How African startups can deal with the current Japa wave

A recap of BD Talks on "how the African talent exodus will impact the ecosystem."

How African startups can deal with the current Japa wave
Credit: Stears Insights 

Nigerian nationals emerged as the second-highest recipients of the United Kingdom’s Work Visas between December 2019 to June 2022 according to a UK Home Office's National Statistics report.

As of June 2022, 65,929 Nigerians have gotten into the UK through study visas. In the same month, the United States of America issued 6,915 non-immigrant visas to Nigerians. This number does not include Nigerians who have relocated through other migration pathways.

Global companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Bloomberg are offering job opportunities to promising talents from Nigeria and relocating them to the global West. Despite the availability of venture capital to run startups in the country, a tech talent shortage due to mass migration has hit the ecosystem, especially because, most of the Nigeria that are relocating are "talented and promising individuals".

"It has been really tough finding good people," said Aderonke Ajose-Adeyemi, founder of Losode told Rest of World in March 2022. Experts have argued that there might be long-term benefits from talent exodus, but the existing vacuum is hitting hard. "So many of our very experienced talents especially in the area of software engineering are leaving the country," Abubakar Suleiman, chief executive officer of Sterling Bank Plc said while lamenting “the Great Resignation”.

According to the Africa Developer Ecosystem report [pdf]  by Google, there is a growing demand for African developers globally—Nigeria is the country with the third highest number of developers on the continent, behind South Africa and Egypt. Four out of every ten African software developers now work for at least one company based outside of the continent, while five work for local startups, the report stated.

To discuss the aforementioned issues, the latest edition of BD Talks explored the talent exodus and its impact on the African tech ecosystem. The speakers were Tomi Solanke CEO of Trove Finance and Yewande Jinadu, Head of People and Culture at Traction Apps.

The conversation was both enlightening and insightful. I curated some of the responses the speakers provided to the salient questions asked during the 1-hour conversation

What is causing the Japa wave?

The condition of the country in terms of security, education, rising inflation rates, and the 2020 #EndSars protest are the main factors driving the Japa wave according to Jinadu.

If given the opportunity, a survey by the Africa Polling Institute revealed that more than 7 out of 10 Nigerians would leave the country.

During the Kaduna-Abuja train hijack, people wonder if anywhere is safe, even when they are moving within the South Western part of Nigeria (say Lagos to Ibadan). The EndSars agitation came because tech talents who don’t look like the norm are being targeted, profiled and exploited.  

Also, the election coming on next year is a reason for major concern for most Nigerians according to Yewande Jinadu. "Having suffered the decline over the last 8 years, people are afraid of what will happen if the wrong person gets into power again. These are just some of the reasons why people are leaving the country en masse."

Related Article: Inside the tech talent deficit in the Nigerian ecosystem

How African startups can deal with the current Japa wave

The only way to deal with the consequence of the Japa wave, according to Yewande Jinadu is to have a succession plan in place where there’s a healthy pipeline to consistently train talents. This will help to build a resilient team that can withstand the Japa wave or any other business constraints.

Tomi suggested startups should tell much more compelling stories about the stuff they are building. People want to be a part of something larger than themselves or that transcends cash. Stories will also make the employees much more mission-driven.

Another thing is to offer stock options and be open to much more flexible working conditions. When people are certain that what they are building is impactful and will eventually grow big, they’ll be willing to take a share of the ownership of the company.

In addition, Gen Zs and Millennials don’t want to have to go through the stress of traffic congestion, which impacts productivity (common in West African cities like Lagos, Nigeria). So a flexible working arrangement will be a welcome development.

Get weekly insights on tech startups and VC in Africa