Should I stay or should I go? Thoughts on the realities of global migration

We never considered AfricaWorks to be a political company. In order to bring Africa and Europe closer together, we foster collaboration through recruiting and employability coachings, based on the idea that the magic happens at the workplace where we spend most of our time. We bring people to Africa and we bring Africans to Europe. Sometimes things are just simple.

And sometimes they are not. We are aware of living in political times and, in fact, operating in politically relevant fields. Global labor and freedom of movement, development and migration are features we constantly deal with.

Working in recruiting, coaching and HR in an intercontinental context means getting to know the various African and European ecosystems and – more importantly – stories of your candidates. There are hardly any interviews, workshops or placements that have not been personal, even emotional. Everyone has a story to tell, comes from a place and wants to go places. It is what makes our job so fulfilling.

The issue of staying or leaving is a constant companion in our work

One workshop participant recently told us how she fled her country after having been persecuted. Only through coincidences did she manage to enroll in a German university. Another candidate had done his PhD but does not want to go back due to lack of jobs in his area of expertise. He is happy to have a job in a (totally) different field in Germany so that he can support his family. Obviously, he misses them. Many struggle with visa issues or discrimination by local authorities – and some just want to go back because of the cold weather.

What remains is a very diverse picture of motives, motivations and biographies. They simply do not want to fit into an “either you are in or you are out”, “you either belong here or there”. Still, nationality, it seems, persists to be a major factor, if not the most important global factor that decides about success, wealth, access, opportunities, possibilities, belonging, happiness, even lives, and finally, your passport – a document issued based on something you did not have any influence on. Sometimes, that is really all that matters.

“Educated Africans should go back to help their countries” – and there are those who say “We need more immigration from outside Europe”

We were lucky to deepen the debate and our insights during a recent conference hosted by Brot für die Welt in Berlin on the Internationalization of German universities – Claims, Realities and Perspectives. What struck us was that the participants, who are or have been funded through scholarships, had launched a so-called Joint Declaration of Students from the Global South on Education for Sustainable Development. It is a clear “beyond the nation-state” document: “Students from the Global South contribute to the development of international economic relations, to the reduction of lack of skilled labor, to increasing diversity and innovation … demanding global freedom of education, stronger support in integration or reintegration, more transparency on job perspectives in Germany or at home.”

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
The Clash
Participants discussing the different interests of German ministries

Already in her keynote, BIGSAS (Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies) fellow Dr Délia Nicoué spoke about the neo-colonial aspects of international educational politics by manifesting power structures through the currently existing systems. She referred to the fact that extending access to education for students worldwide is not a means in itself. In fact, throughout the conference and the sessions we were able to lead, we discovered the contradiction even within the German government on how to deal with the phenomenon of migration. The Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development believes that educated Africans should return to their home countries, contributing to development on the ground through their above-average knowledge level, skill set and expertise. The Ministry of Economic Affairs, however, is pushing towards retaining qualified people – simply because Germany is aging. Still, their portal “Make it in Germany” does not draw a realistic picture of what must be expected upon arrival, especially when it comes to the level of German language skills. Well, and the Ministry of the Interior, that is entirely different story.

As honorable and rightful as the German government’s stand on welcoming, saving and accepting refugees may have been – German society has not yet come to terms with its own identity as a country of immigration. It is this lack of identity that turns the debate into a struggle. It did not take long for the students to see the paradox in all this, but they also agreed that even if you opt for both directions, why not do it right? If you want to go back why not provide for jobs? If you want to stay why not make that easier? It shows there has neither been a plan in place for more investment in (jobs in) Africa nor full-fledged immigration laws for them. It is an area in which programs, policies and laws feel so much out of synch with realities. Again, we never considered ourselves a political company. But some design flaws are just too obvious to ignore.

By Jörg Kleis

Back to