The general belief among folks back home in Africa is that their colleagues in the diaspora, particularly those in industrialized countries, are richer than them, and that the longer an African remains in the developed world, the wealthier he/she becomes. It is therefore not uncommon to encounter home-based Africans who speculate the extent of the wealth of diasporans on the basis of the number of years they have spent in the developed world.
However, a research recently carried out has quite convincingly established, that the opposite is actually the case – the longer Africans stay in the industrialized world, the poorer they become; in other words, Africans who have been living in the developed world for over five years, generally face bigger financial problems than those who have been around for just a year or a couple of years.
Please note, that the phrase ‘home-based Africans’ is used to refer to Africans who have never stepped on the shores of an industrialized country before.
Prior to the main study (understanding the financial position of African migrant workers in industrialized countries), a brief survey meant to ascertain home-based Africans’ perception of their western-based colleagues in terms of the latter’s finances, was carried out.
Out of the 200 people surveyed, 94% believed that ‘BOGAS’ (i.e. Africans in industrialized countries) are generally richer than home-based folks; and 98% held the opinion that BOGAS’ financial condition gets better with time; hence the longer they stay abroad, the richer they become. Based on this perception, 78 of the respondents mentioned that they would either never return home at all, or never return home until after decades, if they made it to the advanced world.
To establish the extent to which the above perception of the home-based folks is credible, 160 African immigrants in 8 industrialized countries (the UK, the USA, Canada, Italy, Holland, France, Germany, and Australia) were interviewed (largely on the phone and at social gatherings). They hail from Ghana (30 in number), Nigeria (20), Kenya (20), Zambia (20), Zimbabwe (20), Senegal (20), Ivory Coast (15), and Rwanda (15).
The interviews were conducted between January and June 2012; and the length of time the respondents had/have been residing in the industrialized world range(d) from 8 to 30 years. They were aged between 26 and 60, and were all in either part-time or full time jobs at the time of the interview. 68 of them had/have lived in the industrialized world for between 8 and 15 years; 49 had/have been around for between 16 and 20 years; 23, between 21 and 25 years; and 20 had spent between 26 and 30 years abroad.
The interviewees were first encouraged to answer the simple question as to whether or not their personal financial situation is better today than it was in the first few years of their sojourn in the advanced world. They were then urged to briefly discuss the change(s) they have experienced or do experience in their financial circumstances from year to year, and what they believed has brought or do bring about those changes or stability (as the case may be).
It must be clarified that to respect the private financial affairs of the respondents, they were not expected to disclose their monthly/annual earnings or savings; but they were urged to make general statements about the changes in their financial circumstances.
It is also important to note, that their responses were fundamentally based on a comparison between how much they are currently saving and/or raising each month for significant personal projects in their home countries, countries of residence and/or elsewhere, and how much they were saving and/or raising each month for same during the initial stages of their stay and mid-way through their sojourn in the industrialized world. The respondents unanimously define the phrase, ‘initial or early stages’ as the first 4 or 5 years of their stay.
Even though it apparently took some of the respondents about a year after their arrival to get jobs, and many have been experiencing a quite unstable or inconsistent financial standing since their arrival in the advanced world, 108 (67.5%) admitted that generally, their financial position at present is weaker than it was during the early stages of and midway through their stay in the developed world. They maintained that their financial situation has persistently been changing from good to bad and/or bad to worse. Only 52 (32.5%) mentioned that their financial circumstances have either been stable or significantly improved over the years.
Interestingly, all except 1 of the 43 respondents who had/have spent between 21 and 30 years in the industrialized world stated that their personal finances have deteriorated over the years; and that what they are saving/investing now is nowhere near what they were saving/investing in the early stages of their stay abroad.
The words of one respondent are noteworthy:
‘My brother, I came here in the late-90s; and within two years I had bought 3 plots of land and my house had reached the roofing level. We are now in 2012 and the five-bedroom house is yet to be completed even though my job and salary haven’t significantly changed …. hahaha. Life in this country is getting tougher and tougher.’
About 10 (almost a quarter) of the 52 people who said their finances have improved over the years were Nigerians; only 4 were Ghanaians; and about 65% of these people were based in the USA, Canada, and Australia. Only 2 were living in the UK.
This and similar other information gathered seem to suggest that the economic or financial structure/system of the industrialized country in which one finds himself/herself significantly impacts the person’s financial state; and that Africans based in the USA, Canada and Australia, for varied reasons, are able to maintain a bit more stable and consistent financial position than African migrant workers in other advanced countries like the UK. It can also be loosely deduced from the information gathered, that Nigerian migrant workers in developed nations, for some reasons, are able to maintain a more steady financial status than other African migrant workers.
The interviewees largely did not blame their inability to make significant savings/investment as they were doing previously, on the global economic downturn, since all of them were in some form of employment, and many had/have been in employment for decades. They were thus not significantly affected by the economic recession.
Some readers may justifiably question the credibility of the findings on the basis of the seemingly small sample size; however, the nature of the research, the approach employed, and the level of consistency in the responses given clearly demonstrate, that interviewing more people wouldn’t have significantly changed the results.
A number of factors have been identified to explain why the financial strength of Africans in industrialized countries keeps diminishing from year to year.