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Lacking opportunities

Emigration would help

Between 1821 and 1915, half of the population growth of Britain, then the world’s leading economic power and the most industrially advanced nation, was “absorbed” through migration. If contemporary Africa were to follow that example, some 1.3 billion people would leave the continent by the end of the 21st century.
German migrants bound for New York in the late 19th century. picture-alliance/ZB German migrants bound for New York in the late 19th century.

Such a scenario is obviously unrealistic. It needs to be emphasised, however, that European countries benefited from mass migration in the 19th and early 20th century. People who lacked opportunities – or mere livelihoods – moved to the Americas, Australia or New Zealand in the hope of better futures. Moreover, for some youngsters of imperial powers, a career in the colonies was an option. Mass emigration went along with violence, oppression and even genocide in far-away places, but it made it possible to improve the standard of living in Europe.

Today, many young Africans are feeling the same kind of desperation young Europeans felt in previous centuries. They are being denied the opportunities of migration, however. Many young Africans are enthralled by Europe, and disappointment often results in resentment. Masses of young men who lack perspectives spell trouble in any society. Risks include petty crime, organised crime and political extremism and fundamentalist terrorism. Mass un- and underemployment is a ticking time bomb (see my comment in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2017/01, p. 23). Provided it benefits from a more favourable international environment, Africa will hopefully defuse the problem.


The UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to transform economies in an environmentally sound manner, leaving no one behind.