The coronavirus pandemic has turned into a global economic crisis with severe social effects in the least developed countries, particularly in Africa. Pre-existing challenges related to widespread poverty, demographic growth, food insecurity and governance issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic. While migration remains one of the key elements of the partnership agenda between Africa and the European Union, the aggravating socioeconomic situation in the African continent due to the impact of COVID-19 and its implications for migration dynamics requires going beyond business-as-usual approaches. The renewed scenario calls for a more comprehensive and development-oriented approach to migration, requiring new policy initiatives addressing the wider set of conditions that, beyond constituting developmental challenges in their own right, also drive migration in North Africa as well as in Sub-Saharan African countries.
The coronavirus pandemic, which began as a major health crisis, has gradually turned into a global economic downturn with severe social effects keenly felt in the least developed countries, particularly in Africa.
The effects of the pandemic risk being even more devastating at the human, social and economic level in the continent than in other global regions, even though COVID-19 seems to have affected African citizens proportionately less than elsewhere in terms of its immediate repercussions on health. The pandemic acts as a multiplier of challenges faced by many African countries and their citizens, especially in the socioeconomic sphere. Many African states already struggled in the pre-pandemic era to provide a satisfactory level of access to basic services like health, as also highlighted – and further deepened – by significant emigration of their medical personnel. They also face a worrying deterioration of their public finances due to rising external debt. Today, these countries, with an external debt of nearly 600 billion US dollars (on average almost 60 per cent of their GDP), allocate more than 15 per cent of their respective budgets to debt service, much greater than the sums mobilised for education, health or preparedness against epidemics.
Lingering governance difficulties, paired with fast demographic growth and enduring poverty, are worsened by the dependence of most of the African countries on global tourism and trade flows, including those of food, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment or raw materials – which were all disrupted by the pandemic.
Against this background, the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic will likely lead to more poverty and unemployment, especially in the informal sector, which consequently could increase the migratory potential in many African contexts. This might imply increasing tension around the issue of migration between the European Union and different African countries, both in the Maghreb and in SubSaharan Africa.
Policy-makers on both sides should take into consideration the two-way relationship between migration and development. A further deterioration of socioeconomic conditions in Africa, beyond constituting a developmental challenge in its own right, could also incentivise further migration in the future. At the same time, well-managed migration and mobility could play a positive role in improving livelihoods and revitalising economies on both sides of the Mediterranean in a post-pandemic world. The new context therefore requires the Africa-EU partnership to prioritise a developmental and comprehensive approach that can effectively tackle the socioeconomic challenges emerging from the pandemic and make migration part of the solution, rather than the problem.
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This publication first appeared on the IAI site.
Author: Mehdi Lahlou, IAI.
The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.