Growing numbers of young Africans want to move abroad, survey suggests

African youth have lost confidence in their own countries and the continent as a whole to meet their aspirations and a rising number are considering moving abroad, according to a survey of young people from 15 countries.

The pandemic, climate change, political stability and violence have all contributed to making young people “jittery” about their futures since the Covid pandemic began, according to the African Youth Survey published on Monday.

Only 32% of the 4,500 young people interviewed, aged 18-24, were optimistic about Africa’s prospects, according to the survey – a drop of 11% since the last survey of its kind published in early 2020.

Many of them had their schooling suspended and they or their families had lost incomes because of the pandemic, said Ivor Ichikowitz, whose South African family foundation commissioned the report.

“In many countries in Africa, it’s an election year or a year just before elections, and it’s kind of logical that people will see instability as a concern,” said Ichikowitz.

“But marry that with lack of access to water, marry that with a major concern around terrorism, and you’ve now got a demographic a group of people that are very jittery about the future of the continent,” he said.

“And the real bombshell out of the survey is that a very high percentage of the people in the response group are thinking about migration.”

About 60% of Africa’s population is younger than 25, and more than a third is aged between 15–34 years old. By 2100, Africa will have the world’s youngest population with a median age of 35.

In almost all countries at least two-thirds of young people surveyed believed their nations were going in the wrong direction, apart from Rwanda and Ghana, where 60% and 56% were optimistic about their country’s direction. Views on the direction of the continent as a whole were more divided, though only in Ghana did a majority believe Africa was moving in the right direction.

Ichikowitz said Ghana had a younger government that was providing better support and easier access to financing that supported young businesses. He hopes the survey’s data will be used by governments to support the aspirations of their young people.

Despite the fears for the future, the researchers found a positivity among the interviewees about their own futures, with about 75% of them believing that their personal situation would improve.

Willice Onyango, executive director of The Youth Cafe, a pan-African group based in Nairobi that focuses on community development and social change, said a lack of job opportunities meant many young Africans turned to entrepreneurship.

“The youth have this motivation and this urge but are driven not necessarily because they all of a sudden want to be businessmen and women,” he said. “Perhaps you studied agriculture or economics and there are no available opportunities. You have to start doing something so that you uplift yourself.

“Rather than stay helpless,” he added, “they are lifting themselves from their own bootstraps but this comes with its own challenges.”

He said that without support and access to financing, new businesses rarely survived more than three years. Even the Youth Cafe, he said, received financing from abroad.

He was not surprised that optimism had dipped because governments allocated very little to youth development and lacked strategies for tackling long-term social and economic barriers to mobility.

Frustration seemed to have increased the desire to emigrate. While the previous survey found more than two-thirds of young people wanting to stay put, now 52% planned to move abroad in the next three years, with the number increasing to three-quarters in Nigeria and Sudan.

Kholood Khair, founding director of a Sudanese thinktank, Confluence Advisory, said previous optimism among the large youth demographic had failed to translate into opportunities because of ageing leaders and lack of access to finance.

Khair said optimism in Sudan after the overthrow of the dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019, accompanied by young people launching new businesses and projects, had been crushed by last November’s military coup. This disillusionment had fed the desire to move abroad, she said.

“A lot of people I’m speaking to, particularly in the middle classes, are saying there’s not much for me to invest in here so I want to go abroad,” Khair said. “What you get is a massive outflow of young people from Sudan and it decreases Sudan’s ability to set up the political and economic frameworks it needs, so it’s a vicious cycle.”

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