Intraregional migration of cross-border workers, unskilled and temporary contract workers, undocumented migrants, highly skilled professionals, and refugees characterize the migration landscape in Africa and is reflected in distinctive and changing configurations in the different subregions: labor migration in the west and central areas, movement of refugees in the eastern and southern areas, and migration of skilled professionals from west and east to southern Africa. Migrants and refugees in Africa share a number of common features: both are caused in large part by a set of interrelated factors—conflicts, underdevelopment, poor governance, and economic and social deprivation—and movements are confined largely to the continent. Youth unemployment, a major trigger for irregular migration, together with emigration of skilled professionals, pose serious challenges for many countries; remittances from the diaspora, though a lifeline for poor families left behind, do not compensate for the loss of skills. The refugee situation is highly dynamic and fluid. The sheer numbers of refugees in Africa, their composition, and the challenges they face and the limited success obtained thus far in the search for a permanent solution require sustained efforts in what is regarded an African problem requiring essentially an African solution.
The question of membership and belonging is widely recognized to have been at the root of many political crises in Africa since independence. The legal frameworks for citizenship were largely inherited from the colonial powers and still show strong affinities across colonial legal traditions. However, most African states have enacted significant amendments to citizenship laws since independence, as they have grappled with issues of membership, aiming to include or exclude certain groups. Substantive provisions have diverged significantly in several countries from the original template. African states have shared global trends toward gender equality and acceptance of dual citizenship. In relation to acquisition of citizenship based on birth in the territory (jus soli) or based on descent (jus sanguinis), there has been less convergence. In all countries, naturalization is inaccessible to all but a few. Manipulation of citizenship law for political purposes has been common, as political opponents have at times been accused of being non-citizens as a way of excluding them from office, or groups of people have been denied recognition of citizenship as a means of disenfranchisement. Moreover, even in states where a substantial proportion of residents lack identity documents, it seems that the rules on citizenship established by law have themselves had an impact on political developments. The citizenship status of many thousands of people living in different countries across Africa remains unclear, in a context where many citizens and non-citizens lack any identity documentation that records their citizenship. The content of the law is arguably therefore less influential than in some other regions. A rapid development in identification systems and the increasing requirement to show identity documents to access services, however, is likely to increase the importance of citizenship law. In response to these challenges, the African continental institutions have developed, through standard setting and in decisions on individual cases, a continental normative framework that both borrows from and leads international law in the same field.