Publish at May 10 2022 Updated May 16 2022

The skills drain in Africa

How to keep talent on the continent?

If the economy has gone global, so has education. Now, the issue of student mobility is on the academic agenda. Every faculty in the world is trying to attract bright minds. Thus, excluding the period of covid, many have expatriated to get a better education. Africa is no exception. Many young men and women enroll in institutions in the United States or Europe to access higher education.

Or, particularly in the African case, a significant percentage will not return to their native land afterwards. This brain drain on the continent is nothing new. Already in 1968, UNESCO warned against the emigration of scientific and technical elites to Africa. More than 50 years later, the situation has not improved, quite the contrary.

Greener grass elsewhere

A huge part of the young generation in various African countries is looking to leave for better skies. Tunisia, the second largest Arab country in terms of brain drain, finds that its students can't take it anymore from the economic, political and social crisis. Obviously, this is hurting the country's economy. Many companies are no longer able to recruit young talent with specific skills. The medical community, too, is seeing its workforce shrink and is unable to renew itself.

The situation is similar in other countries such as Egypt where 89.4% of more than 700 medical students surveyed by WHO (World Health Organization) researchers wanted to emigrate. Why? Because anywhere else seems more welcoming and interesting than Egyptian hospitals to work in. The salary is meager, the state does not recognize their value, and a large percentage experience verbal violence (55.5%) and even physical assaults (35.4%).

A beneficial diaspora for Africa?

This type of disenchantment and exile of the youth is cause for concern for African countries that would need this relief. This is not entirely negative according to some stakeholders. For example, this lecturer reminds us that the problem lies in African school systems that are inadequate to the demands of the economy. Underemployment among young Africans is therefore endemic. By leaving their native land for better studies, they have a better chance of finding more prestigious positions with higher pay in the host countries. For some, this exodus would ensure a brighter long-term future for the continent. Expatriates finding themselves in the leadership of international organizations will possibly allow for greater insight into African needs.

Even more so as ties are not severed with their homeland. More than ever money transfers are being made from the diaspora to their home countries. The implementation of levers such as "Diaspora bonds" to get states out of debt or the institution of an annual season to share knowledge and experiences with the African community could greatly help.

Stop the Bleeding

Now, despite this positivist view of the exodus, the fact remains that all regions are currently suffering. Africa is experiencing a significant shortage of medical personnel and meanwhile Western countries are taking advantage of these new doctors. By 2035, the continent will reach a deficit of 4.3 million health specialists. This shortage has been cruelly perceived with the covid-19 pandemic, which, in addition, has taken away some of the practitioners, nurses, etc. Thus, Uganda had in July 2021 only 3 neurosurgeons for 44 million inhabitants. Canada, with 35 million, has more than 150. That's billions of dollars lost for countries that see their specialists siphoned off. In Gabon, the bill for the exodus of skills would be equivalent to 60 billion CFA francs per year (nearly 97 million U.S. dollars) since 1967.

This exodus of skills is also being experienced in the field of computer and communication technologies. Between 2015 and 2019, 70,000 North African specialists left for Europe, North America or Asia. A significant loss in a world in full digitalization. These brilliant minds do not return to modernize the infrastructure and techniques of their native countries after their studies.

So what can be done to stop the bleeding of talent? Research among young Egyptian doctors reveals that 95% of them would stay with reforms. So, a huge part of the solution lies in the government's attitude to keep this talent pool.

This means ensuring better working conditions than those prevailing in the various sectors requiring elites. It's hard to keep young people interested when they know they will make five or ten times more money elsewhere in the world than they will at home. Thus, countries such as Uganda are beginning to invest large sums of money to keep young scientists. Investments that seem to be paying off little by little as some adults are dropping the idea of moving abroad.

Nonetheless, according to Professor Carlos Lopes who was a member of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa between 2012 and 2016, African governments need to stop creating small, specific programs to keep its youth. As he reminds us, in places where 80% of the population is young, something more comprehensive needs to be offered so that all benefit and more want to stay.

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References :

Akinfenwa, Olusegun. "Africa's Loss, Their Gain: How the US and UK Benefit from Medical Brain Drain." Global Voices. Last updated July 19, 2021.

Cherni, Hajer. "Brain Drain: Tunisian Elite Destined for Export." Anadolu Ajansı. Last updated July 15, 2021.

Gnimassoun, Blaise. "Diaspora: Africa's Underestimated Development Potential." The Conversation. Last updated November 17, 2021.

"How Can African Governments Stop Brain Drain?" Debating Africa. Last updated December 7, 2021.

Kabbash, Ibrahim A., Rania M. El-Sallamy, Hanaa A. Zayed, Ibrahim Alkhyate, Ahmed A. Omar, and Sanaa A. Abdo. "The Brain Drain: Why Medical Students and Young Physicians Want to Leave Egypt." World Health Organization. Last updated September 23, 2021.

Kigotho, Wachira. "North Africa Hit by Brain Drain of ICT Graduates." University World News. Last updated April 29, 2021.

Mbeng Essone, Lyonnel. "Gabon: The University Exodus, A Phenomenon That Costs the State More and More." Gabon Media Time. Last updated August 18, 2021.

Monzon, Luis. "Brain Drain: How to Curb the Mass Migration of Tech Talents from Africa." IT News Africa. Last updated March 2, 2022.

Princewill, Nimi. "Two of Africa's Covid Experts Are Leaving the Continent. Is This a Brain Drain or Gain for Africa?" CNN. Last updated October 16, 2021.

Shrime, Mark. "Brain Drain is a Hidden Tax on the Countries Left Behind." The Conversation. Last updated July 22, 2021.

Wetaya, Richard. "Uganda Invests in Science to Stop 'brain Drain' and Drive Economic Growth." Alliance for Science. Last updated August 18, 2021.

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