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Migration

AfricaEmigration From Africa

Probably the greatest outward regional movement of people in human history was that of Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean during the period of the slave trade from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Estimated figures of Africans forcibly uprooted from their homelands, largely from West Africa and to a lesser extent from Angola, range from fifteen to twenty million. Substantial numbers of these died in the appalling conditions of the trans-Atlantic passage. The slave trade was also active on the east coast of Africa, particularly on the island of Zanzibar. Although the composite effect of the loss of this considerable size of manpower is yet to be fully quantified and appreciated, there is no doubt that it retarded the African continent's development. At the same time, these forced migrants made substantial contributions to the development of the New World.

In recent years a combination of factors, including the worsening economic situation of most African countries, perennial conflicts, and environmental degradation, have provoked a new outward movement of Africans from the continent. The stressful socioeconomic environment created by the retrenchment of public sector workers in states across the continent implementing diverse programs of structural adjustment, the decline in real incomes, and the hostile political environment occasioned by the consolidation of autocratic regimes in several states have combined to generate and sustain pressures that trigger the outflow of professional and skilled persons on a scale hitherto not experienced. This migration has been to Europe, North America (United States and Canada), and the Gulf states. Some Africans have also found their way to Asian and Pacific countries. This phenomenon has come to be described in the literature and general discourse as the brain drain. Thousands of highly skilled migrants, including doctors, nurses, lecturers, teachers, engineers, scientists, technologists, and other professionals, have moved from a number of African countries to the destination states attracted by relatively higher salaries and better working and living conditions. This is in addition to movements from poorer to relatively richer regions of the continent. Also, many students in various disciplines failed to return to their home countries from these richer countries at the end of their training.

The stressful socioeconomic environment has produced other survival strategies that affect contemporary migration patterns and gender roles in the continent. Clandestine migration, an age-old phenomenon, has reached new proportions as young migrants are adopting more sophisticated, daring, and evasive methods to enter the countries of the North—even as these destination states continue to tighten their border controls. Many clandestine migrants enter the host states as tourists or students and later work and live there without officially changing their status. Others travel via intermediary countries, where they obtain false documentation for a fee. Another phenomenon is autonomous female migration, which is equally a response to deepening poverty in the subregion. With several families forced to adopt migration as a coping mechanism of the last resort, the traditional male-dominated, long-term, and long-distance migratory streams are becoming increasingly feminized. A significant proportion of females now migrate independently to fulfill their own economic needs rather than simply joining a husband or other family members. Higher educational attainment among females has also enhanced their mobility and their propensity to migrate both locally and internationally.

Additional topics

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