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Changing Mobility Patterns and Livelihood Dynamics in Africa: the Case of Transnational Ghanaian Traders

Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana

This study explored the evolution of migratory patterns shaped by trading practices, including regional movements in local markets and emerging links to new destinations such as China and other areas of the Middle and Far East. It also aimed to ascertain the role of transnationalism in the livelihoods of these traders.

The study was conducted in selected markets and shops in Accra and Kumasi. The researchers focussed on the impacts of shifts in the global political economy that have led to a rising mobility of traders from Ghana to the Far and Middle East.

The research shed light on aspects of historical continuity and discontinuity in terms of the links between trade, mobility, and migration in Ghana, which has a long and significant history of long-distance trading. The study also improved understanding of how the short term moves of traders can lead to more permanent migration and also to immobility.

Overview of migration in Ghana

Ghana has played a central role in the development of the current West African migration system. The steady movement of population from the interior of the region towards the coasts recorded in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was dramatically accelerated by colonial demands for labour in the plantations and gold mines of coastal Ghana, especially from Burkina Faso, with whole villages moving to Ghana. For many years, until the late 1960s, Ghana was the leading destination for migrants in the region.

Increasing repression following the 1966 coup, a declining economy and rising unemployment saw Ghana become a country of net out-migration for the first time. Rising xenophobia led to mass expulsion of, predominantly Nigerian, emigrants in 1969. Between 1974 and 1981, an estimated two million Ghanaian workers left Ghana, primarily for Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire.

Faced with a declining economy, Nigeria expelled undocumented migrants in 1985 forcing about 1 million Ghanaians to leave. The blocking of this neighbouring migration destination encouraged skilled and low skilled Ghanaians to expand their horizons to migrate to other parts of Africa. This trend was exacerbated in the 1990s by the descent into war in Côte d’Ivoire, by then West Africa’s only remaining labour migration pole. The crisis of the late 1960s also signalled the start of the large-scale migration of often high skilled Ghanaians out of Africa to Europe and North America, which was accelerated by the expulsion of migrants from Nigeria.