A Look Into Brain Drain and Brain Gain in Africa


Brain drain is ravaging Africa. Most of the skilled and talented citizens are leaving the continent to Western Europe and North America. While some are going to play sports, many have made these regions homes and ply their trades in some of the most critical sectors of our modern civilization. And they are not coming back.

A recent study on Nigerian healthcare industry shows that the nation is underserved by its medical personnel primarily because of the emigration of its physicians abroad. So while there are many medical schools graduating thousands of doctors, the nation consistently lose the bests of these experts yearly. Unfortunately, the story is the same across all parts of sub-Sahara Africa and this has become a continental tragedy.

African football (yes soccer) leagues have been destroyed by the movement of our talented players to Europe. Local games are poorly attended and not very exciting to the locals. African European players are disproportionally popular and richer than their counterparts that play in Africa. In most national teams, up to 90% of the players play international.

In the field of engineering, most of the best students are lured by scholarships for postgraduate studies in the United States. These students are supposed to be future technical leaders of the continent. Upon graduation, they are enticed by the good jobs and prospects abroad and they spend their working lives outside Africa.

Emigration of skilled workers from developing nations to developed ones in search of better opportunities in trade, education, work, etc has been well documented. Many scholars from World Bank, IMF to countless non-governmental organizations have examined this trend. Theoretical examination is not scarce; what is lacking is solution to this problem.

So what can the continent do? Simply, we can leverage the power of technology to mitigate the impacts of brain drain. There are many enabling technologies and strategies which Africa and indeed all developing nations experiencing brain drain can deploy to turn brain drain into brain gain. There is need to understand how these nations can develop infrastructures to connect and collaborate with these people in Diaspora for their national developments. And technology could be the solution.

Understandably, Africa will prefer the physical presence of these experts in their native nations. Unfortunately, some of them work in industries that have not diffused in Africa. For those that are experts in genetic engineering, robotics, and so on, they may discover limited opportunities at home. Also, there is a potential “degradation” that occurs when someone moves from the seat of ideas to stay at the corners. In other words, telling an MIT professor of microelectronics to move to Kenya and practice will mean that in five years, he could be exceedingly backward when compared to his peers in US. And his professional worth will degrade instead of appreciating.

So, the continent must follow a paradigm where they honor the need for these experts to stay abroad and potentially contribute to their native nations. The physical presence while helpful is not really necessary provided there are enabling technologies and policies that can foster interactions between them and these nations.

The challenge will be to understand how technology can narrow the brain drain problem and turn them into brain gain as these experts continue to develop their skills in developed nations and using the enabling tools share and interact with their partners in their respective native nations. We need technology strategies that can connect people across boundaries and help modernize national programs on health, education, research, training, etc.

A comprehensive research on the contemporary issues regarding enabling technologies and strategies that can turn brain drain into brain gain is urgently needed in Africa. Based on the outcome of the study, we must develop a continental level roadmap driven by technology to offset the knowledge-imbalance created by brain drain. The continent needs to understand the following areas:

• 21st Century Brain Drain Challenges

• Brain drain and globalization

• Evolution and Opportunities in Brain Drain

• Distance and Web-based Education

• Technologies for Telemedicine, Security and Technology Management

• Deployment of Telepresence technologies in developing nations

• Economics of Brain Drain, National Technology Infrastructures and Policies

• Designing and deployment of supportive technologies

• Legal and Taxation issues for intercontinental workforce

• Open source Technologies

• ICT technologies

• Distance research and education collaboration

• Networks and regional bodies’ roles in standardizations, and others

Africa must work hard and invest resources to see how it can use technology to improve the quality of its education and healthcare through tele-education and telemedicine. That will require looking at the communication facilities available in the continent and upgrading them accordingly. African Union should think about mandating member states to have Diaspora Technology Networks across the regions so that constant flow of information and ideas could be shared through quality networks, Telepresence and other video technologies. The universities must be anchors of this initiative as they are the most vital instrument for technology diffusion.

We must find ways to tap the expertise of our citizens in foreign countries. It is time we begin looking at the technology of this process than focusing on the academic aspects of it. As technologies break boundaries, we must take advantages and build Africa.

In summary, the exodus of very capable Africans to North America and Europe owing to lack of institutional readiness at home must be seen as a threat to the prosperity and wealth of Africa. As they work in these adopted nations to improve their education, medicine, sports, and all other major fields, African governments must find ways to tap these skills. Technologies are readily available and we have the capability to turn this brain drain into brain gain. It is about developing and deploying the right technology with the goal of not asking these Diasporas to return to Africa but to remain in their adopted nations and support their native ones in education and training.

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