Boosters often like to talk about an “emerging middle class” in Africa. Leaving aside definitional issues—who is middle class varies from country to country—in some African countries a middle class does seem to be growing, though it is not as big or growing as fast as some of the media hype implies. Nigeria, with its huge population, is one of the countries that commentators often look to.
But Quartz Africa identified the fact that many of those who are tech-savvy or have other job qualifications in demand—current or potential members of such a middle class—are leaving. Many seek to raise their families abroad and do not intend to come back. Popular destinations include Canada and Australia, both of which have skills-based immigration programs. Others, for example, deliberately overstay their visas in the United States, which has led to a crackdown on U.S. visas for Nigerians.
Drivers of middle class immigration, according to Quartz, include the breakdown of the Nigerian educational system at virtually all levels, high unemployment and poverty levels in Nigeria, and a general disillusionment with the country’s political leadership. In the March 2019 presidential elections, only 35 percent of those registered actually voted. Even taking into account voter suppression, which did occur, the figure is not encouraging.
Quartz acknowledges that emigration is not cheap, that it is the well-off, not the poor, who can leave. According to an Afrobarometer survey of thirty-four African countries, the younger and more educated a person is, the more likely they are to consider emigrating. About half of Nigeria’s population lives in “extreme poverty,” in absolute number more than any other country in the world. The poor can emigrate, but they are more likely to cross an adjacent border in the search for work. According to the same Afrobarometer report, most Africans that consider immigrating, consider doing so to another African country.