, gemstones and metals. Examples of metals found in Tanzania include copper, cobalt, iron ore, gemstones include tanzanite, ruby and garnet and fuel metals include coal and uranium. Kenya has deposits of gold, titanium, fluorspar, has a good soil to grow thousands of coffee bushes and vast tea plantations. Uganda has oil and gas. The Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa region has coltan, diamonds, timber, gold and timber. Coltan is what is used to manufacture mobile phones and laptops which in essence are used by billions of people worldwide.DRC is the richest country in the world in terms of minerals with untapped mineral deposits estimated at $24 trillion[3] but sadly, many Congolese are poor and have been rendered to become refugees or internally displaces persons in their own land. The vast mineral deposits have done nothing to improve the life of the ordinary Congolese.

Migration to another country for an African youth is normally a treacherous process and the challenge is exacerbated by the fact that young people are daring and  have an adventurous spirit .Many a times , family members pool together resources for the migrant to travel, sometimes they get loans .The major aim of migration abroad  for many young Africans especially those who travel in illegal  ways and dangerous methods  is in search of greener pastures , however some migrate to further careers. Many young Africans have ventured abroad as stowaways, some have been lucky to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe only to be captured by coast guards and put into detention centres, others have been thrown out to sea to be eaten by sharks and other beings residing in water, others have died when thrown overboard. Many travel using vessels that are not sea worthy. Storms and the resultant capsizing of these vessels has led opt the death of thousands of migrants. Migrants often tell of harrowing experiences while at sea. Survivors watch as fellow migrants drown out at sea and live to tell the tales .For example fifty-three migrants who left Morocco on a dinghy were also feared dead after a survivor told Cimiano Fronteras, a Spanish aid organization, that the dinghy they were on had an unspecified collision in the Alboran Sea[4].Another example is the 105 survivors rescued by the Italian Coast Giard in a rescue in which 29 Sub-Saharan Africans died from hypothermia[5].Death  among African youth is also caused by breakdown of travel vessels. For example  15 Ethiopian migrants died from hunger and thirst when the boat they were travelling in broke down[6] and some are sold as slaves as was the reported case in Libya[7].In the African migration to Europe , the Island of Lampedusa means a lot to African immigrants as it is the point of entry into Europe for many.

According to New York Times  over 1000 refugees were abandoned at the edge of Greece’s water territory by Greek officials , with the migrants left on inflatable and overloaded life rafts[8].Despite this action being contrary to international law, Greece denied  doing anything illegal.[9] During migration, some of the migrants get robbed and lose everything.

Migration is an interlinked process, for Africans venturing abroad as illegal immigrants, support is often sought from networks engaged in smuggling processes. It involves travel over long distances sometimes by flight, road , on top of a lorry , across deserts , rivers and valleys. For example, for the Oromia in Ethiopia, migration of young people is due to persecution and hardship, many Oromia youth cross the Red Sea from Djibouti to reach the gulf region[10].Majority of migrants are males and some are unaccompanied minors. These young migrants have to travel at night for fear of arrests.

For Kenyans, majority of young people migrate to the Middle East as domestic workers. Many employment agencies have sprung mainly in Nairobi offering jobs in the gulf region. There has been complaints by domestic workers who have made it to come back home of abuse  through not being given enough food, being overworked , being beaten and locked despite the existing complaints many young women flock to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to fly to the Middle East as domestic workers.[11] Furthermore, the ILO (2013) indicated that the domestic work sector was largely dominated by the female section of the population given that the sex accounted for up-to 83% of the workforce globally.

The challenges in the Middle East and North Africa(MENA) region for domestic workers as a category of migrants is mainly the Kafala system which literally means a representation of a surety, bail or guarantee (Abikan, 2008)[12] Taking Saudi Arabia’s system of Kafala, the employer is tasked with the responsibility of the recruitment fees of the worker, medical exams completion, and possession of the national identity card. One of the most controversial attributes of the scheme is that the Kafala-supportive states require that worker’s residency permits depend on their continued employment by their sponsors. The above feature puts the  employee at the mercy of the employer. Consequently, for workers to change employment or to leave the country, their sponsors must provide them with an ‘exit visa’ (Roper & Barria, 2014).[13].Upon arrival many domestic workers’ passports are taken away from them. This in essence makes them unable to freely move and when they have challenges in their workplace. This also implies that the domestic worker cannot easily change jobs without the consent of her employer. As such the domestic worker who is also a migrant is at the mercy of the employer for the duration of time of their contract. Sometimes they are told that the will be working as domestic workers handling domestic chores to end up being forced to teach the household children English for free. Many have complained of overwork, and some have been brought back home to Kenya in coffins, others have been sexually abused by employers.Despite the harrowing experiences of Kenyan domestic workers, many still go to the Middle East.

I once had an opportunity to travel with a Kenyan domestic worker who was travelling back home from a 2-year stint in the Middle East, it was a 6-hour flight of sadness and painful recollection. This lady told me how on the first day of work, she had permed her hair, she was asked whether she came to work or for a beauty contest and forced to wash her hair. She also had to take Panadol tables daily which according to her was to help ease the pressures she was going through. I asked her whether she would be willing to go back to work, she said nope, she would rather die at home that suffer in a foreign land. Attending a conference in Beirut in 2018 , I saw many  young African females being escorted out of the airport with their bosses, presumably to do domestic work. Each couple I saw had a brown envelop, with the domestic worker wheeling her luggage .The brown envelop most likely contained the domestic workers passport and contract. My hosts took long to pick me from the airport and for five times, different airport police officers  asked me whether I was waiting for my madam. They did not understand, how an African could land in Beirut and not be a domestic worker.

The experiences of African youth as illegal migrants is heartbreaking.The slavery, deaths , drownings and being thrown out to sea is just too painful for the  affected families.More needs to be done about the migrant situation of young Africans. Although there are those who migrate legally, many migrate illegally. Governments need to create job opportunities for the youth, more so the vulnerable youths. Politicians need to shift from self-interest to being actually interested in the plight of their constituents. The culture of recycling old, retired politicians back into workforce needs to stop in order to give young people opportunities. It is very unfortunate how the political class ensures that during electioneering years’ youth employment is often on the top of the agenda for political parties, however after elections the manifestos disappear in thin air and their contents are not implemented. Sadly, more jobs across Africa are being created in the informal sector than the formal sector, education systems are also not matched with the job opportunities.

Yes, Mama Africa needs to wake up, to stop the unemployment frustration being felt by the youth, create opportunities for the youth, formulate policies that address the felt needs of the youth as opposed to using them as singers and dancers during elections or mercenaries for hire and ensure Africa’s resources work for African people and create the necessary job opportunities for the youth.

Cover Photo -Credits @Aljazeera 


[1] https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/10/1049641

[2] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2016/10/mapping-africa-nat...

[3] https://globaledge.msu.edu/countries/democratic-republic-of-the-congo/ec....

[4] https://www.dw.com/en/over-100-african-migrants-feared-dead-in-the-medit...

[5] ibid

[6] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-migrants/ethiopian-mig...

[7] https://time.com/longform/african-slave-trade/

[8] https://www.insider.com/migrants-abandoned-at-sea-by-greece-past-few-mon...

[9] ibid

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/may/09/young-ethiopi...



[13] ibid

This story was submitted in response to Human Rights for All.

Comments 6

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Kamariza Byinshi
Sep 05
Sep 05

Hi dear !
Merci pour ce message qui est si intelligent et profond, exprimant clairement la pure vérité de l'actuelle situation.ton sujet est riche,et t'as bien expliqué, vraiment je ne sais quoi ajouter.soit béni ma chère

Leonida Odongo
Sep 05
Sep 05

Chere Kamariza,

Mercie beacoup pour les commentaires ma soeur.Ce ne sont que les jeunes qui peuvent changer l'Afrique, le moment est venu.

Kamariza Byinshi
Sep 05
Sep 05

Pour nous les jeunes intellectuels, pensons à la création de la micro-entreprise pour à la longue arriver à devenir des personnes autonomes,et ça va diminuer le taux de chômage dans nos entités respectives

Nini Mappo
Sep 06
Sep 06

Dear Leonida,
You have captured Africa's heartbreak, born of frustrations that send our young people away in search of better wages outside their countries. This continues to perpetuate the painful belief around the world that the African can only be a servant, as per your experience in Beirut, and elsewhere in the world.
Now for Mama Africa to wake up to shelter and nurture her children.

Leonida Odongo
Sep 08
Sep 08

Dear Nini,

I agree with you , Mama Africa must wake up now!

Hello, sister-Professor Leonida,

It's interesting how similar our country's situation is with Kenya's. A lot of our countrymen, of various ages, migrate to other countries, too, for the same reasons you've enumerated. There are a lot of cases of abuse and murder from labor workers, especially from those who work in the Middle East. On the other side, a lot of marriages and families are broken due to infidelity while spouses are separated across miles. The children suffer a lot. We share your pain and struggle. Thank you for sharing this with us. It's truly informative.