The world is currently undergoing a somewhat difficult digital transformation with all manual processes gradually being digitised making the internet an essential tool for every field; with one of such fields been migration.
Though the concept of migration dates as far back as 70,000-100,000 years ago when the first modern humans began moving outside of Africa, there has been a noticeable increase in the trend with the invent of social media. This is largely due to the wide pool of information available to internet users with the advent of the web 2.0 where myriad of contributions from users is allowed, making them not mere consumers but active producers of content online which informs many decisions people take.
A publication reports the following as the ways social media facilitates migration:
- using social media helps migrants to maintain strong ties with family and friends, lowering the threshold for migration
- Social media can provide a means of communication with weak ties that are relevant when organising the process of migration and settlement
- using social media establishes a new infrastructure consisting of latent ties
- Social media are a rich source of unofficial insider knowledge on migration.
Until my recent participation in the workshop on the theme “Governance, Migration and Social Media in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and Prospects” organised by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) office in Ivory Coast, I was quick to think the concept of migration was of less significance since the West African region is currently undergoing massive developmental changes.
The two (2) day event brought together participants from eleven (11) West African countries to share on problems of governance, migration flows and its relatedness to social media at the Assinie Beach Lodge in Abidjan which provided a serene environment for engagement and relaxation while fostering result driven deliberations.
Through discussions, I gathered that there are about one (1) billion migrants each year with two thirds of this movement being internal. West Africa is recognised as one of the sub regions with a strong population movement, also having its countries as transit points for many European countries.
One major element at this conference was the seeming growth of irregular migration ( a preferred phrase instead of illegal migration) where migrants travel through unlawful means. Participants argued that if governments intervene in cases where irregular migrants are deported to their home countries by sometimes providing means of transport and even escorts, they can equally put systems in place that are friendly enough to accommodate all those who want to seek greener pastures.
The event saw participants present on Internet, social media and democratic governance with the policies available in their countries to curb fake news while allowing openness as much as possible for users. The initiatives in various countries seemed similar with much concentration on cyber security and affordability.
Aïda Ndiaye, Africa Public Policy, Facebook & UNDP Expert on Governance listed how essential social media especially facebook has provided mechanisms to check the many ills on the internet targeting fake news and continued to mention some new security updates on the application that allows for visibility, block and signal alerts with the verification of information through third party software.
Governments have shown high interests in migration and social media now since many skilled country men and women migrate to improve other places while their home countries persist in under development. Their interest also stems from their need to maintain trade and aid relations with developed countries.
These were explained by Madame Nina Koffi who mentioned government initiatives in migration regulations and the importance of governments to the internet.
In a panel discussion on Governance of Migration Flows in the West African Space Ms. Natalie YAMB(Migration Expert), Mr Issiaka Konaté, Director General of Ivorians in the diaspora and Mr. Laurent GUITTEY, Project Manager and Government Relations of IOM Abidjan shared their views on the recent trend of migration mentioning how governments are seeking to keep in touch with their citizens abroad to foster relations and encourage them to invest in their home countries. They mentioned the Ghanaian initiative of declaring 2019 as “the year of return” as a case in point and asked other governments to copy such.
They went on to mention the interventions by governments to encourage irregular migrants to return home or abort their missions in the harsh conditions on the sea and desert and secure funds to travel through genuine means but were met by replies such as: “Je préférerais mourir sur la mer que de voir ma mère pleurer” which means “I’d rather die on the sea than see my mother crying.” This highlights the extent to which some of these migrants will go to travel to places which have been portrayed as rich lands on social media and with quick avenues for making money. This was emphasised by the review of the documentary: « The land between, David Fedele, 2014 » (https://t.co/Iy7oD1zJuh) which left most of us sombre and ignited to do something to curb irregular migration.
Participants were again put into groups to propose initiatives that could curb irregular migration while using social media and working closely with governments. My group proposed an initiative that will handle migration in two phases;
- The Migration Outbound Program
- The Migration Inbound Program
These programs will have trainings conducted for migrants leaving the country including language acquisition with their skills matched to companies who need them. Those returning can also start their businesses or register to have them assigned to companies to work. This allows an organised body to regulate activities involved in both leaving and returning to the country.
The crux of the meeting was the field trip to the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) where we were enlightened on the bank’s initiatives to better living conditions in sub Saharan Africa. Different departments took turns to talk to us on the bank’s jobs for youth initiative, where the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Lab present in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria, brings all actors in the entrepreneurship ecosystem in one place.
The AfDB group also presented on their five (5) strategies for transforming Africa. They include :
- Light up and Power Africa
- Industrializing Africa
- Feeding Africa
- Integrate Africa
- Improving Living Conditions
In conclusion, what we can do as social media players, Information Technology experts and content creators is to use social media to not only portray the western world as the only lands where prosperity is assured, but to use this tool to propagate developmental initiatives in our home countries, report on the dangers involved in irregular migration and use our platforms as conduits for connecting those who have left to those who are home and to facilitate discussions that can lead to more investments by migrants in their home countries. Our platforms can also start campaigns that prompt governments to consider policies that take the total well-being of migrants into account.
Data Entry Person, Ghana Community Network Services Limited and Team Lead for Community Engagement, Hacklab Ghana