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Over half of Africa’s young adults want to emigrate

REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi
African youth are unhappy with their lot according to a Ichikowitz Family Foundation study.
  • Faustine Ngila
By Faustine Ngila

East Africa 4IR Correspondent

Published Last updated

Economic strife, insecurity, corruption, political intolerance, unreliable internet, and poor education systems are behind the desire of many African youth to relocate to Europe or the US.

To be exact, more than half of African youth aged between 18 and 24 are likely to consider emigrating in the next three years if their governments do nothing to improve the quality of their lives. This is according to the 2022 Africa Youth Survey (pdf) report by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation (IFF), released recently in celebration of the World Refugee Day on June 20.

The study shows that on average, 52% of Africa’s youth population want to emigrate but in Nigeria and Sudan, it’s three quarters of the population while in Angola and Malawi it’s two thirds. Compared to the 2019 study (pdf) there is a 22% increase in the number of youth saying they would like to move to another country. Africa’s median age is 20 years.

What is even more alarming is the fact that half of those who would like to emigrate elsewhere have no plans of returning home.

The study is based on researchers conducting 300 face-to-face interviews in Angola, Republic of Congo, DRC, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia.

The pandemic years have been difficult for many Africans

The covid-19 pandemic hit Africa hard, having a detrimental effect on education, health, and economic well-being. Four out of ten African youth reported that they had to pause or stop their schooling as a result of the pandemic. 34% disapprove of their government’s response to the virus. One in five young Africans became unemployed as a consequence of the pandemic and 18% were forced to move back home from the cities.

Within the continent, South Africa stands out as by far the most appealing destination for Africa’s young people looking to emigrate. Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria are other popular destinations.

“They want to escape the problems in their home countries. They are looking for a better life. Even South Africans want to leave to the US,” IFF chairperson Ivor Ichikowitz told Quartz.

At least 39% of those surveyed said they want African countries to emulate the structure and governing systems of western democracies.

One of the biggest concerns that African youth currently have is instability. 75% are concerned about the political volatility in the continent, rising to 91% and in Kenya due to the upcoming Aug. 9 elections and 89% in Mozambique.

Only 40% of African youth believe their governments are doing enough to curb the crises in their countries. In Ethiopia, this drops to 20% and in Nigeria, 16%. There’s a 11% decline in optimism compared to 2019.

Terrorism, corruption, and poor internet are hurting Africa’s youth

At least half of Africa’s youth have had their lives impacted by terror, insurgency or conflict. 15% of them have either been approached to be recruited by a terrorist organization or know someone who has been. In Mozambique, this figure rises to 25% especially due to the Cabo Delgado armed violence that has internally displaced over 700,000 people this month. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Kenya and Somalia are other cases in point.

Ichikowitz adds that in a continent that is wracked by violence, internal and external, there is a very clear sign that the next generation of people who will lead the continent are neither disempowered by nor ignorant of the hazards their countries and their continent face.

“On the contrary, these are highly motivated, highly informed, and deeply committed citizens determined to ensure they have a chance at a life that was perhaps denied their parents.”

However, many young adults don’t want to work in the government because they believe government agencies have stolen their future through corruption. A whooping 69% are dissatisfied with job creation efforts by their governments.

“Access to internet is a basic human right. Governments should protect the youth against high charges of mobile internet by telcos and stop shutting down the internet. Where there is a challenge, there is also hope,” Ichikowitz says. Only one in eight youth can afford mobile internet at all times.

Africans are generally accepting of refugees

However, young Africans are showing high levels of tolerance towards refugees with 64% agreeing that their country has a moral obligation to help refugees from neighboring countries regardless of their impact.

Countries ready to help refugees settle are Rwanda (91%), Ethiopia (75%), and Kenya (74%) while South Africa (44%), DRC (40%), and Nigeria (39%) are most strongly opposed to accommodating refugees.

Sub-Saharan Africa houses more than a quarter of the world’s refugee population, which is around 18 million people according to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees.

Of all the foreign actors seen to have an influence on the continent, youth see China as having by far the biggest impact at 54%, followed by the US at 41%.

The report calls on African governments to commit budgets towards supporting entrepreneurship, updating education curricula, taming corruption, improving healthcare, increasing internet penetration, and curbing election violence to keep their youth within their continent.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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