main image: Ayoade Oni, who is set to study Computer Science at university, wants to move to Canada
By Cecilia Macaulay
A new survey of more than 4,500 young people in Africa, aged 18-24, has found that 52% of them are likely to consider emigrating in the next few years, citing economic hardship and education opportunities as the top reasons. The BBC spoke to five young people in Nigeria and South Africa who said they do not feel safe in their countries and lack access to work opportunities, but for those in Ghana the picture looks very different.
“I can’t go out at night, my parents won’t even allow me,” Mr Oni said. They have set him a curfew to be home by 18.30 each night.
A “high unemployment rate, poor health sector, low standard of living [and] little to no job opportunities”, are the other reasons Mr Oni cites for wanting to leave the country.
As for eventually getting a job after he graduates with a degree in Computer Science, he is not optimistic. Most graduates are left with no option but to compete for the “few employment positions available, with most people being employed by connections or corruption”, he said.
If he left Nigeria, and relocated to Canada where he has his heart set on, he would have no intention of moving back. Most of his friends feel the same: “90% if not all of them” want out, he says.
The statistics from the African Youth Survey 2022, carried out in 15 countries by the South African Ichikowitz Family Foundation, back up Mr Oni’s pessimism.
Young Nigerians have the most negative opinion in the whole continent about the direction their country is headed, with 95% saying things are going badly. Of all those surveyed, just 28% felt positively about the trajectory of their nation.
The world needs to wake up and invest in Africa, so that young Africans do not feel they have to move abroad to achieve their dreams at the expense of their home countries, according to the man behind the survey, Ivor Ichikowitz.
“It’s bigger than a brain drain,” Mr Ichikowitz told the BBC Newsday programme. “This group of people, 18 to 24 year olds in Africa, are saying: ‘We are going to improve our lives, even if it means having to up and leave and go somewhere else.'”
“I can make it in Ghana because even though there are not strong institutions, and our systems seem to be weak – the lack of these could also mean that a smart social climber can break those barriers,” says 24-year-old Julius Kwame Anthony, the head of the National Union of Ghana Students.
“Relocating abroad may look rosy but nothing is really promised out there,” he continues.
Similar sentiments were echoed by 33-year-old businessman Ernest Larmie: “This is home, if I’m able to solve the problems here, when the next generation comes, they can also benefit ,” he says, questioning the logic behind moving abroad, just to help another country develop at the expense of your own.
‘Women are not safe’
But for others, passionate arguments about developing their community will not wash, and the trauma they have faced in their home country has left them itching to leave.
One young South African woman, who requested to remain anonymous, says the high crime rate in the country has made her want to emigrate, on top of her struggles to find a job since graduating last year.
She says she was raped in 2019 while walking from campus to her student accommodation and has not felt safe since.
Pre-pandemic, between 2018 and 2019, sexual assault and rape counted among the crimes in the country with the biggest increases.
“It just feels like the odds are against us as young women. Not only can we not roam the streets safely, we are also battling with unemployment.”
Another young South African woman, Mapula Maake, 23, agrees that the employment situation in South Africa is poor, and this is why she is thinking of moving abroad.
“Migration might be the only solution to this rather saturated job market,” she says.
In March South Africa recorded a record high unemployment rate of 35.3%.
Ms Maake describes it as a “national crisis” and pleads that “the government should be taking steps to invest in graduates”.