In the world’s youngest continent, the migration phenomenon and frenzy is widespread among African youths. In order to avoid and reverse the consequences of mass youth emigration, the African continent needs to tap into its diaspora, as well as improve its governing systems and in-country physical and digital infrastructure to create the environment needed for youth to thrive on the continent.
The 2022 African Youth Survey, which captured the viewpoints of 300 youth across 15 African countries, showed that the prominent force driving the emigration trend is the dearth of long-term prospects. More than half of the survey respondents said that they were considering emigrating to another country in the next three years to secure employment and educational opportunities for their future.
As professional Nigerians with graduate degrees we have both experienced firsthand the difficulty in finding meaningful work with adequate compensation given the investment in our education. We both have family members or friends in our extended circle who have remained abroad due to concerns over security or lack of opportunities for their families, or who have engaged in further education programs because they could neither find work at home, nor get the visas needed to work abroad.
We have friends who have become perpetual travelers or who have taken up informal jobs to make ends meet. We see brilliant, talented, and hardworking youth leaving our continent as a last resort to achieve their dreams, and we want this to change.
This situation is the result of layers of complex issues, including the lack of sufficiently-paid, stable jobs, the slow pace of completing educational programs, and the disconnect between the educational curriculum and the job market which limit the global competitiveness of African youth.
Back in 2015, the African Development Bank reported that one-third of Africa’s then 420 million young people aged 15 to 35 years were unemployed, and only 1 in 6 was in wage employment. While grappling with low productivity due to the dearth of job opportunities, African youths also have to deal with the likely loss of life and property from living in conflict-affected or fragile settings.
The impact on the health sector is particularly pervasive, because a continent that accounts for over 227 million years of life lost and produces an annual productivity loss of over $800 billion has an average of only 0.45 physicians per 1,000 people in 26 African countries. In Nigeria, health authorities have expressed the need for better pay and adequate medical facilities as the main reason for the exit of Nigerian medical professionals.
Mass youth emigration will persist in the absence of good governance and leadership, with a clear vision and accountability frameworks for creating an enabling environment for people to thrive.
In recent years, there has been an awakening and youths have become more demanding for accountability and competence in the public sector. More youths are occupying positions of leadership and are increasingly participating in elections, as seen in Lesotho and more recently in Nigeria.
An enabling environment for African youth
Achieving good governance is a time-intensive venture, so while working toward addressing the triggers of mass migration, African countries need to explore ways to leverage the potential and resources of the diaspora.
One such strategy is the brain circulation strategy that taps from the diaspora to fill skill gaps rather than spend limited resources on expatriates to execute projects or research within the continent. Several Africans in the diaspora are ready and willing to return home to build their nation, as seen in the cases of Rwanda and Somalia. However, governments need to create an enabling environment and invest in infrastructures, both physical and digital, to encourage them.
Another strategy is to seek more innovative and strategic ways of utilizing remittances from the diaspora by shifting from using remittances for consumption to strategic investments as exemplified by a Kenyan billionaire in the diaspora that established a medical and tech hub in Kenya set to reverse medical tourism in Kenya and neighboring African countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demystified remote working and opened up options for working from anywhere in the world. Several companies are tapping into the opportunities that borderless workplaces present to source for top talents. This presents a great opportunity to reverse brain drain, since visas and work permits are not required for remote work.
Still, governments need to invest more in enabling access to personal technology, digital connectivity, and digital security so that African youths can explore and take advantage of remote work opportunities.
Again, the mass African youth migration is a response to the systemic and serial failure of several African countries’ refusal to prioritize human capital. As succinctly captured by a Sudanese proverb, “We desire to bequeath two things to our children; the first one is roots, the other one is wings.” African youths are seeking what might be considered the barest minimum in other climes; systems and structures that reward hard work, an enabling environment that allows them to live with dignity, and opportunities to maximize their full potential.