Africa’s ‘Scramble for Europe’

March 28, 2018

by Angela Griffe

As part of the Wednesday at the Center series, the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies and the Duke Africa Initiative welcomed Dr. Stephen Smith to speak about Africa’s changing “human geography.”

Smith addressed a packed room on how shifting African migration patterns are changing the European continent demographics. Comparing the colonial “scramble for Africa” to Africa’s current migration flows towards Europe, Smith asserts that Africa’s growing young middle-class will immigrate to Europe looking for economic prosperity.

Since the 1930s, Africa has seen the most significant population growth, the fastest urban growth, and the largest concentration of young people. As the population booms and young people migrate, Africa is seeing mass “rural exodus and urban drift.” Smith explained there is a “quest for modernity,” with young people, especially women, running away from oppressive social structures and seeking a better life.

Smith argues that there are three factors in African migration to Europe: global awareness, a preexisting diasporic community, and monetary resources. With many vibrant communities of Afro-Europeans already present, and a growing young middle class attuned to Western popular culture, the setting is ripe for mass migration.

By 2050, Smith estimates there will be 5 young Afro-Europeans (two of whom under the age of 15) to every aging European. Analyzing this migration pattern cannot be decided in a “void,” for borders are “spaces of negotiation.” Smith concluded that in the age of globalization and shifting demographics, there are winners and losers; but, “we will all be losers if the winners do not take care of the losers.”

Stephen W. Smith teaches African Studies at Duke University. Until 2013, Smith also held an adjunct lecturer position at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC. Smith holds a Ph.D. in semiotics from Berlin’s Free University and is a graduate of the Anthropology department at the Sorbonne (Panthéon) in Paris.