By Andrew Zoka
Of the 54 countries in the continent, migrants find their way in and out of Africa for a variety of reasons. Some are fortunate and gain merit-based scholarships abroad (outside Africa), of whom many in pursuit of financial success remain after graduating from foreign universities and vow to return home after they have gained sufficient experience and savings. Other diverse Africans are still fleeing tough oppressive regimes in conflict-ridden parts of the continent. In many cases, refugees have already fled racial discrimination or religious oppression. In Nigeria for example, religious conflicts dating as far back as 1953 account for numerous deaths daily, internal displacement and fleeing citizens. One way or another those escaping their country’s poverty, racism, social ills or any other dangerous or success-inhibiting circumstance find their way to the “West” in search of prosperity and a better future for their families.
According to a UNDP study, migrants fleeing some countries in Northern Africa often hold steady jobs and are educated, yet they are willing to risk drowning in overcrowded boats to make a life-threatening journey to Europe. Weighing their options between the very real danger of losing their lives at sea or taking a leap of faith and journeying to Europe– to many the choice to leave is simple. Having survived the journey to North America or even Europe, they send a portion of their wages back to their families, which is often a significant increase from their previous incomes at home.
Why do Africans migrate irregularly to Europe? The answer may surprise you. Only 1% says that they migrate for work alone. See more findings on irregular migration from Africa to Europe in #ScalingFencesUNDP: https://t.co/anVEjQvwoP pic.twitter.com/7SN8vUtrPd— UN Development (@UNDP) October 21, 2019
Aside from the extreme cases of migrants leaving families and risking their lives to enter Europe, the African diaspora in North America is all too diverse. Many trace their arrivals decades ago, and more still who have arrived recently are coming from walks of life as different as their nationalities. Attention and compassion are often directed to migrants who have narrowly escaped violence or poverty, but scarcely on those arriving peacefully, minding their own business and finding employment for many of the same reasons as others. Where the typical family is given the option to travel to Canada to find better job opportunities or to remain in a workplace with unsatisfactory pay while working for institutions that don’t often provide job security, many leap at the opportunity to migrate West, to boost their prospects and then help lift others up.
Arriving in Canada like I did, one experiences a sense of joy and hope expecting as one must institutional robustness, governmental stability and integrity almost unmatched—hoping for the welcoming arms of a prosperous culture and people. One might think these immigrants have reached their happy place they have always dreamed of, in their journey of discovery, assisted by friends, family or church community, settling in their new land. A turning point however, in the lives of all these immigrants comes just after deciding to move to Canada. After this decision, they envision a certain future, whether through temporary work, study or simply “permanently” migrating to Canada.
As the African and Canadian economies grow, business links and investment opportunities are in great demand on both sides. The argument may be made that even greater numbers of regular middle-class Africans should migrate to Canada. In the case of Tanzania in East Africa by the Indian Ocean, of the 55-56 million people in the country, two-thirds are under 25 years old, and over 40% are under 14 years old. This leaves much of the Tanzanian youth in their prime years full of potential, working low-wage jobs or perpetually seeking employment and stability. The question to ask is: how much does moving make our lives better?
Tanzanians entering Canada have similar experiences to their counterparts in the United States in terms of employment opportunities and even their ability to run businesses. A distinguishing factor however is that there are many more Africans in the United States (over 46 million diaspora Africans in US which is around 14% of the total population) than in Canada (close to half a million diaspora Africans); more Africans opt to study and work in the US after finding the right opportunity. Is USA the African melting pot then? Immigration challenges such as securing employment after study, sponsoring and receiving relatives to join, and the low rates of visa acceptance remain big hurdles to settling in the US. Canada has similar but separate challenges post-arrival, especially in the settlement and integration of new residents; many find help through diaspora or existing acquaintances and friends to gain employment or feel settled. I have just begun my journey here. As an advocate for world travel however, I would love to see even a quarter of our Tanzanian youth study and work abroad, feeding back new ideas with a global perspective into the country upon their return, or if settling abroad then gainfully contributing to faster economic growth in Africa by regularly sending home remittances.
Andrew Zoka first moved from Tanzania to Washington DC, USA where he served as a Foreign Service Officer at the Tanzanian Embassy for six years. He recently moved to Toronto, Canada for opportunities in executive administration.