On Women, Water, and Migration in Africa

Paper presented for the Panel on Women, Water and Migration in Africa: The Case of Ghana, Zimbabwe, Guinee and Chad--a Side Event at the 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, sponsored by The Drammeh Institute Tchad Agir Pour l’Environnement.

777 UN Plaza, Saturday, March 03, 2012, 10:30am to 12 pm

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome
Professor of Political Science
Brooklyn College, City University of New York

Since we are African, and our philosophies of life demonstrate an engagement with the issues that we face in our daily lives, it is appropriate to begin with African aphorisms.  Unfortunately, I only speak Yorùbá, so, I will use some proverbs from my mother tongue that are relevant to our subject matter today.  

  • Omi l’ènìyàn: People are water—they flow
  • Eni bá da’mi síwájú, á te’lè tútù—whoever throws water forward will walk on wet ground—if you do good, you will reap the rewards.

It is also important to pay attention to African popular culture and what it has contributed to our knowledge base.  Fela has become newly popular worldwide after the launching of the Broadway show titled Fela!  Not having to explain who Fela is makes it possible to move directly to the song that he performed while alive that speaks to our subject today.  Fela sang in Yoruba and pidgin English, making his music accessible to the Nigerian masses.

Omi o l’ota o! Water, e no get enemy! –Fela

T'o ba fe lo we omi l'o ma'loIf you want to go wash, na water you go use
T'o ba fe se'be omi l'o ma'lo
If you want cook soup, na water you go use
T'o ri ba n'gbona o omi l'ero re
If your head dey hot, na water go cool am
T'omo ba n'dagba omi l'o ma'lo
If your child dey grow, na water he go use
If water kill your child, na water you go use
T'omi ba p'omo e o omi na lo ma'lo
Ko s'ohun to'le se k'o ma lo'mi o
Nothing without water
Ko s'ohun to'le se k'o ma lo'mi o
Omi o l'ota o
Water, him no get enemy
Omi o l'ota o
If you fight am, unless you want die
I say water no get enemy
If you fight am, unless you want die
Omi o l'ota o
I dey talk of Black man power
I dey talk of Black power, I say
I say water no get enemy
If you fight am, unless you want die
I say water no get enemy
I say water no get enemy
Omi o l'ota o
Omi o l'ota o

Water is vital to life.  The first proverb, Omi l’ènìyàn: People are water—they flow, shows us that the Yorùbá get it.  Although they did not know western science when this saying came about, they knew then, and know now that we human beings are water.  Western science confirms it by telling us that we are mostly water.  But the Yorùbá also mean something else—that we human beings flow like water.  We do this when we move from one place to another, we do this when we develop relationships, we do this when we help one another, we do this when we just are.  Then, evoking the second proverb, that Eni bá da’mi síwájú, á te’lè tútù —whoever throws water forward will walk on wet ground—if you do good, you will reap the rewards,  also evokes the values that Yorùbá hold dear, their ideals doing good, and the notion that what goes around essentially comes around.  And then, Fela, when he said: Omi o l’ota o! Water, e no get enemy!  He meant to tell us that water is such a necessity that no one can possibly hate it.  One could also interpret the Fela lyrics as meaning that water is an inevitable part of life.  We cannot do without it.  Until humanity decides to consciously change things, women worldwide are primarily responsible for ensuring that family well being is served.  In Africa, a lot of the work that it takes to nurture families devolves on women.  finding water, fetching it, using it and making sure that there is enough for the needs of the family are all tasks that women take on, mostly assisted by the children in their families and communities. 

UN estimates tell us that by 2000, there were 16 million international migrants out of the continent’s 796 million population, an increase from 9.4 million out of  277 million in 1960.  These are population movements within the African continent.  According to Hania Zlotnik of the UN DESA, Population Division, In comparison to the other major areas of the developing world, Africa has had more than double the number of international migrants than Latin America and the Caribbean since 1980 and about one-half to one-third of the number in Asia. However, the share of Africa in terms of the worldwide number of international migrants has been decreasing steadily since 1980, passing from 14 percent to an estimated 11 percent in 1990 to an estimated nine percent in 2000. That is, neither the absolute number of international migrants in Africa nor Africa's share of the world migrant stock has been increasing markedly during the past 20 years, and even over a 40-year horizon the changes in the migrant stock of Africa seem modest, particularly when compared with the near tripling of Africa's population during the same period.

It seems to be good news that after 1980 there has been a consistent decrease in the number of international migrants as a share of the population in the continent.   But the news seems less palatable when African statistics are compared with those in other world regions.   From 1960 to1980, over three percent of Africa's population were international migrants, and by 2000 the figure had declined to two percent.  Asia in 1960, had less two percent of its total population as international migrants, a figure that declined to approximately one percent in 2000.  Latin America and the Caribbean had less than three percent of the total population as international migrants in 1960 and saw declines to one percent in 2000 (Zlotnik, 2004).  At the dawn of the era of decolonization in 1960, Africa was 3.4 percent of its population as international migrants while Europe had 2.8 percent.   By 2000, Europe had 7.7 percent of its population as international migrants compared with Africa’s 2 percent (Zlotnik, 2004).  West Africa had the largest share of  international migrants in Africa by 2000: 42 percent, as compared with 28 percent in East Africa; 12 percent in North Africa; and nine percent in Central and Southern Africa respectively (Zlotnik, 2004).

As an earlier piece written with a colleague says, "Human migration is as old as life itself."  Scholars have confirmed this, providing evidence that the very first human migrations occurred in the African continent, about 80,000 years ago, when human-like beings moved from Africa to colonize other parts of the world ((Okome and Ngo Ngijol Banoum, 2002. Also see Gugliotta, 2008). Humans move around for many reasons, and economic crisis, driving the need to attain a better life is one reason why people move.  Some such migration is caused by a lack of economic opportunities, some by environmental degradation, and climate change some by food insecurity, some by the need to find a safe haven from war, persecution and crisis (UNECA, 2010, p. 1). 

Although today the causal effects of the forces of globalization in moving people from less to more affluent regions of countries, and the world, are more glaring, such processes have been with us for a very long time.  In testament to the long-standing nature of migration as a human phenomenon, we can find many illustrative examples in the African continent, where there were many great migrations that occurred in the peopling of the continent, many wars of conquest waged by expansionist states, forcing those determined to escape the crises that they set in motion to flee in search of refuge.  There was also the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, there was the trade in slaves that went via the Indian Ocean, the one that went through the Sahara.  Some scholars call these forced migrations.  I don’t like using this phrase to describe the enslavement of people and their removal from their homes, loved ones, even continent, to feed the maw of commerce.  Men, women, and children were enslaved.  This paper will not focus on the slavery imposed movement of African peoples.   However, contemporary Diasporization in the continent can be included among the cases the paper focuses upon.  Among such Diasporization, are migrations caused by prolonged economic crisis, drought, desertification and the environmental degradation caused by these and other sources.  

According to experts like Aderanti Adepoju, increasingly, African migration is feminized.  Zlotnik (2004) agrees.  While in the past, men moved first and their spouses followed, today, women are not only moving, many are leaving husbands and children at home and becoming the primary breadwinners for their families (2004).  Zlotnik presents data that indicate that while female international migration within the African continent was lower than in other world regions in 1960, by 2000, it constituted about 46.7% of the 16 million migrants in the continent, a figure that easily outpaced Asia’s 46% and Latin America and the Caribbean’s 45%.  Other regions of the world had over 50% female migration.   Zlotnik also contends that statistics demonstrate that the increases in female migration in the African continent are rapidly outpacing those in other parts of the world (2004).

There are regional differences, with Southern Africa having the lowest percentages of international migrants (30% in 1960, and 42% in 2000), and West Africa the highest (41-42% in 1960, and 48% in 2000), North Africa by comparison experienced a decline from 49.5% in 1960 to approximately 43% in 2000 (Zlotnik). 

There is a way in which the operation of the capitalist economy also compels rural-urban migration such that those left behind in rural communities are predominantly women, children and the elderly, sick, disabled, and those unable or unwilling to do the available jobs.  While such migrations can be found throughout the African continent, Southern Africa stands as a significant example of this phenomenon both historically and contemporarily.  The mining and industrial sectors are particularly implicated in this phenomenon that has customarily used the rural areas of Southern Africa as labor reserves for the mines and industries in South Africa (Collinson, Tollman, Kahn & Clark, 2003, 1).  Other demands for labor come from the agricultural sector, and even house hold economy.  Due to deliberate state policy under the Apartheid system, Black African populations have historically been pushed to the most marginal lands.  The result is intractable unemployment (1) as well as the extreme impoverishment of the heavily populated rural areas that become virtually denuded of men for given periods of the year, due to circular migration (3).

As a result of the villagization policies that were an integral part of the process of creating homelands, the problem of insufficient land became pervasive, and a great deal of pressure is put on the land that results in its decreased fertility and productivity.  The economy actually becomes transformed from an agrarian one to one based on capitalist production, but only some of the labor was recruited, and only for specified periods of the year that were documented in contracts and supported by pass laws.  In some situations such as in Agincourt sub-district, on the border of Mozambique for example, due to the insufficiency of the land for subsistence production that would adequately feed a family, the problems are compounded by food insecurity (3), lack of potable water, and by increased burdens on women and young children who must expend more energy to locate and fetch water for their communities.  They do so by transporting 25 gallon drums of water in wheelbarrows, or carrying containers of water on their heads (3).  Where water is more readily available, there’s the problem of purification when there is no access to potable water.  Again, such tasks fall primarily or in many cases, exclusively on women and girls who are being groomed to take their positions as providers of free, unremunerated labor in their families. 

High levels of infant mortality due to diarrhea and kwashiorkor, and increased prevalence of HIV-AIDS, and higher adult mortality due also to the HIV-AIDS pandemic, congestive heart failure and strokes cause most of the deaths in the sub-district.  That a lot of deaths are caused by diarrhea means that water-borne ailments are very serious public health issues in this community.  Unfortunately, the same obtains in many parts of Africa where access to potable water remains a challenge.  Although it is conventional to focus on these issues as primarily affecting rural populations, they are also thus far, intractable problems for poor urban communities in many of Africa’s overcrowded cities. If migration is also thought of as rural-urban movement, the move from rural to urban locations should also be seen as putting pressures on inadequate infrastructure, including water supply.  Let me repeat myself:  due to the gendering of society in such a manner that domestic work and the work of raising children as well as caring for the sick devolves on women, the burden and challenges of access to water, the work of purifying the water and stretching sometimes meager family resources to purchase water, falls heavily on women.  
Africa also has a great deal of refugees.  This contributes substantially to the increases in its stock of international migrants.  The numbers of refugees in the continent escalated progressively from 79,000 in 1960 to 6.4 million in 1995.  The successes in conflict resolution in the 1990s in some long term wars, contributed to significant refugee repatriations, and lower numbers.  Many African countries are also increasingly reluctant to welcome refugees and refuse to grant them asylum and refugee status, causing further diminution in the numbers of people officially designated as refugees.  According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), African countries reported that they had 3.6 million refugees in 2000, showing a 44 percent reduction from 1995 (Zlotnik, 2004).

But such reduction should not necessarily be celebrated.  Compared with the world statistics on refugees, Africa still has very high percentages.  Since 1970, refugees in Africa have constituted a substantial proportion of the world's refugees.  During the heydays of decolonization, the 1960s, approximately one in every six refugees in the world was African.  An increase was experienced to two out of every five by 1970,  three out of every five in 1975,  and a full third of all refugees in the world  from 1985.  Only Asia has higher figures than Africa in this regard (Zlotnik, 2004).
Central Africa had the largest percentage of asylees from 1960-1975, East Africa followed.  But with approximately half of all refugees in the continent, East Africa had the biggest percentage by 1980, and from 1980-1990, there was a decline, settling at 46 percent of the continent’s refugees in the region, by 2000. From 1980, Central and Northern Africa (including the Sudan), also had significant refugee populations, each with about one out of every seven refugees in the continent by 2000.  Southern Africa stands in stark contrast.  It has the smallest numbers of refugees in Africa.  By 2000, it had about one in every 100 refugees in Africa.  West Africa on the other hand, had the highest percentages both in the 1970s and the 1990s, and from 1995-2000, had more than 20 percent of all refugees in the continent (Zlotnik, 2004).  

The challenge is somewhat formidable.  While

In 1960, only one percent of all international migrants in Africa were refugees. By 1970, that proportion had risen to 10 percent and in 1980 it had reached 25 percent. The number of refugees as a percentage of the international migrant stock increased further to 33 percent in 1990 and is likely to have kept on rising until 1995 before declining to 22 percent in 2000 (Zlotnik, 2004).

Just a handful of countries contribute massively to the numbers of asylees,  While the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) hosted 95 percent of the 79,000 refugees in Africa, this increased to cover eight countries by 1970,  11 by 1980, 15 by 1990, and 18 by 2000.  These are mostly least-developed countries according to the United Nations, they have significant problems with being able to afford to support great populations of refugees (Zlotnik, 2004).
Even outside the I think misguided intent of calling Trans-Atlantic Trade and other instances of slavery “forced migration”, in contemporary times, forced migration has contributed massively to international migration in Africa.  In 1990 refugees were 54 percent of the migrants in East Africa; 36 percent in 2000;  31 percent in 1990 and 36 percent in 2000 in Central Africa; 46 percent in 1990 and 30 percent in 2000 in North Africa (10 percent of all international migrants during the 1990s in West Africa; and two to three percent in the 1990s in Southern Africa (Zlotnik, 2004).

Luckily, international migration in Africa is not predominantly by people seeking refuge from wars, conflicts, environmental catastrophe, and other kinds of catastrophic stimuli, but the number refugees of in East, Central, and North Africa, since 1980 there have been increasing numbers of refugees among international migrants.  At the moment, approximately 30 percent of international migrants are refugees. “During the 1990s, between one in three and one in five international migrants in Africa was a refugee” (Zlotnik, 2004).

We can capture the essence of our discussions this morning as involving what scholars have couched as involving “the impact of climate change on development and human welfare, particularly in developing countries.”  All of us are aware that we have had, sudden, inexplicable severe weather and wild swings that experts attribute to climate change.  Many ordinary and even important people have been affected.  Their way of life, survival and livelihood are at stake.  Many have found no other option but to move from long-term communities to strange and sometimes inhospitable locales.  The “extreme weather events” causing such dislocations include “storms, floods, and hurricanes”, that according to the UNECA, “have doubled from 200 to 400 during the past 20 years. In 2008 alone, these events have led to the displacement of 20 million people worldwide” (2010, p. 1).

There are also “gradual environmental changes, such as drought and desertification, which are especially prevalent in Africa”, and although the scarcity of water causes problems for some, an overabundance of water causes problems for others, a case that brings to mind the rime of the ancient mariner: “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink”.  According to the UNECA, “rising sea levels, are expected to have even more devastating impacts on the livelihood and movement of people, both within countries and across international borders and continents” (2010, p. 1).  It is estimated climate related disruptions can displace up to 200 million people by 2050, and there are “projections that …worldwide migration will double in the next 40 years,” to approximately 405 million people (International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2009).

The climate change signified by global warming is expected to affect Africa in a significant manner.  Meteorological records indicate that the continent had already experienced approximately 0.7 degrees centigrade warming in the 20th century, and that the trend will continue.  In addition, sea levels are expected to rise, and the frequency of extreme weather events will increase, rainfall will decrease in the Sahel, and increase in East and Central Africa, more droughts will occur in  Southern Africa and West Africa, complicated by desertification in the latter.  In North Africa, the Nile Delta and the Mediterranean coast will experience rising sea levels (UNECA, 2010, p. 1).
Nomadic populations have suffered gravely from the deleterious effects of climate change due to “the prolonged drying trends since the 1970s”, which caused deaths of people and livestock.  There are also more tensions due to competition for scarce grazing land, and decreased availability of water.  Most importantly, social systems are changing, compelled by human responses to environmental  pressures (UNECA, 2010, p. 1).

Although I have taken up quite enough time, I haven’t even scratched the surface.  I want to take the end of my presentation as the beginning: A call that echoes the UNECA in asking that consider that these questions, embedded as they are in the climate-migration nexus have significant implications for: 

·         Human vulnerabilities.  Migration can then be seen as an adaptive mechanism that tires to cope with the risk of displacement, with considerable threat to life and livelihood
·         Socioeconomic structures including

o   How gender is affected by migration climate nexus
o   What community resources exist to enable people to cope with change?
o   What are the effects of preexisting migration patterns on gender relations?
o   What is the impact of climate change on population movements?

·         Necessary policy changes, multilateral agreements to seek sustainable methods to provide infrastructure, finance, and support for ordinary people to access the resources they need to live their lives with dignity, and in states of well-being  (UNECA, 2010, p. 3).

Adepoju, “Aderanti Changing Configurations of Migration in Africa”, Migration Information Source, 2004.  Accessed March 3, 2012. http://www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?ID=251

Anikulapo-Kuti, Fela Water No Get Enemy lyrics Accessed March 3, 2012 http://www.lyricsoncall.com/lyrics/fela-kuti/water-no-get-enemy-lyrics.html

Collinson, Mark, Stephen Tollman, Kathleen Kahn, and Samuel Clark, “Highly prevalent circular migration: Households, mobility and economic status in rural South Africa” Paper prepared for Conference on African Migration in Comparative Perspective, Johannesburg, South Africa, 4-7 June, 2003.  Accessed February 29, 2012. http://pum.princeton.edu/pumconference/papers/3-Collinson.pdf

Gugliotta, Guy The Great Human Migration: Why humans left their African homeland 80,000 years ago to colonize the world Smithsonian magazine, July 2008, Accessed March 3, 2012 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/human-migration.html#ixzz1o3guWnQ4

Okome, Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké and Bertrade Ngo Ngijol-Banoum "Ìrìnkèrindò: An Idea Whose Time Has Come."  Issue 1 - September 2002 (Inaugural Issue). Accessed March 3, 2012.  http://www.africamigration.com/

UNECA, “International Migration and Development in Africa: The Migration and Climate Nexus,” 2010 Accessed February 29, 2012. http://www.uneca.org/acgd/Publications/Migration%20Report%202010.pdf

Zlotnik, Hania "International Migration in Africa: An Analysis Based on Estimates of the Migrant Stock", Migration Information Source, September 2004.  Accessed March 3, 2012 http://www.migrationinformation.org/USfocus/display.cfm?ID=252

Madame Adjidjatou Barry Baud of GuineeActu.com kindly taped and sent the video of the presentation as well as some photos to me.  Please click on the following links:
Forum international sur l'eau, les femmes et la migration

Album photos de la 56e commission du statut de la femme, du 27.02 au 09.03 2012 "CSW" http://guineeactu.info/galerie-videos/gallery.html?videoid=V9d_wNbQNbI


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