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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Need to reverse `brain drain` into `brain gain`

21st May 2012

The brain drain has been termed as one of the greatest obstacles to Africa's development. A report by Professor Henry Kyambalesa, from Regis University in Denver, reveals that African countries continually lose a significant number of trained nationals, who decide to emigrate and live abroad in search of higher incomes and a better standard of living, among a host of other reasons.

Between 1974 and 1985, for example, an average of 12,146 technical and professional personnel per year (computed from data collected by Logan1) were admitted to the United States from various countries in Africa.

Between 1993 and 1995, the United States admitted 32,317 of the continent’s skilled human re- sources. According to the World Bank Group, nearly 70,000 qualified Africans leave their home countries every year to work in industrialized nations.

According to the 2001 BBC World Africa report, Africa lost an estimated 60,000 middle- and high-level managers between 1985 and 1990, and about 23,000 qualified academic professionals emigrate each year in search of better working conditions.

Africa has lost a third of its skilled professionals in recent decades and it is costing the continent 4billion dollars a year to replace them with expatriates from the West. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that 20,000 skilled Africans leave every year for jobs in the West.

At the same, time Africa spends 4billion dollars a year on recruiting western expertise. A 1993 UN report said more than 21,000 Nigerian doctors were working in the United States alone, while Nigeria itself suffered from a shortage of doctors.

In 2007, it was reported by Xinhua (Chinese News Agency) that just like other least developed countries, Tanzania is also suffering from the brain drain that has backlashed at the development of these countries.

The fact was also pinpointed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Information Center in the 2007 report on Least Developed Countries. The UN report revealed that 12 Least Developed Countries had lost over one third of their qualified professionals to emigration in recent years.

One million out of 6.6 million people with tertiary level qualifications from developing countries were found to be working in developed countries, the report added.

According to available information from Tanzanian ministries, Tanzania has been losing such qualified professionals as doctors, nurses and teachers to emigration that leads them to South Africa or elsewhere for better pay. But there are no available statistics concerning the emigration.

Why Brain drain? According to Professor Henry Kyambalesa, there are many push factors in countries which are affected by the brain drain that have contributed to the exodus of skilled talent.

Surveys have revealed that most professionals and graduates were not leaving simply to earn more money. The following list of salient factors can cause brain drain: poor conditions of service; human rights abuses; misplacement of trained personnel; disregard for local talent; scarcity of jobs; limited access to education; poor healthcare services; a high level of crime, and the fear of losing valued relationships developed in host countries.

Can ‘brain drain’ be turned into ‘brain gain’? The following are some of the suggestions to help turning brain drain into brain gain:

Firstly, improvement of working conditions for professionals in developing countries. Experts agree that improving the working conditions for African professionals, particularly scientists, would do much to persuade them to stay. Most of the migrants are attracted by better living standards.

Secondly, encouraging professionals in Diaspora to invest at home. Remittances is the most obvious and commonly-cited benefit of the brain drain. This could help stimulate the economy in the developing countries. For example, according to the Aljazeera English TV channel recently, in 2006, Asia as the biggest continent receives 115billion dollars through remittances; Africa and Latin America receive 40 and 70billion dollars respectively in a year.

It is also reported that the remittance money sent home is found to be more than that of international assistance. It has also been observed that the remittances can have a multiplier effect on the economy as a whole. For example, in Mexico, the 2billion dollars that were arriving in the country in the early 1990s are estimated to have increased overall annual production by 6.5billion dollars.

Third, encourage Brain circulation. Africans who have been educated or worked abroad can be encouraged to come back to their home countries to visit, to establish dual residence, to start businesses and universities, and, sometimes, to stay.

These people bring back new ideas and skills—crucial ingredients to economic growth. Similar processes brought enormous benefits already to Asia and Latin America.

The IOM has for several years been running a programme (ROQAN or the Reintegration Of Qualified African Nationals) which tries to reverse the brain drain by helping qualified Africans return home on short-term contracts and assisting their reintegration. So why can’t this be an opportunity for Tanzania?

Lastly, provide flexible policies that allow dual citizenship. This could help in a way to stimulate professionals to return home and work even part time or invest at home.

In conclusion, it is to note that there is a need to eliminate poverty in Africa, and not merely reducing it by people in Diaspora sending money to relatives. Indeed, in any country of Africa, human capital is much more valuable than financial capital because it is only a nation’s human capital that can be converted into real wealth. Under the status quo, Africa would still remain poor even if we were to send all the money in the world there.

Money cannot teach our children, but teachers can. Money cannot cure sick people, doctors can. I hope this article has partly contributed to a continuous debate on how we can utilize the wealth, knowledge and skills of professionals for the development of our country. Let’s come up with more working solutions on this issue.

The writer is a Specialist in Education Management, Planning, Economics of Education and Policy Studies. He can be reached through 0754304181 or [email protected]

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