Opinions Tue, 10 Sep 2013

The overseas’ dream

Nearly half of Ghana’s educated citizens live abroad while one in three skilled Angolans resides outside that country. Of the ten countries with the highest percentage of educated citizens living abroad, six are in sub-Saharan Africa, where many governments subsidize higher education. Over 300,000 African professionals reside outside Africa. Ethiopia alone lost 75% of its skilled workforce between 1980 and 1991 meanwhile it costs a whopping US$40,000 to train a doctor in Kenya and US$15,000 for a university student, 35% of total Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa is spent on expatriate professionals according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In 25 years, Africa will be empty of brains, that dire and doom personified warning from Dr.Lalla Ben Barka of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) reflects the increasing spate of Africa’s exodus of invaluable human capital. Data on brain drain in Africa is scarce and grossly inconsistent, that notwithstanding, statistics show a downward spiral of a continent losing the very people it needs most for socio-economic, scientific and technological progress

With these worrying statistical revelations about how our skilled men leave their respective sub-Saharan countries, I fervently entreat optimistic and well-meaning Africans to join me as we ride on in discussion. Putting the African continent in perspective, i would like to inquire when truly the days of going overseas will be over.

Need such living questions be asked at all? This exodus did not start now neither will it end anytime soon, a colleague retorted sharply as if by default. And he had the guts to substantiate his stance with mind-blowing statistics. This is what he said: the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has estimated that Africa has lost a third of its human capital and continues to loose skilled personnel at an alarming rate. IOM and the Economic Commission for Africa gathered statistics showing that between 1960, when 17 African countries became independent and 1974 when most had achieved independence, an average of 1800 skilled Africans left their homelands for developed nations. Between 1975 and 1984, the rate had jumped to 4,000 a year. Between 1985 and 1989, 12,000 skilled Africans each year left for what they thought were greener pastures and since 1990, the rate has skyrocketed to 20,000 annual African migration and brain drain. After his defense, all i could mutter was greener pastures indeed!

But the glaring realization is the fact that, if we go there we only help them develop even faster alluring to the fact that the best leave for the west. Ravinder Rena of the Eritrean Institute of Technology puts it nicely that it will be impossible to achieve an African renaissance without the contributions of talented Africans residing outside Africa. Subsequently, brain drain in Africa has adverse repercussions financially, institutionally and including societal costs. African countries get little return from their investment in higher education, since too many graduates leave or fail to return home at the end of their studies. Cognizance of a dwindling professional sector, Africa employs up to 150,000 expatriate professionals at a cost of US$4billion a year according to IOM.

Yet again Joan Dassin of the Ford Foundation tells Voice of America that if you don’t have qualified people on the ground with strong local roots to carry out development projects, it’s not likely they will move forward in a sustainable way. This assertion is very true because we and only we know and understand our problems better save parochialism. You can therefore solve it better if you know and understand it better. The frequent dishing out of foreign aids to Africa will do no magic neither will the expatriates conjure any miracles whatsoever. It is that simple, there has been no country which has reached developmental pinnacle based on foreign aid and expatriates. The solutions thereby reside rightly within the African continent.

You might not have really sat down to appreciate the adverse repercussions of brain drain, may be you will gladly leave if a ship docks at your port advertising free transportation to Europe. You probably might even be planning to sell your last property to secure a visa to anywhere but Africa, but please hold on a little while; the days of going overseas are over. You see few blacks who have made it on TV doesn’t mean it is all rosy out there. There are many blacks who are stranded and can’t even afford a ticket back home whilst countless many have dreaded their decisions of leaving abroad. We have cattle and bees in Africa yet we seek for milk and honey outside. The climate is favorable here yet we seek for greener pastures outside.

Not surprising right! Consider the patient to doctor ratio in Africa, what about the pupil to teacher ratio, currently Ghana has about 10,000 nurses far lesser than the required national number of 40,000. The departure of health professionals has withheld the accessibility of medical and social services in several sub-Saharan countries to deliver even basic health and social needs. Thirty-eight out of the forty-seven sub-Saharan African countries fall short of the minimum World Health Organization’s (WHO) requirement of 20 physicians per 100,000 people. This continuous outflow of skilled labor contributes to an ever widening gap in science and technology between Africa and other continents. Africa’s share of global scientific output has fallen from 0.5 in the mid-1980’s to 0.3 in the mid 1990’s.Currently there are more African scientists and engineers in the USA than in the entire continent as posited by the IOM.

If indeed we hold these truths to be self-evident, why then do we ply our trades elsewhere when we are more needed home? I once again reiterate that the days of going overseas are over, mother Africa deserves better. This is our continent, our Africa, Living a century long overseas doesn’t genetically change your roots. Folks make it work. Graduates applying for foreign scholarships all over the internet with the motive of leaving never to return again must cease. Young people do something worthwhile home. You have more than enough brains to awaken your entrepreneurial conscience. Our outlook about how we perceive people who have travelled outside must change. Long queues for visas must cease, constant rush for American lottery must reduce. We can make it here in our home continent. Remember Barack Obama pluralized his “yes we can” spirit from the word “African”. The last three letters translated into words read “i can”. There is therefore no reason whatsoever why we can’t.

One will argue that remittances sent home by our relatives abroad go a long way in alleviating poverty. I ask, have we suddenly overlooked the implications of brain drain on human resources, institutional capacity coupled with health and social services? Whilst i don’t dispute that assertion, chronological analysis will attest that the mere fact of you making it there literally means you can make it here too. The only difference might be in the value and currency appreciation but that notwithstanding, you will have the joy and satisfaction of having contributed your utmost quota in making mama Africa develop.

Efforts to address, albeit partially Africa’s brain drain pandemonium, focusing on repatriation strategies have so far been discouraging. Studies have shown that repatriation will not work so long as African governments fail to address the pull and push factors that influence emigration. Moreover, the relationship between African governments and the African diaspora remained a major barrier to finding solutions but these obstacles do not need rocket science to arrive at an amicable bearing. Virtual participation cum linkages should be encouraged the more even though a lot behooves on our African governments in making the continent more enabling for returnees. Wole Soyinka recounts the tragic story of a highly skilled cosmetic surgeon who was enticed back home but however, left after a year or two when he had voluntarily donated his clinic and all his equipment to seek for job fulfillment elsewhere.

This article would be incomplete without extending a note of appreciation to the Neil Turok of Cambridge University who run a science and technology postgraduate programme in South Africa that hopes to be expanded to fifteen African countries since this will entice more graduates to stay. Another new programme the African Leadership Academy, will waive tuition for most of its students but if they are not working in Africa by the time they turn twenty five, they will owe the school tuition fees plus interest. Let’s live the African dream “For we are strangers before them, and sojourners, as were all our fathers.1 Chronicles 29:15’!

Michael Dale-Asiedu


Columnist: Dale-Asiedu, Michael