An archive picture of African migrants crossing the Egyptian border at Sallum in 2011 | Photo: Imago / Xinhua
An archive picture of African migrants crossing the Egyptian border at Sallum in 2011 | Photo: Imago / Xinhua

The African Migration Observatory was inaugurated at the end of December 2020 and will begin work in February 2021. One of its main aims is to collect information to establish better migratory policies and invite a more balanced view of the topic on the continent.

Africa’s first migration observatory is about to begin work in the Moroccan capital Rabat next month, (February). It has been set up by the African Union (AU) with the support of Moroccan King Mohammed VI, who is responsible for the dossier on migration within the African Union.

Its inauguration comes more than two years after the adoption of the international Marrakesh pact in 2018 for safe, ordered and regulated migration. The observatory is intended to help observe, research and collect and exchange their own data about migration on the continent, according to its creators -- members of the African Union.

The hope is that the observatory will help the AU member states to establish a clearer vision about the kinds of migratory policies they want to pursue, whilst also helping to deconstruct much of the received thinking that has surrounded this question to date.

To find out a bit more about the observatory, InfoMigrants interviewed Sabelo Mbokazi, responsible for migration within the department for social affairs at the African Union.

InfoMigrants: What is the Migration Observatory all about?

Sabelo Mbokazi: The Observatory was inaugurated on December 18, 2020, on International Migrants Day. The African Migration Observatory is an agency set up within the African Union to respond to the real and pressing need for the continent to generate its own data and information about migratory phenomenons within Africa.

The Observatory was created with the aim of improving the migration governance regime in Africa and to serve as an African tool to address the migration data deficiencies, and guide African countries in the elaboration of efficient migration policies.

The Observatory will provide information for the 55 member states of the African Union as well as the eight Regional Economic Communities on the continent. Up until now we have been concentrating on getting the offices and teams up and running in Rabat, Morocco. We will officially start our observation work in February.

IM: What are its main missions?

SM: To provide centralized data and information about migration to all the countries on the continent. This data is intended to help research, formulate and establish migration policies.

We are hoping to:

  • Develop more knowledge about the phenomenon of mobility and migrations.
  • To contribute to the development of evidenced-based migration policies and interventions.
  • To develop the capacity for every Union member state and member of the regional economic communities to collect and manage migration data.
  • To support and take part in already existing initiatives like the African Center for the Study and Research on Migration; the Continental Operational Center for Combating Irregular Migration; and the PanAfrican Statistics Institute (STATAFRIC).

Our mandate is not about helping to actually manage migration flows on the continent, or get involved in assistance or prevention programs on the territory.

The research, studies and data that our observatory carries out will be managed by a new specialized agency, The African Center for Study and Research on Migration, which will be set up in Bamako, Mali and will become operational during 2021. This center will collaborate closely with our Observatory.

IM: Why is it important for Africa to establish its own observatory?

SM: Despite the fact that most of the migration which occurs on the continent of Africa is intracontinental, most of the funding for activities connected to migration and research into the topic is provided by the European Union. That means that most of the finance is skewed in favor of countries of origin and regions of those migrants who choose to migrate towards the EU. This way of thinking is why the EU established both the Rabat and the Khartoum processes.

These were processes financed by Brussels which worked at combating clandestine migration on the northern African migratory routes towards Europe. It is worth pointing out that there are almost no similar initiatives in southern or eastern Africa, presumably because these regions are not the main source countries for migrants hoping to get to the EU without papers or visas.

The skewed nature of EU support to Africa in the area of migration is also evident in the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF). EUTF was set up in 2016 after a summit in Valetta, Malta which was convened to talk about migration in 2015.

The fund was established to tackle some of the deep-rooted causes of irregular migration and the displacement of people within Africa. The EUTF is a €4.7 billion initiative that is operational in 26 out of the 55 African Union countries and across several regions, the Sahel, Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa, West Africa and North Africa.

The EUTF has a research component which focuses on research on migration in the Horn of Africa, West Africa and North Africa. There are other EU funded research initiatives that also focus on research and data collection on migration mainly in the aforementioned regions.

An example is the Research and Evidence Facility on Migration in the Horn of Africa; or the Regional Operational Center in Khartoum, Sudan, that is funded by the EUTF to the tune of about €5 million. The center is a platform for sharing information on irregular migration and associated criminal networks among countries of the Khartoum Process and is managed by CIVIPOL, a European company.

So essentially, it is not something for Africa as a whole but just for those countries from where the greatest number of migrants originate from who hope to make it to Europe.

If Africa wants to try and tackle the migratory phenomenon in a more balanced manner, it is essential that it controls its own balanced data from right across the continent. For that reason, the Observatory is intended to generate geographically balanced data about migration which will respond to the needs of the continent and how best manage this phenomenon with evidence-based data which respond to the needs of the continent.

This interview was conducted in English by Anne-Diandra Louarn and then written up in French. The English text comes from a combination of a translation of the French with referral to the English interview notes. Some of the words may not be a direct citation of Sabelo Mbokazi but the sense remains the same. It was reconstructed in English by Emma Wallis.


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