Brain drain is haemorrhaging Africa

Dr Amanuel Isak Tewolde

Dr Amanuel Isak Tewolde

Published Dec 4, 2023


Dr Amanuel Isak Tewolde

African countries like other continents such as Latin America and Asia have been the victims of brain drain of their highly skilled and educated sections of their populations by Europe, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few.

The enticement and allurement of skilled Africans by Western countries through crafty promotions has been going on for many decades, which effectively made African universities and training institutions a supplier of their insidious brain drain schemes and programmes.

Many companies, universities and governments agencies in many Western countries do not seem to care about the massive damages and destructions they have been causing to the human capital reservoirs of mostly poor African countries: their only interest and strategy is snatching the bright, the highly skilled, the well-educated and the well-qualified demographic sector of African countries.

The brain drain of Africans to Western countries plays a major role in the efficient functioning, growth and development of institutions, organisations, agencies and research centres located in high-income countries while leaving African countries without such benefits.

It is due to the enormous economic, political, social, cultural, intellectual and philosophical advantages that Western countries reap from taking the highly skilled and educated from developing regions such as Africa that they tirelessly and aggressively promote Western countries as places with high standards of living and where one can have access to numerous socio-economic benefits.

Western nations and their agencies spend hundreds of millions of dollars in creating and launching mostly exaggerated advertisements and establishing programmes that exclusively target skilled and educated individuals from non-Western continents and countries. Enticed by such crafty advertisements, offers and programmes, many highly skilled and educated Africans leave the continent in search of “better opportunities” abroad, leaving behind their struggling governments and societies which paid for their training and years of education.

What is really insidious and cruel is that Western countries and their agencies and institutions do not pay for the years of training and education of the very talented, skilled and bright individuals they entice and take from places such as Africa; instead, they directly reap and exploit ready-made skills, education and talent invested, moulded and developed by mainly poor and struggling nations and their societies.

Yes, countries in Africa invest billions of dollars in the creation, manufacturing, specialisation and development of African talent, skills and education only to be taken by high-income countries such as France. Germany, Italy, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few. Research centres, universities, various private and state companies in these countries highly depend on the skills and education of immigrants coming from places such as Africa for their proper and competitive functioning, development and innovations.

High-income Western countries have put in place visa categories for highly skilled, educated and talented professionals originating mainly in continents such as Latin America, Asia and Africa, such as Tier 1 General Highly Skilled Migrants in the UK, and H-1B visas in the US.

Malawi spends millions for the education of its health professionals, but a large percentage of the health workers leave Malawi and migrate to work in European or North American hospitals and clinics which pay nothing for the education and training of the skilled health professionals.

Other countries that suffer from massive brain drain in Africa include Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya and South Africa, to name just a few. Almost all African countries experience brain drain of their highly skilled, talented and educated sectors of their populations. While African countries suffer from brain drain, Western countries which entice the skilled Africans benefit from brain gain.

So, what should African countries do to alleviate and even stem the emigration of engineers, physicians, scientists, academics, accountants, to name a few, which they educated and trained out of African taxpayer resources? One of the main incentives to curb Africa’s brain drain is to provide competitive salaries and the provision of free social services such as subsidised education, health care and housing.

This might be challenging for low-income African countries, but at least they should allocate satisfactory financial and material resources from their annual budget. The other strategy is by launching intensive and widespread public relations campaigns targeted at issues such as patriotism, service for one’s community or society, the disadvantages of living in Western countries and the benefits of staying in one’s own country.

The other important strategy that African countries need to adopt is incorporating courses or educational materials on the disadvantages and the damaging effects of brain drain on African societies within national curricula. Such programmes may be offered at both high school and college or university levels. In other words, the educational programmes focusing on brain drain should frame the phenomenon as a form of robbery and exploitation of African talent, skills and knowledge by Western companies and institutions and that a discourse or narrative of resistance against brain drain should be made an integral part of national curriculum systems.

Dr Amanuel Isak Tewolde is Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg.

The Star