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Migration watch: Central and West Africa

Posted on Monday, 21 September 2009 00:00

Immigrants are easy to blame when things go wrong

The wealthier countries always draw in the migrants. Nigeria, Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire are all important poles of attraction and, last year, statistics suggested that there were more foreign-born Africans in Equatorial Guinea than there were locals.

In Gabon, about 25% of oil-producing Gabon’s population is made up of people who have left more inhospitable climes in Mali, Niger and Benin. On the tree-lined streets of Libreville and other major cities, immigrants are the dominant force in education, construction, petty trade and transportation.

Augustin, a teacher from Togo, has been working in parts of rural Gabon, where local teachers refuse to be posted, for nine years. “The West and Central African CFA francs are the same, so I can earn three times as much in Gabon,” he says. “I want to save to build a house and start my own school in Lomé, but to do it I have to be away from my family.” He still hasn’t made enough money to achieve his goals.

Throughout Africa, immigrants and politics make a combustible mix, with foreign workers often accused of being at the root of political, criminal and economic problems. Violent and chaotic expulsions of foreign-born Africans were carried out against Ghanaians in Nigeria in 1983 and West Africans in Gabon in the 1990s as well as during the Ivorian civil war from 2002. Nowadays, Algeria and Morocco regularly dump deported Sub-Saharan Africans on the other side of their respective borders in the futile hope of ridding themselves of the immigrant presence.

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