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Africa’s Japa is accelerating

Africa’s geographic brain drain dates back decades. While this is nothing new, the pace of the brain drain has accelerated considerably since 2020.

A man picks up a wire transfer at a Western Union branch in Lagos. (Creative Commons)

A man picks up a wire transfer at a Western Union branch in Lagos. (Creative Commons)

For example, in Nigeria which today faces unprecedented levels of inflation, a depreciating naira, and growing unemployment, this has accelerated the mass departure of many skilled Nigerians. This brain drain spurt, is known locally in Nigeria as “japa,” or escape.

But, Nigeria isn’t alone when it comes to the phenomenon of an expanding japa. Across the African continent, there seems to be a great escape underway. This japa is fuelled by the same common economic phenomenon that is plaguing Nigeria. 

This surging exodus of professionals is taking on three forms: immigration from African MICs to developed countries, movement of skilled labor from one African nation to another, and expatriate abandonment of posts.

The expanding exodus of human capital from African MICs to developed nations is already having serious economic consequences. This is creating severe skill shortages in key sectors, determinately affecting private sector growth, and weakening development prospects. 

But, can japa have an upside? It might. This exodus may induce a higher level of worker’s remittances, increase foreign exchange availability, and generate other benefits of having a larger footprint of diaspora abroad. But, these benefits won’t be felt in the short term.

The movement of skilled labor from one African nation to another is also taking on new life. A good example of this is the growing migration of labor from countries like Mali, and Burkina Faso, to the Ivory Coast. With the Ivory Coast now showing renewed signs of growth, this is leading the citizens of its neighbors to migrate. But, this also means an Ivorian based labor force abundant with skills willing to work for well below prevailing wages. This hurts Ivorians entering the job market who have to accept lower wages to compete.

One completely new form of japa, occurring in African MICs, is expatriate abandonment. This is happening as a result of the severe shortage of foreign exchange common across several African MICs. With severe shortages of hard currencies, many employers are finding it difficult to acquire the foreign exchange they need to pay their expatriates. Even if they could find the hard currency required, several African MICs have made it very difficult to take hard currency out of the country due to shortages. This is affecting key sectors of the economy including the petroleum sector, and education. Private universities and schools have already lost a large contingent of their expatriate faculty. And, this is just one example of several. 

More concerning for several African MICs, these expanded forms of japa, or escape, are occurring without any real assessment of its effects on their domestic economies. Until these assessments are complete, the damage of a more invigorated japa will remain anyone’s guess.



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