A Response to ‘Brain Drain’ or ‘Brain in the Drain?’

by Nana

From the days of slavery to the present day of brain drain of professionals, the African continent has experienced great misfortune in the migration of its peoples. Equally serious and disturbing is the adoption of African babies and children by families in the west and trafficking of the same (while the former is legitimate and may in some cases provide for a better life for the adopted babies and children, the later is illegal and may lead to child endangerment). In 2003 while I was in Addis Ababa for a Pan African Ministerial Conference on Water, I met three couples who were awaiting adoption of Ethiopian babies at the hotel where I was staying. On my Lufthansa flight to Stockholm, there were at least twelve couples who had adopted Ethiopian babies. This trend is a manifestation of how serious this problem is and may as well be compared to the brain drain.

Lets for a minute visualize the USA in the 1950s and 60s, we have seen it in the old movies. Their infrastructure, in all spheres like roads, hospitals, schools etc were not what it is today. This means that the people who worked in these institutions did not have all the necessary tools to perform their work to full potential! Yet despite these problems, they didn’t pack bags and leave for Europe which was slightly more advanced. NO! They stuck it out here to make it better and indeed they have succeeded beyond their wildest imagination over that time period. Of course I am not oblivious to the fact that African professionals have not only faced hardships in their working environments back home that constantly fail to meet the necessary standards for their potential performance. There are civil wars and the civil service, which is a primary employer for most graduates, is plagued with cronyism, patronageism, nepotism causing a mismatch in talent with available employment opportunities that essentially lead to dismal productivity. But does this factor really have to lead to outward flow of professionals to the west? My naïve answer to this question is no and this is why, apart from maybe those professionals who are in the health sector, majority of the other immigrants end up doing work not related to their academic or professional pursuits back home. In fact majority end up doing work aimed at just surviving by the day and has nothing to do with what one studied or used to do at home.

I had a four year work stint in Johannesburg in the mid to late 1990s and while there I came across many African professionals who had picked up high profile jobs in South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana. A group of us from outside South Africa formed a strong fraternity and once in a while we used to meet in a joint in Hillsboro on the outskirts of Johannesburg, which was a really friendly atmosphere – much friendlier than what one finds in the west. Which brings me to the next question could liberalizing free flow of labor in Africa curb the outflow of professionals to the west? If you agree with me on this point then could a united lobby group of Africans in Diaspora be formed to prevail over the AU to liberalize this free flow of labor in Africa?

The civil service as I pointed earlier is the primary employer of professionals in majority of African countries but could something be done to strengthen the private sector in Africa? Since availability of start up capital happens to be a major bottleneck for willing young entrepreneurs to enter the private sector, could the West concentrate on making this capital available so that rather that giving food aid, aim at building a this new promising and positive as well as encouraging approach.

On a concluding note, the repatriation of African talent back to Africa should not only cater for transportation and six months resettlement grant (there was a UN agency that used to do that, remembered it, it is called the “International Organization for Migration” but should instead provide some form of grant to enable repatriates’ set up private businesses that can offer both employment and also produce goods and services to the public and hopefully in the long run improve the standards of living which have been the driving force for those fleeing the continent.  

It is my hope that when the United World Colleges meet that some of these issues can be discussed.




KenyaWorkers’ Remittances: USD 524 million
Annual Remittances: USD 1 billion 
Net Migration Rate: -1.3migrants/1,000 population
International Migrants: 1%
Women as Percentage of International Migrants: 47.9%


Burundi Remittances: USD 16 million
Net Migration Rate: 5.5 migrants/1,000 population
International Migrants: 1.3%
Women as a Percentage of International Migrants: 53.6%


Ethiopia Net Migration Rate: -0.4 migrants/1,000 population
International Migrants: 0.7%
Women as a Percentage of International Migrants: 46.5%


Rwanda Remittances: USD 21.0 million 
Net Migration Rate: 1.1 migrants/1,000 population
International Migrants: 1.3%
Women as a Percentage of International Migrants: 47.0%



SomaliaRemittances: USD 750 million (est.)
Net Migration Rate: 4.5 migrants/1,000 population
International Migrants: 3.4%
Women as a Percentage of International Migrants: 46.5%


Sudan Remittances: USD 1.4 billion
Net Migration Rate: -3.0 migrants/1,000 population
International Migrants: 1.8%
Women as a Percentage of International Migrants: 48.3%


Tanzania Remittances: USD 16 million
Net Migration Rate: -1.9 migrants/1,000 population
International Migrants: 2.1%
Women as a Percentage of International Migrants: 52.3%


UgandaWorkers’ Remittances: USD 296,757 million
Net Migration Rate: -0.1 migrants per 1000 population
International Migrants: 1.8%
Women as Percentage of International Migrants: 49.4%


2 thoughts on “A Response to ‘Brain Drain’ or ‘Brain in the Drain?’

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