During a meeting organized by the African Development Bank in Cairo, Egypt, 11 February 2018 organized on the theme, “improving partnerships in higher education, research and development; promoting brain circulation,” participants observed that brain drain is partly responsible for Africa’s underdevelopment. They argue that better management of “brain circulation”, can help curb this trend. The meeting, attended by more than 45 participants, was part of the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Forum organized from 10 to 12 February 2018.
Brain circulation is defined as the circular movement of skilled labour across nations. “We have realized that African governments spend a lot of money to educate people abroad. Unfortunately these people do not come back or only come back and leave after a short while for better wages and working conditions abroad. This has an impact on development as poor nations need these brains to develop. Sometimes, the poor African nations resort to importing workers at exorbitant fees to meet specialist skills gap.
“We are therefore suggesting that if these “brains” are encouraged to circulate within Africa, this would have a tremendous positive impact on development,” said Assane Gueye, Research Professor, University Alioune Diop of Bambey and Next Einstein Forum Fellow. In certain cases these people settle in other African nations, where they are hired to work on projects or specialized research tasks, he added.
Governance and building infrastructure key to attracting Africa’s Diaspora
Participants discussed reasons why well-trained people remain abroad. These include poor policies and governance at home and lack of incentives and infrastructure to attract them to return. China was cited as a good example where the government established infrastructure to attract thousands of students sent annually to America and Europe to study. There is a close relationship between the Chinese government and the students abroad that enables skills to be ‘repatriated’ back home and this has been partly responsible for China’s fast development and economic boom.
Insights from African Development Bank’s Jobs creation work
The African Development Bank Group launched its 2016-2025 Jobs for Youth in Africa strategy in 2016. The strategy is to support African countries scale up their response to youth unemployment and underemployment crisis on the continent through high impact and workable solutions aimed at creating opportunities through responsive education and training, transformative jobs and a business environment conducive to entrepreneurial activities of the youth. The goal is to equip 50 million youth with employable skills and create 25 million jobs over the next decade. It emphasizes partnerships including with the private sector; scaling up solutions that work and sustainable results for impact.
In this regard, the Bank invested US$ 164.3 million in Rwanda under the Skills Entrepreneurship and Employability Program. Some of the results include the institutionalization and operationalization of sector skills councils – a key instrument to promote employability of graduates, which has allowed structured private sector participation in the review of curricula for technical and vocational education to help bridge gaps in labour market needs; promotion of private sector in providing industrial attachment and apprenticeship thus promoting employability of graduates. Over 60 private companies are working with the government to host interns who are placed in different institutions, to support their transition to the world of work.
The coordination and harmonization of youth employment interventions across ministries and agencies under one umbrella has resulted in the development of highly effective National Employment Programme, to address the country’s unemploymentchallenges
Malawi is another example where the Bank has invested US$14.57 million in bringing the public and private sectors to work together to improve competitiveness and scale production that feeds the export market and creates jobs. Some of the key outcomes include the creation of 132 enterprises in the edible oil value chain that have benefitted from business linkages and the creation of 1000 sustainable jobs.
Participants at the conference acknowledge initiatives such as those cited above do address some of the continent’s brain drain problem as they provide youths with good employment at home.
South Africa attains brain-drain-brain gain equilibrium
In Cairo, Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director-General for South Africa’s Research and Development Support Department of Science and Technology, shared his country’s experiences on the subject. He told participants that South Africa has reached the equilibrium point where the number of highly skilled people leaving the country is equal to those coming into the country.
“This involved a lot of innovations to attract the best brains to remain in, or come back to the country. For instance South Africa developed strategic national programs such as Astronomy Radio telescope that will be the largest in the world and established scientific chairs. The country also created the right conditions at home,” said Thomas Auf der Heyde. The telescope will attract many specialist scientists from the world and the Scientific Chairs encourage excellent brains to remain or those abroad to come back home because the Chairs are prestigious and holders are paid handsomely. The Scientific Chairs have so far attracted 2011 members of South Africa’s Diaspora that work closely with the Ministry of Interior to get visas for foreigners coming from abroad.
Sometimes, it’s about nation building and a call of duty
Participants discussed the Somalia case where learned people were returning to Somalia with no benefits such as hefty perks and good environment attached. They only come back as a call of duty; a call to develop their country. Therefore, in spite of the many challenges mentioned, all participants agreed that there was an urgent need for Africa’s Diaspora to return home and develop their respective countries.