The story of Africa’s brain drain is a regular story that shows how the best brains of the continent are lured to the West to the detriment of Africa. Most of these stories, focus on the impact the West has in luring African away, but too few focus on the improtance of the foreign exchange earned by Africans abroad. This article points out the other picture.
AFRICA’S BRAIN DRAIN PROBLEM
In Zimbabwe 3.5 million people are believed to have left the country during the recent troubles to seek fresh pastures. 500,000 of them alone are thought to be in the UK, with another 3 million in other countries in Southern Africa. 70% of university graduates there are believed to be working outside the country.
This brain drain in Zimbabwe is not unique. All African countries are plagued by the constant fleeing of their best trained nationals to the west and other newly emerging economies like India, South Korea, Malaysia and Philippines. According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa more than 20,000 nationals leave the continent annually. This is a significant increase from 1800 in the 1960’s. In Uganda 30% of doctors leave every year.
While the scale of the Zimbabwean exodus in recent years is quite high compared to other African countries, the situation is still quite alarming. This is at a time, when globalization is the buzz word. Countries like India and China amongst others are able to use the cheapness of their labour to attract large investments from the west and help in building their economies and then export the finished goods back to the West. For many decades African countries belaboured the fact that the West was only interested in their economies as a source of raw materials.
Since then the African labour force has come of age, with large steps being achieved to make them more cost productive. Africa does know possess a huge labour force scattered around the world which could be enhanced to revitalize the economy and assist in stemming the constant poverty that continues to paralyze the continent.
According to the ILO, ‘75% of people who emigrate form Africa to the United States, Canada or to the European countries have completed tertiary level of education.’
For many decades there has been a huge African work force that has worked in the west and is capable of transforming the local economies if given the chance. During the apartheid era there was a huge flow of South African both black and white that left the continent. Now many of them are returning determined to help the country rather than spend the rest of their days in foreign lands. The effectiveness of this can be seen as the South African government has passed several laws promulgating that the large companies should have ownership reflecting the ethnic composition of the country.
The UN says that there are over 20 million African migrant workers living in other countries. In the last year alone it is estimated in South Africa alone, over 10,000 people left the country for the West. In Ghana, 12% of health workers left the country in 2003.
The situation has not been helped by the governments. Too little attention is paid to addressing the problem. Too much lip service is done, rather than actions. Much more could be done to use the talents of their citizens to develop their economies.
Too little is done to help and encourage the best brains to stay. Intellectual property and rights are too low down on the government’s radar or not existent. Nigeria is a classic example of this. In the 1980’s it had the best music studios in sub-Saharan Africa outside South Africa. Nowadays the music industry is in taters as anyone can easily copy music and sell them by the side of the road without fear of being caught.
Those that do show the initiative are not given much encouragement. Recently it came to the public knowledge that Nigeria Finance minister was paid in dollars at a significant amount higher than other members of the government. This created an uproar despite the well known fact that Nigeria’s international standing has improved since then and the fact that she is bringing a lot of experience and personal sacrifice to the job.
In most cases the African government expect their nationals living abroad just to leave everything behind and come to serve their nations.
On the plus side, is the fact that these expatriates or refugees are employed in foreign countries in various jobs and are able to send money home. This might seems small but considering that these funds in several countries are the largest source of direct investment and are a significant part of the GDP. For instance, Eritrean abroad sent back home 19.68% of the country’s GDP which translates into 85.8% of the overseas development assistance. In Nigeria the figures are 3.71% of the country’s GDP and 55% of overseas development assistance. In countries like Somalia without any real state government and proper apparatus for raising finance these have a higher significance for the society.
More so, unlike other sources of foreign investment, the money stays in the African countries. These sums go towards the expatriate’s families and help to alleviate poverty.
At the same time, these foreign nationals are able to gain valuable further education in these countries. It is well known that African countries place a lot of importance in education. There are many Africans in the West who have 1st, 2nd and even 3rd degrees. This helps them to be able take important posts in these Western countries. The example of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the current Finance Minister of Nigeria is a classic example. She has served many years with the World Bank and is highly regarded. Since she has been in the post since the international finance community has viewed Nigeria in a different light and taken the government pledge to improve the economic climate better. This leads to another point.
These expatriates help in provide a good impression of the African countries. The Western press has often reported Africa in continuous negative terms. The reality of seeing successful Africans abroad rise to good posts shows that Africans are not inferior and are honest and hard working individuals, a contrast to the way most African governments are run.
It was recently reported that Nigeria lost $440million in foreign reserves annually from the out flow of funds from the oil and gas sector by expatriates. At the same time these expatriates are not paid well in their own countries
At the same time, the governments have failed to reduce legislation and crackdown on corruption. Most Africans who have spent a significant time abroad find the widespread corruption a distraction and eyesore when trying to settle back in Africa.
These examples show that while the problem of brain drain is a reality for African countries, matters could be much worse if their well educated elites were not able to contribute to their economy by regularly remitting money to their home countries.