The Politics of Migration Governance in The Gambia

wall stating slogan #Gambia has decided

Our study on "The politics of migration governance" can be found here.


This project seeks to investigate in the politics of migration in The Gambia, where an unexpected regime change in January 2017 gives a new turn to many migration issues. It is the pilot of a larger study currently under development on the politics of migration governance in eight sub-Saharan countries. For more details, please contact the project staff.


Project Outline

For two decades, Yahya Jammeh ruled the tiny West African nation The Gambia with an ever tightening fist. Though not embroiled in war, the political repression worsened over the years, causing an increasing number of Gambians to flee. With a population of just under 2 million, Gambians were the fifth-highest arrivals in Italy in 2016, and so far in 2017, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration. Over 14,500 Gambian refugees live in Germany, over two thirds in one region, Baden-Württemberg. Gambians consistently make up one of the largest national groups amongst asylum seekers in this state. The majority fail in their claim to asylum, but many express utmost distress at the prospect of returning home.

In December 2016 however, opposition candidate Adama Barrow, a businessman with little political experience, won presidential elections, with 43.34% compared to the 39.6% of the incumbent. He inherited an impoverished country, endemic with corruption promising a range of democratic reforms. Now the question is whether the new democratic leadership which, inter alia, aims at empowering youth, increasing education standards and creating job opportunities will motivate Gambians from abroad to return and stop the current exodus of those leaving. In reality, migration patterns are complicated – if and when for example refugees will feel safe to return is an open empirical question. Moreover, The Gambia sets to gain from outward migration, with remittances making up over 22% of the country’s GDP in 2014, the second highest in Africa.

Acknowledging the political nature of migration, this project seeks to highlight the importance of agency in the governance of migration – both in terms of the politics of creating migration governance and the stakes involved. The project considers a number of questions on three levels:

1. The “making” of migration governance
- What is the perception of internal / external migration governance institutions?
- Is there political will to implement migration governance policies?

2. The stakes in migration governance
- What is the understanding of migration and where are the priorities?
- Are there any stakeholders and issues excluded from the governance framework?

3. The societal discourse regarding migration governance
- What is the societal perception regarding the different types of migration?
- What effects does this societal discourse have on the prioritisation and implementation of migration governance?


The project follows a holistic understanding of migration encompassing emigration (of skilled, unskilled migrants and refugees), immigration (primarily from neighbouring ECOWAS countries) as well as displaced people residing in the Gambia (primarily Casamance refugees from neighbouring Senegal).



The impetus in the international community is higher than ever to address the different facets of migration– exemplified not least by the UN compacts that are being developed since September 2016 on migration and refugees. Additionally, Africa is the focus of much of the political agenda of 2017, with Angela Merkel dedicating her G20 presidency to sustainable growth on the African continent. One of the major joint policy areas between Europe and Africa is on the topic of migration. Despite this, the very politics of migration governance remains under-researched, especially with regards to African actors and interests. The focus on the political dimension of migration governance (i.e. what are the real sometimes hidden interests) and the multiple stakeholders (including civil society and sub-national ones) will make a valuable contribution to both the academic and policy field. In addition, the holistic view which covers different types of emigration and immigration – included refugees in the country – is unique in its approach.


Research Design and Methods

The study is based on semi-structured interviews with members of the new Gambian government, policy makers and civil society activists. Fieldwork took place between May and June 2017 in Banjul and the Serrekunda area. In addition, a number of interviews were conducted in Germany with Diaspora leaders, Gambian refugees as well as policy and academic experts.


A  workshop presenting the results of our study took place on the 15th September. The workshop also included panel contributions and presentations from Gambian diaspora, activists, scholars and policy makers (see short Workshop report and programme).



Franzisca Zanker and Judith Altrogge (2017), The politics of migration governance, ABI Study

Franzisca Zanker (2017), Returning migrants to The Gambia: the political, social and economic costs, The Conversation, 23rd October

Judith Altrogge (2017), "Nach dem Regierungswechsel in Gambia paart sich nun Hoffnung mit Ungeduld", Op-Ed Badische Zeitung, 15th July (in German)

Sebastian Prediger, Franzisca Zanker (2016), “Die Migrationspolitik der EU in Afrika braucht einen Richtungswechsel“, GIGA Focus Afrika, 6, December (in German)


Project Staff

Dr Franzisca Zanker

Judith Altrogge, MA



April – September 2017