Promoting M&D approaches at local level in West Africa

Promoting M&D approaches at local level in West Africa – Pilot activities of HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation in Benin

 [Disponible en Français] July 2015

Pascal Fendrich, Conseiller sur M&D, Helvetas, Bern 
Anja Seiler, Chargée d'Etude M&D, Helvetas, Parakou, Bern

Considering the importance of regional and national mobility, Helvetas Benin works towards the integration of the M&D approach in its programme. Preliminary studies have confirmed the relevance of migration in the intervention areas and have identified key issues. Based on these first analyses, Helvetas will start a series of pilot activities in order to encourage a better understanding and consideration of migration and its implications for local actors.

West Africa experiences important migration dynamics. This mobility is both international and internal to the countries of the sub-region. Despite the limited available and reliable data to quantify the phenomenon, it is estimated that 85-90% of migratory flows within West Africa take place at the regional level (1) . Less documented and less covered by international media, this “second facet” of African mobility constitutes a livelihood strategy pursued by many households and individuals. Benin fully participates in these regional dynamics and is both a country of origin for migrants inside ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and a destination country for many ECOWAS citizens. Internal migration equally plays an important role.

HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation currently supports its partners in Benin in different sectors such as water, hygiene and sanitation, rural economy and other areas related to education and vocational skills development, including through SDC mandates. Aware of the importance of mobility in the sub-region, Helvetas Benin has recently taken the time to better understand the topic and its implications, not only for the population and the authorities but also for implementation of the programme as a whole. In 2014, a first study focusing on youth migration in the Borgou department confirmed the relevance of mobility in our intervention zone. Different field surveys that involved collecting testimonies of migrants, have then allowed a better understanding of the diversity of trajectories, motivations and faces of migration in northern Benin (watch video: The multiple realities of migration in the West African sub-region

These surveys have identified several challenges. First of all, the Borgou department constitutes an arrival zone for numerous international and national ‘migrants’ that intend to pursue different kinds of jobs in Benin, mainly in the service sector. The quest for fertile land is also an important driver for internal migration. Migrants are often grouped in associations organised on the basis of the origin of its members. These associations often remain informal with limited visibility. The discussions further show a weak appropriation of migration related issues by local actors. The migrants for instance are barely informed about their rights and obligations and there is very little interaction between migrants and local authorities. As a consequence, migrants’ interests are rarely integrated into local development initiatives, even though some examples show the mutual benefits of dialogue and constitute good practises to be repeated (watch video: The role of local authorities for the integration of migrants:

In parallel, the collected information confirmed the importance of seasonal migration of young women and men mainly to Nigeria. Testimonies show the extremely difficult labour conditions. (Watch the video: seasonal migration of young Beninese to Nigeria Additionally, such migration departures often take place simply because of social imitation without integrating migration into a longer term project. Even though the acquisition of a « Bajaj » (term used for motorcycle) constitutes the symbolic and social proof of a successful migration, the objectives and expected benefits of a temporary migration are rarely reflected upon and discussed. This prevents an adequate preparation and a reflection about conditions upon return.

Thus, all these elements confirm the importance of mobility in the intervention areas and underline that its potential to contribute to individual and collective development processes is still under-exploited.
In this context, Helvetas is testing a series of activities with the objective of a better understanding and integration of mobility in local development.

For the pilot phase, Helvetas wished to focus on the following elements:

• Institutional and thematic reinforcement of Beninese and non-Beninese migrants’ associations, to support their role in governance and local development
• Awareness raising and information of populations on the implications, risks and possible alternatives to migration
• Accompanying potential migration candidates on a larger reflection relating to their ‘personal project’
• Supporting local authorities in the implementation of framework conditions that allow an informed reflection on migration and its implications, as well as an improved participation of non-indigenous communities in local development

In a first step, these activities are piloted on a local scale following a “research-action” logic. The learning objective is paramount. The goal is to both test the feasibility and the added value of specific supports and to refine intervention modalities at the same time. The generated knowledge should at the same time support the consideration of mobility by all actors. For Helvetas, this could result in the creation of ‘passerelles’  (bridges) with ongoing projects to favour the integration of the M&D perspective in its entire programme.

Helvetas looks forward to sharing the first lessons learned of these pilot activities with Migration network members in the coming months.

For more information on the M&D activities of Helvetas:

To watch: the series of videos on the faces of migration in West Africa (available in French only):

• The multiple realities of migration in the West African sub-region (HELVETAS Benin) :
• The role of local authorities for the integration of migrants (HELVETAS Benin) :
• Seasonal migration of young Beninese to Nigeria (HELVETAS Benin) :

To read:




(1) See for instance : OCDE, Les enjeux régionaux des migrations ouest-africains, dans : Cahier de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, 2009, p.11, or  M. Awumbila, Y. Benneh, J.K. Teye, G. Atiim, Frontières artificielles : une évaluation des migrations professionnelles dans la région de la CEDEAO, Rapport de recherche ACPOBS/2014/PUB05, Observatoire ACP sur les migrations, 2014
Map source: Etude sur la Mobilité des jeunes dans les départements du Borgou et de ‘Alibori, Etude mandaté par HELVETAS Bénin au Cabinet R-Sud, 2014, p.6 (sur base des cartes du fond topographique de l’Afrique)