Tour d’Horizon

If watching Madagascar the movie was a part of your childhood or any part of your life afterwards, then you probably chuckled as you read the title. For those of you reading who may not have watched the movie, it’s about a group of animals (a lion, a zebra, a giraffe, and a hippo) who were the main attraction in New York’s Central Park Zoo and lived a relatively simple and pleasant life. As the plot advanced, the zebra, whose name was Marty, let his curiosity get the better of him as he escaped the zoo to explore the world. Though it seems like a perfect option for an animation movie to play for a six-year old’s birthday party, an interesting idea regarding migration is surfaced. You see, Marty decided to leave his home (and his friends go with him eventually) for the sake of experiencing what might be a better, more natural, and more fulfilling life. Isn’t that the heart of why anyone moves at all?

What do these keywords mean?

Urbanization is simply the increase in people living in towns and cities. “More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Due to the ongoing urbanisation and growth of the world’s population, there will be about 2.5 billion more people added to the urban population by 2050, mainly in Africa and Asia” (OpenLearn Create, 2021).

Accordingo the Oxford English Dictionary, transportation is “the action of transporting someone or something or the process of being transported; a system or means of transporting people or goods.” To explain that without using any variation of the word “transport”, it means moving from one place to another.

Population is the number of people living within a specific geographical area. To take on a global context, “the world’s urban areas are highly varied, but many cities and towns are facing problems such as a lack of jobs, homelessness and expanding squatter settlements, inadequate services and infrastructure, poor health and educational services and high levels of pollution” (OpenLearn Create, 2021). More on that later. 

At this point, you may be wondering why all the definitions of these terms. It’s because they are all connected! Urbanization directly affects the population of both rural and urban areas, and the method of moving about is transportation. Therefore, if these three phenomena are intertwined, could there be a way of enhancing one to improve the others? Would such an idea feed into economic benefits if driven to a national or continental scale?

Moving into Migration

Admittedly, it would be difficult to speak about urbanization without mentioning migration. Indeed, urbanization can often be considered a type of migration (rural-urban migration). Human migration can be explained as “the permanent change of residence by an individual or group” (Britannica, 2021). People move for many reasons – economic, socio-political, religious, ecological and so on. These can be broken down into two categories – push and pull factors. As their titles suggest, push factors are reasons for leaving a place; they contribute to why one would want to move away. Pull factors are points of attraction, elements that may attract an individual (or individuals) to live in a particular place. Take our beloved zebra, for example; Marty experienced push factors at the zoo: monotony, simplicity, even comfort! These things made him want to leave. The pull factors of “the wild”, where he wanted to go, were uncertainty, danger, nature, freedom (because in the zoo, they were in cages).

How they all work together!

I am reminded of instances in history and modern times where movement, transport, and population were manipulated to arrive at an expected end. From some time in the 21st century, Canada, an underpopulated country, began making it easier for people to live therein. “It needs more people. There simply are not enough people to take advantage of the opportunities. There were 506,000 job vacancies in the first quarter of 2019, according to Statistics Canada. This is an increase of 44,000, or nearly 10 per cent, over the same quarter in 2018” (Gill, 2019).  By recognizing the state of their population, they made immigration (albeit for certain nationalities) more effortless, and transportation enabled that movement.

During the slave trade era, millions of Africans were forcefully migrated to South America, North America, and Europe for economic benefits harvestable by the lords of those territories. 

Fascinatingly, while an estimated 10.7 million slaves were involuntarily taken out of Africa during the over three centuries of the transatlantic slave-trade, about 15 million Nigerians have deliberately chosen to leave the country for ‘greener pastures’ and more favourable conditions (like the US, UK, Malaysia, Russia, etc.) since ‘independence’ in 1960 (NewAfrica, 2019).

That says a lot. By the imperialists’ aggressive meddling in migration, altering population, and setting up the stage for transportation (horrendous ships), the story of the African continent was changed forever.

As natural disasters continue to sweep away parts of Mozambique, as wars waged in Liberia and Sierra Leone decades ago, as persecution in North Africa and the Middle East persisted, people moved, and we’ve seen how these factors come in to play.

The Impact of Migration

It’s one thing to know that people migrate and that there are reasons behind it, but it’s something else to understand what happens to the places they move to. “Cities have been destinations for most of the world’s migrants, given their degree of economic activity, their cultural and intellectual expression, and their development. Taking stock of migration’s impact, its opportunities and challenges is crucial, as well as the connection it has with a city’s economy and urban development” (World Economic Forum, 2017). 

In 2015, migrants contributed $6.4 trillion-6.9 trillion (9.4%) of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) (McKinsey Global Institute, 2016). Migrants’ ambition and accompanying enthusiasm to improve their livelihood are two of their key characteristics. Cities offer more opportunities and better income, close the skill gaps, and in some cases, provide an alternative to cheap labour (World Economic Forum, 2017).

On the other hand, this may make urban dwellings highly competitive zones where some individuals or groups of people are left unable to thrive financially or engage economically, which could lead to more migration…

Socially, “migrants usually find other members of their family and their ethnic or cultural group in cities because chain migration is generally an urban affair. The tendency to live among one’s group is pronounced and responsible for establishing enclaves within cities” (World Economic Forum, 2017). While it is beneficial to have support from one’s kin, pockets of migrants, perhaps split into culturally diverse peoples, could also lead to clashes within cities and nations. When a melange of race, religion, language, culture, even age, are sewn into the social fabric, things tend to become tense, and that tension could be released in a very counterproductive way, which could lead to more migration…

Undoubtedly, urban infrastructure is affected by such movements, both in the place of departure and arrival, as demand and supply dance along the axes. In the destination, more pressure is put on power generation, roads, hospitals, transport, employment, etc., and it takes an attentive government to mitigate the rising challenges. 

One of the biggest challenges cities face is providing adequate and affordable housing to migrants, which is often in limited supply […] In some Sub-Saharan African cities, housing shortages have caused the price of housing units to increase drastically. A lack of affordable housing has led to people living in slums or squatting (World Economic Forum, 2017).

Evidently, migration affects not only infrastructure (like transport) or simply the number of people living in a place (population and its density), but it ripples out into all other facets of a nation’s wellbeing, playing a vital role in its growth or demise. 

So, to complete the earlier question, could we devise a plan to alter either transportation, population, and urbanization/migration (knowing they not only affect each other) to influence economic development across our continent?

Food for Thought

Migration-wise, ought we to recall our brothers and sisters from the diaspora to reverse the effects of brain drain and develop our communities? Is it that simple? From the lens of population, should we employ one-child policies as China did? Would fewer people mean more wealth? Or do we design new methods of transportation? If people move to wherever they move to for the sake of improving their lives, should we make that process easier with bullet trains, continental airlines, or roads networking the whole continent? Let me know in the comments below! My guess is that the most ideal tactic would employ bits and pieces of each process. 

But remember, the next time you think about moving to a new country, or the next time you watch Madagascar, that the dynamic relationship between urbanization, transportation, and population is a cycle we all tie into. The link, on a more socio-economic scale, could be the discovery that overshoots the detrimental effects of an infelicitous past and sets us into a future of prosperity or progress.