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The Political Economy of West African Migration Governance (WAMiG)

The unprecedented influx of refugees and other migrants to Europe in 2015 also led to a renewed push towards a common EU African agenda of dealing with the challenges of migration. Numerous meetings, events and summits have been (at least partly) dedicated for this purpose, including the Valetta summit in 2015, the G20 summit in Hamburg in 2017 and the EU-Africa Summit in Abidjan in November 2017. Numerous bilateral, regional and continental Afro-European frameworks and policies pre-date and accompany these political gatherings. Yet, the current approach – including through the EU partnership framework – is not working. The annual 2018 MEDAM assessment report argues that EU countries should engage more actively with African countries, in this case in order to increase legal labour opportunities in return for cooperation on re-admission.

Such active engagement between African and European countries is still lacking. On the one hand, critics highlight the tendency for migration cooperation to favour European interests rather than those of their African counterparts, incoherence in EU policy-making and the exclusionary nature of many of the summits and events. On the other hand, African governments have been criticised for their lack of engagement in migration governance. One major problem is how little is known about interests, stakes and stakeholders when it comes to governing migration, including emigration (both regular and irregular), immigration and dealing with displaced persons. The Political Economy of West African Migration Governance project endeavours to highlight the political dimension of migration governance (i.e. what are the real [sometimes hidden] interests and power asymmetries) and the multiple stakeholders (including civil society and sub-national ones).

To do this the project considers how migration governance instruments and institutions are made and implemented, the stakes and stakeholders involved or excluded and the societal discourse that surrounds these interests. The qualitative study focuses on four case studies - the Gambia, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal – and is based on fieldwork including semi-structured interviews in the respective countries.

The project is participatory by design and a dissemination event series took place in order to discuss and debate our findings with local experts in Abuja, Banjul, Dakar and Niamey. In addition there was a stakeholder workshop to discuss our findings comparatively with scholars and civil society actors from all four WAMIG countries. This took place in Accra in cooperation with the Centre for Migration Studies.

Funded by the Stiftung Mercator, the Political Economy of West African Migration Governance project is undertaken within the framework of the Mercator Dialogue on Asylum and Migration (MEDAM). MEDAM is a three-year research and consultation project that identifies and closes gaps in existing research and develops specific recommendations for policy makers.

Description du projet en français

Peer-reviewed publications

Franzisca Zanker (2023) A typology of resistance: the ‘hot potato’ of European return in West Africa, Territory, Politics, Governance, online first: 27 April 2023.

Franzisca Zanker  and Judith Altrogge (2022) Protective exclusion as a postcolonial strategy: Rethinking deportations and sovereignty in the Gambia, Security Dialogue, 53 (5), pp 475- 493 (with Judith Altrogge).

Arhin-Sam, Kwaku; Bisong, Amanda; Jegen, Leonie; Mounkaila, Harouna and Franzisca Zanker (2022) The (in)formality of mobility in the ECOWAS region: The paradoxes of free movement, South African Journal of International Affairs, 29 (2), pp. 187-205

2020 MEDAM Assessment Report on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe

Leonie Jegen and Franzisca Zanker (2020) Chapter 4: The political economy of migration governance in West Africa, 2020 MEDAM Assessment Report 

Country Reports

Leonie Jegen (2020) The Political Economy of Migration Governance in Senegal (résumé en français)

Leonie Jegen (2020) The Political Economy of Migration Governance in Niger

Kwaku Arhin-Sam (2019) The Political Economy of Migration Governance in Nigeria

Judith Altrogge and Franzisca Zanker (2019) The Political Economy of Migration Governance in the Gambia

Policy Briefs

Franzisca Zanker, Amanda Bisong, Kwaku Arhin-Sam and Leonie Jegen (2020): Free movement in West Africa: Juxtapositions and Divergent Interests, MEDAM Policy Brief 2020/1 (en francais)

Franzisca Zanker, Judith Altrogge, Kwaku Arhin-Sam, and Leonie Jegen (2019): Challenges in EU-African Migration Cooperation: West African Perspectives on Forced Return; MEDAM Policy Brief 2019/5 (en francais)

Kwaku Arhin-Sam and Franzisca Zanker (2019) Nigeria at a crossroads: The political stakes of migration governance, MEDAM Policy Brief 2019/4

Leonie Jegen and Franzisca Zanker (2019) European dominance of migration policy in Niger: On a fait les filles avant la mère, MEDAM Policy Brief 2019/3 (en francais)


Franzisca Zanker (2023) African migration to Europe: Forced returns run into resistance The Conversation, 29 May

Franzisca Zanker, Amanda Bisong and Leonie Jegen (2022) Free Movement in West Africa: The culture of mobility still matters despite challenges. The Conversation, 29 August

Judith Altrogge and Franzisca Zanker (2019) Why return from Europe is causing problems for The Gambia, The Conversation, 18th November

Leonie Jegen and Franzisca Zanker (2019) Spirited away: The fading importance of resettlement in the emergency transit mechanism in Rwanda, ECPDM Guest Blog, 28th October

Leonie Jegen and Franzisca Zanker (2019) Op-ed: Libya: Humanitarian Solutions Won’t Solve Political Problems, European Council on Refugees and Exile (ECRE), 20th September.


Funding Period: February – December 2019

For more information please contact Franzisca Zanker


Press Release from the 1st July 2020


External project staff:
Abbassi, Nermin
Duration of the project:
February - December 2019
Research cluster: