In 60 years there will be more Nigerians than Europeans: the African trek to the West has just begun

October 02, 2021

 

THE AFRICAN TREK TO THE WEST HAS JUST BEGUN

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach an essay from today's Times (of London) by the interesting Roger Boyes.

The developments he points to are likely to have considerable implications beyond Africa, as many Africans flee to Europe, the Middle East and some to America, in search of a better (or safer) life.

There are a few extracts first for those who don't have time to read the article in full.

 

EXTRACTS

Two thirds of Africans are under 25. In 1950 Lagos had 325,000 inhabitants. The 1960 street map of Lagos shows a comfortable coastal city of under a million that a savvy traveller could cross in less than an hour. By 1990 it had swollen to four million and is now 14 million. If you count outer Lagos, it's 20 million and rising fast. This is the youthquake turning not just Lagos but dozens of African capitals into megacities.

"The average age in Senegal is 19. We are a country of teenagers," says Nzinga Biegung Mboup, a 32-year-old who works as an architect in the capital, Dakar. She says she can understand the anger of the younger Senegalese. "There is a huge shortage of housing. People want access to schools and healthcare."

"The cost of living is very high," says Hawa Yokie, a 21-year-old who moved from the provinces of Sierra Leone to its capital, Freetown, in search of a better education. "People are living on below $1 a day."

Sub-Saharan states such as Mali and Niger are viewed as fruitful recruiting grounds by Islamist radicals. The Sahel ? the poorest part of the poorest continent, which also includes parts of Chad, Sudan and Mauritania ? is set to register the largest population growth in the world between now and 2050, doubling to 2.4 billion. That's because of high fertility rates ? women in the Sahel give birth on average to 5.2 children compared to 1.6 in Europe and 1.9 in North America ? and declining infant mortality. In Niger, women are giving birth to 7.6 children on average.

Europe, then, has become the spillover zone for African cities that are bursting at the seams. The pandemic has further depressed western birth rates. The US fertility rate fell by 4 per cent in 2020, a record low. Italy's birth rate is the lowest since unification. In China, Xi Jinping has relaxed the one-child policy and is permitting a three-child family. Not many seem to be taking up the offer.

The brutalisation of refugees during their journey to Europe (and often once they are in Europe) won't be any easier to shake off than the experiences that drove them to flee in the first place.


FULL ARTICLE

YOUTHQUAKE WILL DRIVE MILLIONS OF AFRICANS ON TREK TOWARDS EUROPE

Youthquake will drive millions of Africans on trek towards Europe

In just 60 years there will be more Nigerians than Europeans and, as climate change takes its toll, our continent is set to become the spillover zone for African cities bursting at the seams.

By Roger Boyes
October 2 2021
The Times (of London)
Weekend Essay

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/youthquake-will-drive-millions-of-africans-on-trek-towards-europe-kp2vv33s6

They're called invisible shipwrecks: migrant boats that sink without a trace as they make their way from west Africa to the Canaries. So far this year 9,386 Africans have made it alive. Close to 800 died in the Atlantic. Most could not be identified from the body parts washed into the nets of fishermen. One woman survivor, interviewed by the UN's Institute of Migration, described the scene on the smugglers' boat before it capsized last month off the Mauritanian coast. "After three days at sea the engine broke down and we ran out of food and water. People were already starting to die."

Bodies were thrown overboard to lighten the load and reduce the stench. "There were people who looked like they had gone mad," she said. "Some bit each other. They shouted and threw themselves into the sea."

The flight from Africa isn't just an Atlantic or Mediterranean event, and what we see every day on the Channel is a mere sideshow. It's part of an epic journey that began, perhaps, in a trek from the scorched earth of a village that can no longer produce a crop to the outer suburbs of Lagos, Kinshasa and Accra. There, young men try, from the noisy sleepless shanty towns, to find a job that pays enough to send money home to the villages they left. When they fail they are gripped by guilt. The cities of Africa are growing so quickly and so chaotically that there is no time to build the basic infrastructure and so, in the end, they are failing Africa's youth.

Sodjah Evans, 22, left school with dreams of studying business administration in the Ghanaian capital. "Everyone comes to Accra because they think there will be job opportunities," he said. "They think they will be valued." The reality is different. He scrapes a hand-to-mouth existence tutoring children in his commune. His sister, a mother of five, is the breadwinner, selling rice and beans at the side of one of the main roads into the city.

There are plenty like them. Two thirds of Africans are under 25. In 1950 Lagos had 325,000 inhabitants. The 1960 street map of Lagos shows a comfortable coastal city of under a million that a savvy traveller could cross in less than an hour. By 1990 it had swollen to four million and is now 14 million. If you count outer Lagos, it's 20 million. It's growing at more than 3 per cent a year and by the end of this century will be as populous as Britain is now. In 60 years there will be more Nigerians than Europeans.

This is the youthquake turning not just Lagos but dozens of African capitals into megacities. It should be a good thing. It's what created the brand of "Africa Rising". The West's boomer generation is associated with prosperity, the Tiger states of Asia became flush with cash. And just as Europe started to labour under falling birth rates, as even China began to flounder under its unsustainable one-child policy, Africa's megacities ? Luanda, Dar es Salaam, Abidjan and Kinshasa among them ? were bursting with hormones, becoming mini-states full of youthful energy.

The Nigerian government boasted of its start-ups, of a film industry, Nollywood. Now fretting leaders seem to think they have created a Frankenstein monster, a force they can't control. "In the past year," says Emmanuel Adegboye of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, "Nigerians have woken up to bans on motorcycle taxis in Lagos, cryptocurrency transactions involving banks and, most recently, Twitter."

All these obstacles are regarded by the urban young as hostile acts by the state. Motorcycle taxis summoned by hailing apps are often the only way of making appointments in the turgid compression of rush hour, or the "go slow" as the start-up generation calls it. As for the Twitter ban, imposed because it had become a protest tool to demand an end to police brutality and extortion, it's part of the democratic fabric for the Nigerian young. The International Finance Corporation estimates that the internet economy has the potential to reach $180 billion by 2025 and $700 billion by 2050.

But that won't happen if it's blocked by governments nervous about a young generation wanting to put an end to the old patterns of corruption and bureaucratic obstruction. Young Africans smell a rat. That's part of a global trend. Parag Khanna, author of Move, notes that "youth know rotten governance when they see it". When gas and electricity subsidies are cut, mass protests ensue. That's true of deferential Asian states such as Thailand, of European countries with high living standards, but above all in youth-heavy Africa.

"The average age in Senegal is 19. We are a country of teenagers," says Nzinga Biegung Mboup, a 32-year-old who works as an architect in the capital, Dakar. She says she can understand the anger of the younger Senegalese. "There is a huge shortage of housing. Across the country the government is trying to provide 100,000 houses in the next five years, but demand is about triple that. The government builds houses just outside the city but this creates its own problems. People want access to schools and healthcare." Planning and public transport are key, she says.

The density of Africa's emerging mega-cities focuses demands on better governance. The would-be entrepreneurs are feeling it. Even the powerful mobile phone operators reckon they are being blocked, but so are those who have arrived from the rural hinterland and who have failed to find a foothold. "The cost of living is very high," says Hawa Yokie, a 21-year-old environmental activist who moved from the provinces of Sierra Leone to its capital, Freetown, in search of a better education.

"People are living on below $1 a day. There's no access to good education. No access to jobs. And everything is getting expensive. There's no easy way to survive." She was shocked by the slums, with many living next to the expanding rubbish dump in the city centre. She has already been robbed in daylight, as has her mother. The city, she says, has become a violent place. "We see gangs, moto-taxi drivers and the police fighting each other, huge fights in which people are killed."

The innate violence, the sense of turmoil of the African megacity is beginning to outweigh the sense of opportunity. And the result: migration to Europe, to neighbouring states or, when the frustration has become particularly intense, recruitment in Islamist groups that promise a better world-beyond-the-world.

Sub-Saharan states such as Mali and Niger are viewed as fruitful recruiting grounds by Islamist radicals. The Sahel ? the poorest part of the poorest continent, which also includes parts of Chad, Sudan and Mauritania ? is set to register the largest population growth in the world between now and 2050, doubling to 2.4 billion. That's because of high fertility rates ? women in the Sahel give birth on average to 5.2 children compared to 1.6 in Europe and 1.9 in North America ? and declining infant mortality. In Niger, women are giving birth to 7.6 children on average.

Europe, then, has become the spillover zone for African cities that are bursting at the seams. The British demographer Paul Morland talks of the Europeans becoming both greyer, because of declining birth rates, and blacker, because of the inevitability of migrant birth rates filling the gap.

Right-wing populist governments such as Poland and Hungary paint this as a threat. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, declares: "We want Hungarian children; migration is a surrender." About 5 per cent of GDP is earmarked towards pushing up the domestic birth rate. Poland has rolled out a near-total ban on abortion.

The pandemic has further depressed western birth rates. The monthly fertility rate in England and Wales in December 2020 and January 2021 ? that is about nine months after the first lockdown ? fell by 8.1 per cent and 10.2 per cent year-on-year. The US fertility rate fell by 4 per cent in 2020, a record low. Italy's birth rate is the lowest since unification. In China, Xi Jinping has relaxed the one-child policy and is permitting a three-child family. Not many seem to be taking up the offer.

In 1972 the Club of Rome ? financial, political and academic brains set on saving the world ? presented a manifesto, The Limits to Growth. It developed the kind of dystopian future envisaged by the scholar Thomas Malthus during the Industrial Revolution: populations would grow at such a pace the planet wouldn't be able to feed itself. The Limits to Growth still underpins some of the arguments used by climate change activists: natural resources are finite, competition for them could lead to famine and war.

They're not wrong, yet the global population is about to top eight billion and the world hasn't collapsed. Agriculture has become smarter; as the African middle class grows so the birth rate will fall naturally. There are already a few, admittedly rare, parts of Africa with European fertility rates. And migration to Europe, the careful integration of new arrivals, could eventually be seen as a demographic boon. That was one of the supporting arguments in Germany in 2015 when Angela Merkel opened her doors to Syrians. After all, said her fan club, someone has to pay the pensions of the boomer generation.

But just around the corner is a mass movement even greater than the 2015 influx. Climate migration is likely to exceed anything in history. The World Bank estimates that 30 million to 70 million people in sub-Saharan Africa will be displaced from their homes at least in part because of the rising temperatures.

Where will they go? The shift to cities on the coast, meanwhile, suggests that up to 36 million could be living precariously on the floodplains of megacities. Nigerians, for example, are living in the Lagos slums of Makoko, which is built on swampland. How will they survive the rising waters of the Atlantic?

Africa is larger than the territorial space of the US, Europe, China and India combined. But internal displacement in overstretched states, or on the land of neighbouring countries, is no real solution. The most likely scenario is a trek north towards Europe, a dramatic escalation of what is already happening. Hawa Yokie in Freetown compares it with Temple Run, a smartphone game. The player is forced to jump, duck and swerve around obstacles in the hunt for gold, pursued by demonic monkeys. That's how the exodus through the Sahara and across the Med is described by Sierra Leoners. "A lot of young people I know have died along the way." Every border brings danger.

The migrants stress that the journey is the worst part. But even when they reach the apparent safety of Europe, it's dog eat dog. In the encampments on the French coastline that have sprung up to replace the "Jungle" there are fights between Eritreans and Afghans, feuds between people fleeing never-ending military conscription or the random cruelty of the Taliban. The brutalisation of refugees during their odyssey won't be any easier to shake off than the experiences that drove them to flee in the first place.

Now imagine this flow ? one million Syrians at its peak in 2015-2016 ? multiplied by a factor of five or ten: the extraordinary despair, the relentless march, and the cracks that will be quickly exposed in western societies and our stitch-in-time immigration system.

Perhaps the estimates are wrong. Perhaps the impact of the coming climate upheaval will be more piecemeal. Perhaps ? and this is the least probable scenario ? African governments will inspire heroic acts of resilience. I'm with the Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka on this: states are already buckling under the pressure of long decades of corrupt governance. "Even during the [1967-70] civil war, I do not believe that we devalued humanity as much as we do today," the Nobel laureate said in a recent interview. "It's like something has broken in society."

He's 87 but his analysis is as clear-eyed as any of those in the vanguard of the youthquake. The challenge then is what can be done by westerners. Immigration policy has to function not so much as a Maginot Line but rather as a series of nudges that have to be framed by the social upheaval that we expect across the globe. If aid policy is to make sense in Africa it has to be less geared to the generalised alleviation of poverty and more towards persuading this vast group of young people that it's worth trying to realise their dreams in their own countries.

Critics of educational projects in Africa argue that they end up making the beneficiaries into more savvy economic migrants. But there is one priority that will always bring both fast and lasting rewards, and that is education for girls. Their contribution to the workforce, the sense of independence the schooling brings, modernises society, increases household income, reduces the birth rate and provides the most powerful riposte to the likes of the Islamist terror gangs of Boko Haram, who after a decade of activity believe they are invincible. Family-planning clinics are springing up across the continent but not fast enough. Even small doses of aid give encouragement.

Then there is the way that urbanisation, which should be a tool for modernising society, is becoming dysfunctional. British help can make the cities more liveable. We have waste-disposal experts who can put an end to the stinking piles of landfill that make life so unhealthy. We have driving school instructors who can set up training centres for HGV drivers, and offer the best a chance of residence in Britain. If we have surplus Covid-19 vaccine we can strike partnerships with hospitals. Traffic engineers can advise on congestion. Mayors have to become go-to partners. British business has to pepper them with questions: what are you doing to build sea defences? Can we help? We can work together to digitalise African economies, find ways of gathering and deploying data to improve productivity.

Schadrack Bwata Ongwe, 34, a videographer from Kinshasa, says Africans would not think of moving if there were opportunities at home. "If you have a job, if you have a business, you wouldn't dream of living in Europe. There is youth coming up and we need to find more opportunities for them."

All this doesn't cost a fortune. And it's not crass mercantilism. Nor is it just a polite way of saying: stay where you are, don't come to us in droves. It establishes the bonds we need if Global Britain is to become more than a slogan. But we need to get on with it.

 

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