Survey the world’s campaigns to alleviate poverty and improve people’s lives, and a common thread emerges: People in wealthy countries feel it’s important that people in poor countries stay at home. Development organizations in Africa, in particular, receive billions of dollars each year to oversee (often well-meaning and occasionally successful) programs designed to make “life at home” better for Africans—whether through running farms in Rwanda, educating teens in Tanzania, or supporting whole Millennium Villages (at a cost of $12,000 per household).
One could go further and argue that if Africans in one particular state or region migrate or want to migrate, then development in that area hasn’t worked. In his 2007 paper, “Keeping Them in Their Place: the ambivalent relationship between development and migration in Africa,” the International Migration Institute’s Oliver Bakewell wrote that “from its earliest roots, development practice has commonly seen a reduction in migration as either an (implicit or explicit) aim of intervention or an indicator of a programme’s success.” Migration, then, is considered inversely proportional to success in African development.
But a fascinating new paper from the World Bank turns this logic on its head. “Does Migration Foster Exports?” has a title with an unnecessary question mark. According to the authors, migration does indeed foster exports in Africa, and in numbers large enough that they should catch the attention of development and policy leaders worldwide. Their findings “suggest that one additional migrant creates about 2,100 dollars a year in additional exports for his country of origin.”