Can Ghana Reverse her Brain Drain?

Mon, 2 Apr 2007 Source: Jeffrey, Peter

Many people migrate with the sole aim of accumulating wealth, knowledge and perhaps better life for their offspring which they normally would not be able to access in their countries of origin. Majority hold the long term view of returning home “one day”.

Thus, to some degree each migrant has different circumstances and motivation at time of migration. In West Africa, migration within and between countries is not a new phenomena, as people in the northern countries mainly migrate to the southern countries to work on the farms and in the mines.

Until the late 1960s those who migrated from Ghana mainly went abroad for further studies. Majority return home after their studies to serve the country. In the late 1970s and early 1980s all that changed as Ghana went through a very traumatic period in her history, a history that some commentators had compared to the reaping of Ghana’s human assets some 200 years ago.

In the 1980s Ghana and the rest of the countries in West Africa experience a severe drought that almost crippled the entire region’s economy. It was around the same period that Ghanaians living in the neighbouring countries were expelled to Ghana. Ghana, Like Liberia and Sierra Leone, lost almost all her skilled labour. The little gains that Ghana made in the 1960s were reversed. The period, the1980s, known as the “lost decade” was really a lost decade for Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa. The period was marked by famine, civil wars (fuelled by access to minerals by thugs) and bad governance by the corrupt elite. The period became a watershed in Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa’s turbulent history. Countries like the Ivory Coast, Congo Kinshasa and Zimbabwe are yet to recover.

The disruption caused by this economic meltdown and political instability led to large migration, the majority of the migrants were not only the professionals but the semi-skilled able young men and women in the prime ages of 18 to 35 years. Towns across sub-Saharan Africa became ghost towns as most of the able and the best workers have all migrated. This writer’s hometown of Sekondi in the Western region of Ghana is no exception. Effia Nkwanta hospital, once the pride of the region and a major regional hospital where doctors and nurses serve with distinction is now a place where people go to die. Majority of those left behind were the old and the young.

Emigration of Ghana’s skilled labour cost the country dearly in the first the 1980s. The impact was felt across all sectors. Some of the greatest losses were in science and technology. University of Ghana, University of Cape Coast and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology lost over half of their best lecturers.

The loss of skills, particularly in medicine was very damaging. The thousands of dollars spent on educating the Ghanaian doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, engineers and graduate teachers disappeared when the professionals took their skills abroad.

The loss in Ghana’s educational investment was huge. It was estimated that over $10 billion worth of Ghana’s investment in tertiary education from 1976 to 1989 were “drained” to the developed countries. In a speech he gave in London 2 years ago. Nana Amotia Ofori Panin II highlighted the impact brain drain is having on Ghana’s development agenda. This was echoed by the Ashantihene, Nana Otumfuo Osei Tutu the same year in London and New York when he met the Ghanaian community. Nananom recognised that the onus was on the government to do more to encourage this vital human resource home, but also pleaded with the professionals to use their holidays home wisely by helping the nations’ higher institutions in areas of teaching and research.

Meanwhile in the inner cities of United States, United Kingdom and Canada, Ghanaian doctors, dentists, pharmacists and nurses became hot commodities. In the Gulf States and in the Caribbean countries, emissaries were sent to Ghana to recruit health professionals soon after graduation. Their dedication to service and work ethic was recognised world wide, whilst thousands of Ghanaians home were dieing due to lack of personnel, medicines and equipments. Ghana was forced to rely on NGOs and doctors from Cuba to sustain her health sector, whilst her best and brilliant doctors were deserting the motherland in droves.

Like out migration, return migration is often based on the situation in the home country. The most deciding factor is if the economic outlook improves, then returning would seem the most attractive proposition.

Ireland, a country that was once known as an emigration country went through an economic renaissance in the 1990s and became the best performing economy for a decade in the European Union. The question to ask, “Is Ireland the country that Ghana can emulate?” Indeed the Irish government find itself short of skilled labour that they went out of their way to entice their large skilled expatriates in Australia, Canada, England and United States including second and third generation Irish home. To these generations of Irish, returning home to help their homeland became a sense of pride and national duty.

Ireland’s economic success became one of the most striking examples of “economic miracle” in modern times. Ireland has now become a country of immigration with a large African and East European communities. The role played by Ireland’s skilled migrants contributed tremendously to her economic emancipation. Some commentators and academics have argue that Ireland’s success was due to her membership in the European Union and the benefits that accrued to her, and thus using the Irish analogy is grossly unfair to Ghana. Geo-politics, the tropics and temperate debate and governance are all issues that have affected Ghana’s progress.

From late 1980s Ghana began her “road to recovery” when the last military government under the leadership of Flt Lt Rawlings adopted the international financial institutions “structural adjustment programmes”. Depending on which school of thought to believe, what cannot be denied is Rawlings’ military regime laid down the foundation for growth, including linking the Diaspora into the economy.

This was cleverly done by the international financial institutions and others who hailed Ghana’s “successful” implementation of the structural policies as “a success story” and “an economic miracle”. This has resulted in large remittances flowing from the Diaspora community into the country, along with businesses, skills transfer and greater political rewards in terms of “free press” and the open government. The Diaspora constituency are also at the fore front of calling for more transparency and fight against poverty, corruption and more accountability. However, the “economic miracle” period also left in its wake large pockets of poverty. The introduction of user fees in education and health care were devastating.

What is now missing in the jigsaw is for Ghana to tap into her large reserve of her human capital in Diaspora. And this is where the country is failing as more professionals continue to leave the country. Then there are the issues of the uses of remittances from the Diaspora. This writer is among those who called on the last NDC government to explain the uses of the large inflows from the Diaspora.

In 1964 Ghana had only one medical school, now she has got four medical schools. Apart from South Africa and Nigeria, Ghana trains more medical doctors than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa, yet the ratio of persons per doctor is 1000 to 1 in 2004. The current data about the ratio of persons per doctor is still debatable. It must be argue that this figure is high if one subtracts large contingent of foreign doctors operating (mainly Cubans) in the country. The situation of health in the country is very poor and is a drag for Ghana’s economy. The areas most in need of skills are education, health and agriculture.

Late last year the Ghanaian doctors and dentists Association in the UK/Ireland under the leadership of Dr Anthony Annan threw the gauntlet to the Ghanaian government when they offered their services to the nation through skills transfer and financial support. Sadly this offer is still pending! This is insane! The nurses and the pharmacists associations followed suit. The University lecturers and ex-Police Officers associations welded in to offer to support their compatriots’ home in the development of the nation. These were the skilled labour that Ghana lost during the lost decade and their support for the nation in terms of skills transfer have been acknowledge by the United Nations. The Ghanaian government is in a unique position to go and seek the support of her “lost skilled human resource”. The way international division of labour is structured these professionals can take their labour away from their country of origin.

In the area of law, order and policing Ghana can benefit from the skills of the Diaspora in North America and United Kingdom in crime fighting.

In a debate that this writer had with a high ranking Ghanaian American Police Officer in United States, the officer was of the view that the Ghanaian government can arrest the high incidence of corruption in the Ghana Police Force by tackling the issue of accommodation and salary of Police Officers. He stated that keeping officers in barracks is wrong and explained that they should be supported to buy houses in the community where they police. The issue of amenities came up several times in our debate. The doctors, dentists, pharmacists and lecturers that this writer spoke to all agreed that by having good amenities that the government can get the best out of her professionals, and to some degree they are right. Seeing party functionaries and ministers flaunting their wealth makes the professionals angry indeed. To them duty to the motherland must come before self enrichment.

It has been acknowledge that without good infrastructure in place it would be extremely difficult for the government to entice her skilled human resources in Diaspora home.

The CPP, NPP and NDC at various points in their campaign have accepted the importance of the Diaspora’s contributions towards national development. The bulk of the remittances flowing into the country come from this group. They can make or unmake Ghana’s ambition to achieve middle income status within a decade. Their contributions both in terms of remittances are very important source of finance which has helped to stabilised Ghana’s payment of balance and on foreign exchange revenue. In 2006, the Ghanaian government stated that over $4 billion flowed into the country. This figure ignored the inflows that went into the country through informal means, thus the true remittances is in the region of $5 to $6 billion US dollars. Yet it was very recent that the Ghanaian government acknowledge the tremendous contributions of this important constituency. Their organisational skill in terms of lobbying and consultancy is legendary. This writer witnessed the brilliant organisational skills of the doctors/dentists, nurses and the ex Police officers associations in London during their annual dinner conference.

In the 1980s the loss of the best and brightest skilled Ghanaians hurt those that remained in Ghana. From the late 1990s, their integration into Ghana’s economy resulted in the Diaspora playing very important roles in promoting development at home. One such person that this writer wants to single out is Professor Amoono Kwoffi, the dean of the School of Medicine, University of Cape Coast.

Professor Amoono Kwoffi, an international renowned physician decided to return home after many years in Diaspora to help set up medical school at Cape Coast University. Professor Amoono Kwoffi is a shinning example to the Ghanaian Diaspora and the Ghanaian people. Professor Ammono Kwoffi took his campaign for equipments for the medical school far a field. In a keynote address at the Ghanaian doctors and dentists association dinner dance in London last year, Professor Amoono spoke about the battle to win hearts and souls for the medical school. Some doubted his ambitions, but somehow Amoono Kwoffi did it. Kwoffi’s speech was a watershed. Against all the odds, Professor Amoono Kwoffi has been able to establish a very successful medical school at University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

Ghana’s Diaspora has been a major source of foreign investment, especially of investment that generates employment as the case of Professor Amoono Kwoffi typifies.

Professor Amoono Kwoffi is using his international contacts in the field of medicine to help in Ghana’s development. In part Professor Amoono Kwoffi’s influence stems from his social network.

The example of Professor Amoono Kwoffi shows that networks established by the Diasporas may serve to enhance capital flows in other ways too by encouraging investments into Ghana by foreigners in other areas. Ghana stands at the threshold of becoming a beacon of hope in a region that has not seen peace for over 5 decades, thanks to compatriots like Professor Amoono Kwoffi.

Exposure to people like Professor Amoono Kwoffi and others has altered perceptions of doing business with Ghana and encouraging foreign investments, as most Diasporas are men of honour. It is time to reverse the brain drain by giving more incentives to our skilled professionals to return home. It could be for short term or long term, but Ghana wants her professionals home to help with the development of the motherland. The onus is on the government.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Jeffrey, Peter

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