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AfricaInternal Migration

Although the most prominent movement within the continent in historic times probably was that of the Bantu-speaking peoples, there have been many different movements of peoples from one region of the continent to another and over many centuries. Because of a population explosion that is yet to be fully understood, Bantu-speaking peoples have spread over most of the continent south of the equator. Bantu migrations were reflected in the expansion of Bantu languages in several parts of East, Central, and Southern Africa. Other examples of major intracontinental migration include that of the nomadic Bedouin Arab peoples, the Banu Hilal and the Banu Sulaym, into the Maghreb beginning from the second half of the eleventh century. They initiated a massive movement, infiltrating the cultivated lands while spreading westward from Tunisia to Morocco. The arrival of the Bedouin Arabs provoked a rapid Arabization of the Maghreb region. A high proportion of the Berbers were assimilated to the Arabs through intermarriage, and Arabic became the lingua franca for most of the population. In the mountainous areas, including the Atlas range in Morocco and the Kabylie mountains of Algeria, however, the Berbers maintained their language and culture, together with a fierce spirit of independence.

Intraregional migration also took place in West Africa. Hausaland, for example, was a major recipient of large-scale migration, with peoples and groups coming from different directions and at different times for different purposes. Sources of migration into the Hausa country were the Sahel in the north, Bornu in the east, and the regions of the late Mali and Songhay empires in the west. The Fulani, who reached Hausaland from the west, were the most prominent immigrants into the region. The vast majority of Fulani immigrants were nomadic pastoralists in search of new and better grazing for their cattle, although there were also some Muslim clerics among them. Other migrant groups included the Tuareg, who were mostly pastoralists and who showed little interest in territorial occupation and settlement. Migrants from Bornu included refugees, aristocrats, merchants, and scholars who settled in all parts of Hausaland. Other immigrants were the Wangara/Dioula; the Songhay fishermen, who settled in the Lower Rima River Valley; and the Arab and Berber merchants and scholars who came from North Africa and the Timbuktu area and began entering the region in the second half of the fifteenth century, about the same time as the Fulani. The influx into the region was connected with the growing prosperity of the Hausa states and the adoption of Islam by further groups and strata of the urban population.

The dominant trend in internal migration in more recent times has been the movement from rural to urban areas. Contact with Western Europe facilitated the emergence of new towns and other urban centers that served as colonial administrative centers or as economic or industrial centers. Many capital cities of West African countries developed as artificial ports built on vacant or sparsely populated sites. These administrative, industrial, and commercial centers all experienced rapid growth during the years of colonial rule, with implications for migration. The new towns developed certain characteristics that contrasted sharply with the traditional culture. An improved physical environment—sanitary facilities, roads, street lighting, health services—combined with other rudiments of urbanism to provide the background to the rural-to-urban migration that was a hallmark of the colonial period. This prompted the "bright lights" theory of migration (that is, that rural-to-urban migrants tended to be attracted by the new facilities in the towns). However, empirical studies—such as the one on Tukulor migration to Dakar (Diop)—confirm that rural-to-urban migration was neither the outcome of an attraction to the city nor youthful rejection of traditional values. Rather, it resulted from serious and persistent underdevelopment in the communities of origin of the migrants. In the case of Tukulor migration from the Senegal River Valley, money sent back to the village by the new city dwellers was crucial to maintaining a minimum standard of living in the valley.

But regional economic disparities were not the only factors that prompted internal migration, particularly in the colonial times and after. The transformation of agriculture during this period that resulted from the creation of large plantations by the colonizers in certain regions of the continent was a major factor. The new plantations required a substantial labor force that was not always available locally. The required movement of population was often achieved by force. Colonial intervention in the mining sector prompted similar forceful movement of the people, achieved through policies designed to drive peasants from their land and attract them to the mining areas. Moreover, colonial fiscal measures, particularly the introduction of the head tax payable in cash, also gave rise to migration. It was impossible for most rural families to raise the necessary sums from the village, and this necessitated the migration of one or more members of a household to the city. In other instances, villagers fled the tax by migrating to neighboring territories.

Intra-and intercountry migrations remain a prominent feature of African life. The persistence is partly the outcome of the fact that migrants have always considered the various sub-regions as single economic units within which trade in goods and services flowed. But more important, intraregional migration has been sustained by the persistence and intensification of widespread poverty, the deteriorating economic situation, and the consequences of the various macroeconomic adjustment measures. In addition, conflicts and environmental degradation, particularly in the Sahel regions, desertification, and cyclical famines have further aggravated the pressure for migration from poorer to relatively prosperous regions of the continent. The deteriorating economic situation and pressures have also affected in recent times the traditional labor-importing countries, including Gabon, Côte d'Ivoire, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria. The inability of their economies to continue accommodating clandestine labor migrants was at the root of the various expulsion measures directed at foreign nationals at different times. On the other hand, the violent conflicts that have plagued the political landscape of many African countries—Burundi, Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and recently, Côte d'Ivoire—as well as the Horn of Africa have produced massive waves of refugees who sought sanctuary in neighboring African countries. Many have chosen to remain as migrants in the countries of their sanctuary even after conflicts have ceased in their homelands.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Methane to Molecular clockMigration - Africa - Internal Migration, Immigration Into Africa, Emigration From Africa, Explaining African Migration, Conclusion, Bibliography