The exodus of millions of Africans to the western world is reaching new heights. Slavery was viewed by many as the massive loss of man-power from Africa to the West. Subsequently, brain-drain has been dubbed, the massive loss of brain-power to the West. It is a ‘slow painful death’ as many nations are hurting and crippled by the loss of skilled man-power. In the coming weeks the United World Colleges one of the largest global movements that offer academic scholarships to students from Africa and other parts of the world is holding a conference to address the impact of brain-drain and how the massive one-way flow of intellectual capital can be stemmed.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that over 23,000 academics and 50,000 senior and middle managers are leaving Africa every year, while over 40,000 African PhDs live outside the continent. Two-thirds of students educated outside Africa remain in the host country after studying because of a lack of prospects in their native country. In countries such as Benin, the number of its doctors working in France was greater than that of their colleagues remaining in the country. In Ghana over 60% of medical practitioners left the country five years after obtaining their diplomas. Even more shocking was the revelation that there were more Ethiopian doctors working in Chicago than in Ethiopia. The loss of human capital has been so significant that some countries are now forced to make up for the departures by recruiting qualified people from Western countries who demand high compensation. Brain-drain costs the African continent over $4 billion in the employment of 150,000 expatriate professionals annually.
For decades the World Bank, United Nations, IMF and numerous NGOs singled out education as the tool to narrow both the widening gap between the rich and poor as well as prosperous western nations and the developing world. Billions of dollars have been donated and invested in education programs and it is fair to say that African nations have taken huge steps in educating their citizens. The number of Africans graduating from universities has multiplied over the years. However, un-employment has left many well qualified candidates frustrated and in search of an exit strategy.
The abundance of employment and career opportunities in the U.S, U.K, Canada, Australia and other western countries are viewed as greener pastures by many Africans and as such an irresistible pull-factor. Secondly, as more Africans have been channeled through the education system, the institutions of higher learning have been overwhelmed and many are currently operating beyond full capacity under dilapidated facilities, obsolete equipment, and using outdated materials. Many students have resorted to seeking college and university education opportunities from the expansive higher education system with scholarships, and financial aid opportunities offered in the Western countries.
The above points highlight the impact of brain-drain on Africa, however as some might argue, many specialists in Africa including scientists, engineers, doctors, professors, entrepreneurs find themselves unemployed, underemployed, and under-utilized and perhaps persecuted in Africa. Why should they settle for having their brains in the drain? With the opportunities they have to work at prestigious hospitals; universities, laboratories, institutions and technological firms to earn a decent income and send remittance to Africa, this would be a very rational decision. What some might view as brain-drain could be a blessing in disguise for many. These folks would be in a better position to support their families back home and also in the same manner contribute to the gross domestic product of their countries through remittances that come in foreign currency; of which Africa is permanently short.
In order to address the issue of brain-drain, both the governments and African citizens have to play a major role. Our countries need to establish the necessary political climate to retain and re-attract skilled personnel. Most of the African countries cannot match the economic prowess of the West but in the long-run, it is quintessential that working conditions are improved and more competitive salaries established when possible. To reverse the immigration trends among the young immigrants, there is a need to upgrade our higher education system to cope with the increasing student demand, and fierce competition for spaces. Brain drain’s external pull and internal push factors offer no simple solutions. It is true that some countries have un-favorable political and economic conditions. However, there others which offer great opportunities for us in the diaspora to engage and be pro-active in rebuilding the motherland. It all comes down to personal sacrifice. Much as the road back to Africa is dotted with many tempting parking places—it is imperative that we stay on the road to overcome the dangers of brain-drain or even having our brains in the drain.
© Kawuma Daniel Busuulwa 09′