Thursday, April 20, 2006

African brain drain

Recently, African Union president Alpha Oumar Konaré attacked the 'brain drain' of skilled workers from Africa to the west.

This came a few days before the World Health Organization released a report detailing the flight of African-trained doctors to the west. The report indicated that 37 percent of doctors trained in South Africa are working in either Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Portugal, the United Kingdom or America.

In his speech, Konaré blamed western immigration policies which entice scientists and other highly educated workers. Algerian foreign minister Mohammed Bedjaoui opined that these policies were "simply depriving Africa of its right to development."

However, I'm afraid that Konaré and Bedjaoui are missing the point.

The 'brain drain' is first and foremost the result of domestic conditions in most African countries. The natural predisposition of human nature is remain in or near the place where one grew up, to remain around that which is familiar. It's only when living conditions at home become so intolerable do educated Africans consider looking abroad. After all, 'selective development policies' can only persuade those who are open to persuasion.

The lamentable effect of war, instability and corruption in Africa is hardly a secret. But the effect of these plagues is to destroy the domestic infrastructure. Not just physical infrastructure like roads and bridges. But intellectual infrastructure like universities, hospitals and science laboratories.

Because so many governments are spending so much money on wars (or rebuilding from wars) and are losing so much to corruption, investment in education, health training and science is negligble (even in percentage terms) compared to western countries. Africa was once blessed with some fantastic universities such as many in Nigeria as well as Uganda's Makerere. Most of these have decayed into decrepit shells of their former greatness due to the factors I just mentioned.

If an African doctor is dealing with filthy working conditions, limited access to medication and facilities and perhaps is payed irregularly, is it any wonder that the lure of good working conditions and regular pay is enough to entice him to another country?

And given the attitude of most African societies toward them, is it any wonder that educated gays and women in particular find the west a bit less inhospitable?

People generally don't leave their country if there are good opportunities abound at home. If Konaré and others really want to fight the 'brain drain,' maybe they should stop blaming the western boogeyman and figure out ways to improve working conditions for educated Africans to entice them to remain on the continent. The solution is not to slash opportunities for African professionals but to expand them.


At 7:41 PM, Blogger Imnakoya said...

At least 75% of those in my graduating class are currently not in Nigeria. And we all left because of 'you-know-what'. When people like Konare and Bedjaoui start spinning the issue with idiotic statements, one can then appreciate why indeed Africa is grappling with the brain drain menace.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger africanmessiah said...

Well said my friend.........but you are right on one side and wrong on the other.

The right side; it is true people never leave their homes if there are lots of opportunities and good living standards............but on the wrong side........those opportunities and good living standards can not come by themselves !!.......we all know how corrupted african governments are.........then why are individual africans not taking initiatives instead of waiting for the governments............look at the chinese and japanese people.........these people work like machines even though they are in a communist environment!!........Africans?.....they just play board games everyday, drinking coffee etc and keep complaining about poverty everyday!! other words, Africans need to change their ways of is the 21st century there is no longer socialistic lifestyles, you know......extended families whereby relatives depend on another or the whole family depend on one person!!!........but it is a good argument you the way i am african by origin and i am currently working with IBM in Canada !! he! he! he! he!..........why am i abroad? long story...........but i love Africa to death!!


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