By Mathieu Félix Larouche in collaboration with Marc Andre Hart.
With a young population (ages 15 to 24) of over 200 million people and a new movement meant to bring peace and prosperity to the continent well underway, everything is in place to position Africa to become the epicenter of the 21st century economy. A 2013 report published by the World Bank noted that the continent is on track for great changes. Some highlights from the report include the following:
•The growth rate in the region reached 5.6 % in 2013, compared to an average of 5% before the 2008 economic crisis.
•The level of poverty in Africa has been declining steadily over the years. The number of people living on incomes of less than $1.25 per day, which represented 58.1 % of the population in 1999, was at 47.5 % in 2008. That’s a decrease of 10.6 percentage points in nine years.
•Strong and sustainable economic growth in the region has also spurred urbanization. In 1980, only 28% of Africans lived in cities, while today the urban population reaches 40%, or nearly 400 million people.
Although the struggle for a peaceful and prosperous Africa is far from being won, this data shows that the economic and social climate is changing. And this can only be good news for the return of professional and skilled work to the continent.
African Opportunities for Professionals Returning Home
The combination of a booming African economy and the difficulty people are having with finding jobs in the West has led to a massive wave of professionals returning to the continent. This desire to return home is based on both a sense of cultural identity and individual interests, such as the goal of working in a specific field of expertise or pursuing new business opportunities. Post-industrial countries (e.g., Europe, Canada, and the US) may provide less opportunity for young entrepreneurs than emerging markets in Africa, which remain accessible to new players. A 2012 study published by the investment group Jacana showed that 70% of African students completing MBAs abroad planned on returning to their countries of origin, with 35% of them intending to go into business.
The Disappointing Experience of Many Africans Abroad
While abroad, many African immigrants work as cleaners, security officers, or tradesmen, which could be considered jobs for the “lower class.” However, upon their return to Africa, these people integrate into higher social classes, which gives them access to some form of prosperity, allows them to influence their environment, and increases their political aspirations. All of this is born from the experience of spending time abroad.
Upon their return to Sub-Saharan Africa, many immigrants bring capital raised abroad, as well as vocational training obtained in the West. Plus, many learn new languages and have a chance to experience a more liberal civic life. The result: Africans often return to their homeland with a renewed respect for private property, individual liberty, and the transparency of public institutions.
These advantages give many young Africans the opportunity to become leaders in their communities, where they can gain recognition that would be difficult to achieve in the West. The West provides opportunities but also many challenges. Returning home allows Africans to reconnect with their origins and work towards building the next big thing.
In many ways, Africa is a young continent where so much remains to be done. The economy is ripe with opportunity for Africans returning home as well as for entrepreneurs and investors looking to contribute to its development.
Are you an African living abroad? Would you consider returning to Africa to take advantage of business opportunities on the continent? Why or why not?