AD288: In search of opportunity: Young and educated Africans most likely to consider moving abroad

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Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny, Carolyn Logan, and E. Gyimah-Boadi

By 2050, it is projected that one in every four humans will be African as the continent doubles its population, accounting for more than half of global population growth (United Nations, 2015; World Economic Forum, 2017). Even with a land mass greater than India, China, the United States, and Europe combined, and blessed with one-third of the earth’s mineral resources (Custers & Mattlysen, 2009; Bermudez-Lugo et al., 2014), will Africa be able to provide the livelihood opportunities its people demand and need?

Despite significant economic growth in many African countries over the past two decades (United Nations, 2018), a substantial number of Africans still see leaving their country to seek out a better future as their best option. Willing to risk abuse and enslavement, death in the desert or at sea, and hardship upon arrival, African emigrants have placed themselves on front pages and political agendas around the world (Kekana, 2018; O’Toole, 2018).

Although only 14% of the 258 million international migrants worldwide in 2017 were born in Africa – one-third the number of Asian-born migrants (United Nations, 2017) – sub-Saharan African nations account for eight of the 10 fastest-growing international migrant populations since 2010 (Pew Research Center, 2018). The number of emigrants from each of these subSaharan countries grew by 50% or more between 2010 and 2017. At the country level, only Syria had a higher rate of growth in the number of citizens living in other countries.

While migration can have positive effects – filling labor gaps in destination countries (Rapoza, 2017) and producing remittances to help families back home (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2017) – it can also have negative consequences. Analysts have pointed to its drain on emerging economies (Capuano & Marfouk, 2013), and populist movements in the West have decried immigration as a threat to domestic employment, security, and national culture (Galston, 2018; Roth, 2017; Ratcliffe, 2017).

For policy makers faced with managing the challenges of international migration, a detailed understanding of its forms, patterns, and causes is critical. A growing literature explores “push” and “pull” factors shaping emigration, highlighting the failure of African countries to create economic opportunities for their citizens (Kainth, 2015; Stanojoska & Petreveski, 2015; Gheasi & Nijkamp, 2017) but also arguing for the importance of social and political factors (Flahaux & De Haas, 2016). 

This dispatch draws on new Afrobarometer data from 34 national surveys to explore the perceptions and preferences of ordinary Africans when it comes to international migration. Findings show that more than one-third of Africans have considered emigrating, though far fewer are making actual plans to leave. The data support concerns about human-resource drain: The young and the educated are most likely to consider going abroad.

Finding work and escaping economic hardship are the most frequently cited reasons to consider emigrating – fully in line with our earlier findings that unemployment is the most important problem that Africans want their governments to address and that among the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, SDG8 (“decent work and economic growth”) is the highest priority for ordinary Africans (Coulibaly, Silwé, & Logan, 2018).

The most preferred destination for potential emigrants is neither Europe nor the United States, but another African country.

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