HUMAN capital flight from Africa is accelerating.
and Trish Guy
Human capital flight from Africa is accelerating. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, an estimated 1,800 Africans a year left the continent from 1960 to 1975. The pace quickened to 4,444 a year from 1975 to 1984. Since 1990 more than 20,000 people leave the continent annually. The UNâ€™s Africa Recovery journal recently noted that half the doctors in the Saskatchewan province of Canada were foreign-trained â€” with 20% from South Africa.
The developed world has become so bold in its search for professionals from developing countries that African governments have launched something of a backlash in recent years. South Africa, for example, has sought bilateral agreements with the United Kingdom and other governments to end state-sponsored recruiting of teachers and medical staff. Statistics and common sense suggest that such attempts to directly block the brain drain will never halt the outflow of skilled personnel. Despite diplomatic agreements, head-hunting continues unabated by private industry. Many countries tailor immigration rules to lure top professionals. And the dramatic difference in salaries is as large and alluring as ever for African professionals. For example, the average doctor in the US earns 31 times as much as a doctor in Zambia ($17,141 a month versus $540, according to figures from the American Medical Association and the Zambia Resident Doctors Association). Even minimum wage jobs, which pay $5.15 an hour in the US ($892 a month), are alluring to people in Africa, where two-thirds of the population live on less than $60 a month, according to the UN. Historically, African leaders have tended to frame the brain-drain problem as a simple consequence of higher wages abroad. That conception led many states to conclude that solutions were impossible, given the power of market forces. But a growing number of African leaders and organisations are shrugging off the pessimism and seeking creative solutions to harness the intellectual and financial strength of the diaspora â€” something the Asians have already discovered. Since it began opening to the West and sending college students abroad in the 1970s, China has had its own brain-drain problem. Of the 232,000 students who went to universities overseas until the end of 1997, only 32% returned, according to David Zweig, of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Stan Rosen of the University of Southern California, who are collaborating on a study of the return of the Chinese diaspora.
However, incentives to returning scholars and economic liberalisation have brought back a wealth of experience and know-how. Zweig and Rosen wrote recently in Sci-Dev.net that out of â€˜65 returnees interviewed in high-tech zones in Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Wuhan, nearly half had imported technology of which 71% was state-of-the-art while another 23% was new for China. Also, 23% had imported foreign capital, while 28% maintained overseas contacts on a daily basis. In-depth interviews reveal that these returnees are raising the technological level of Chinaâ€™s domestic economy.â€™ Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, the former editor of the Economic Times of India, argued in the Times of India that focusing on the brain drain alone ignores the ways the developing world benefits from the diaspora and the flow of ideas: â€˜The overwhelming bulk of brainpower used in our university courses comes from research and writing done in the West.
No Indian pays for the knowledge of Newton or Euclid, or for the huge and constant flow of knowledge in new scientific papers and journals.
â€˜The West does not pay for the contribution of Aryabhatta (the great Indian mathematician) either. But let us concede that the overwhelming flow of free knowledge is from the rich to poor countries.
Yes, we export free brainpower in the form of engineers. And yes, we enjoy a huge import of free brainpower in a multitude of forms. On balance, we get far more than we supply. So, I think we need to abandon the concept of a brain drain. But we can indeed talk of flows of brainpower, of global flows of innovations, ideas and creativity.â€™
Similarly, African policymakers have begun to look upon the diaspora as a human network through which new ideas, capital and technology flow back to the continent. Damtew Teferra, a lecturer and researcher on the diaspora at the Centre for International Higher Education in Boston, United States, notes: â€˜Egypt ... considers its diaspora as its treasures kept abroad.
It is vital to affirm that these unclaimed treasures can potentially serve as another window to the industrialised world, as another bridge in knowledge transmission and exchange, and as another catalyst in fostering knowledge creation and utilisation.
It is apt to remark, therefore, that the diaspora is a vital and influential community of â€œundercoverâ€ ambassadors - of their home countries and regions - without formally designated portfolio.â€™ Ends
Brain Drain In Africa Can Be Harnessed!