Today’s ‘irregular migration’ from Sub-Saharan Africa has its roots in decades of policies which have impoverished rural economies and dispossessed small-scale producers to make room for export-oriented monocultures. Under pressure from opportunistic xenophobic political configurations the EU is reacting by seeking to block the unwanted flow of African migrants in their home countries through measures denounced by European civil society organizations. Its long-term recipe for ‘addressing the root causes of migration’ involves using EU cooperation funds to leverage resources from private investors ‘looking for new investment opportunities in emerging markets’, thereby promoting the same model of agricultural production and global value chains that has sparked today’s migration waves. An absent voice in the debate is that of the rural organizations in the territories from which the migrants originate. This paper seeks to reframe the issues from the viewpoint of these social constituencies, to recuperate their popular history of the evolutions that have transformed a portion of rural mobility into Europe-bound irregular migration, to map relevant contemporary rural transformations and the complexities of relations they engender, and to highlight initiatives underway today to build options of dignified and remunerative rural livelihoods for young people. Setting the West Africa-Europe nexus in the context of global processes of migration governance, this paper explores the opportunities for counter-hegemonic strategizing that EU internal policy contradictions open up and suggests how convergences might be promoted among actors and spaces that are currently inadequately connected with a view to defending both the right to migrate and the right to choose to stay at home.