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Over Half of African Young Adults Are Likely to Consider Leaving Their Native Country

Ambassador Mark Green

Over half of African young adults are likely to consider leaving their native country in the next three years.

Many in the West assume African migration is largely driven by dark forces like war, violent extremism, and repression. Those factors no doubt loom large in the two countries where young people are most likely to contemplate emigration—Nigeria and Sudan—but continent wide, youth migration has much more to do with lack of opportunity.

In the 2022 African Youth Survey from South Africa’s Ichikowitz Family Foundation, 44 percent of young Africans 18 to 24 years who say they are likely to consider emigrating cite “economic reasons.” Forty-one percent cite “educational opportunities,” and 25 percent “want to experience something new and different.” Only nine percent say “security” is why they would contemplate leaving.

The question is whether we’re listening.

The U.S. is the world’s leading humanitarian donor, by far. As an American, that makes me proud, especially in a time of record human displacement and food insecurity. The U.S. is also the world’s leading funder of the COVID-19 response, and the Biden administration has pointed over and over again to the humanitarian reasons for our generosity. However, the Youth Survey findings are a reminder that true compassion calls for long term investments in development assistance. . . the kind of assistance that helps countries rise and build an opportunity-based future for its young people.

In my first day as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, I told our global team that the “purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its need to exist.” I argued that we should measure every program by whether it helps countries progress on their “journey to self-reliance,” not because we want to do less, but because we want to do more—at least in terms of helping countries move from being aid recipients to development partners, and eventually, to fellow donors.

We pulled together a set of independent, objective, outcome-based indicators, which we called roadmaps, that would help us work with leaders to target areas in need of policy reform or capacity building with that journey in mind. Those metrics included the Legatum Prosperity Index—which measures a country’s entrepreneurial climate—, a trade freedom indicator, the World Bank’s Government Effectiveness indicator, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

The African Youth Survey supports what my experience in Africa has told me. Young Africans want what young Americans—what young people everywhere want—a chance to better themselves and pursue their dreams. True compassion (and yes, our self-interest) requires us to think about present needs while we also help young people chase their dreams.

About the Author

Ambassador Mark Green

Ambassador Mark Green

President, Director, & CEO, Wilson Center
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