Migration Background and Political Elites in the Developing World: Insights from New Data
A lot of political leaders who have been the head of developing countries since the independences had experienced migration abroad before reaching power. Among the examples that illustrate this phenomenon on the African continent, Pierre Buyoya, who were twice president of the Republic of Burundi (first between 1987 and 1993 and second between 1996 and 2003), migrated for part of his studies and subsequently for military trainings in several countries of Europe before reaching the head of the state; Thabo Mbeki, president of the Republic of South Africa from 1999 to 2008, experienced a long exile in the UK and in various African countries; and Henri Konan Bédié pursued a diplomatic career that took him notably in the US before becoming president of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire in 1993.
Although the migration experiences of political leaders are generally publicly known, they have rarely been studied. This is even less the case in a quantitative perspective. This paper aims at taking a first step in this research direction. We present an original database, collected relying on diverse biographic sources, which documents the migration background of nearly 800 individuals who have been at the head of the executive power in a developing country between 1960 and 2004. Among them, more than 200 led an African country. The quantitative analysis of the data is developed following three main dimensions. First, we present a panorama of the migration experiences of the political leaders of the developing world over the 1960 – 2004 period. We thus emphasize the importance of the migration phenomenon, which concerns around 70% of the leaders of the sample, but also the diversity of its forms, either regarding the objective of the migration experience(s) (studies abroad, diplomatic missions, etc.), the migration duration, or the visited destination(s). The second dimension of analysis adopts a more comparative approach to identify continent-level specificities, focusing in particular on the case of Africa. This angle notably allows us to underline the particularly intense migration background of the African continent, where significantly more political leaders are return migrants compared to the other developing regions of the world, and the peculiarities of the migration backgrounds of these African leaders, who are notably characterized by relatively more migration for studies abroad and migration in military frames, by relatively more migration directed toward the African and European continents, and by relatively less migration in the other parts of the world. We finally question whether the migration experiences of these leaders, as well as their characteristics, are linked to the level of democracy in their country both before their arrival in power and during their tenure. The innovative data presented in this research thus allow to describe a phenomenon that has been, to date, largely unexplored by the quantitative literature, and to suggest a new dimension of the interactions between migration and politics in migrants’ homeland – namely, the emergence of political elites.