by Kawuma 


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′


2 thoughts on “‘BRAIN-DRAIN’ or a ‘BRAIN’ IN THE ‘DRAIN’?

  1. Kawuma,

    I will come back to your article, but first a question. What is to be said of White Africans fleeing the continent? Should we be concerned?

    Here are some clips from this article in Newsweek talking about the emigration of White South Africans.

    A number of recent independent studies show that mass departures from South Africa are ongoing and are sapping the nation of its skilled and best-educated young citizens. The most dramatic figures can be found among South African whites, who are leaving at a pace consistent with the advent of “widespread disease, mass natural disasters or large-scale civil conflict,” according to a report by the South African Institute on Race Relations. Some 800,000 out of a total white population of 4 million have left since 1995, by one count.

    The primary driver for emigration among all groups, but especially whites, who still retain the majority of South Africa’s wealth, is fear of crime. With more than 50 killings a day, South Africa has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world.

    Then there’s the problem of affirmative action, which many whites feel limits their opportunities for advancement and which keeps many émigrés from returning. “You can attract people home, but there are still the same concerns when they get here,” Chen says. “Crime and lack of job opportunities if you’re not the right color.”

  2. I think when it comes to South Africa we have to look at the root cause of the problem which I believe is the oppression of blacks in the apartheid era. That era of segregation created a large divide between the rich and poor (or specifically the whites and blacks in South Africa) leaving many disenfranchised and living off crumbs. The unemployment rate is over 31%, and is even higher among black South Africans (37%) ——- 50% of the total population, mostly black live below the poverty line.

    However, few could have predicted that the situation would get this volatile and some are even calling SA the crime and murder capital of the world. However, much as I don’t agree with the notion that poverty should be used as an excuse for murder, robbery and rape, —– poverty eradication would be a good start to alleviate the crime rates. If these kids on the streets had the opportunity to get a good education and have an equal share of the resources in SA to make a living, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    Getting back to your question about the exodus of white South Africans, it is understandable that many are trying to leave and it could impact SA to a certain extent. But there are also many successful blacks who have also fallen prey to some of the gangs and would also jump at the opportunity to seek a more conducive environment outside SA. Yes it is a concern as many are leaving but the question we should be asking is how can this problem be solved? South Africa has an abundance of resources and riches to meet the needs of every citizen and in this case the responsibility lies in the hands of the government. If you have been to South Africa you must have seen the high walls and fences built around houses and the numerous private security companies protecting the rich neighborhoods——Investing in the people and future of SA rather than building high walls and carrying guns is the remedy. Laying a strong foundation for every child in South Africa through education, job-creation and access to basic social services is what this country needs for the future generations. A prosperous and safe South Africa will be good for every citizen black or white and would go a long-way in stemming the flow of intellectual capital.

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