Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brain Drain: Diaspora Africans

Staff Writer

Now Is The Time To Pool Africa's Resources – Wealth and Mind

There have long been many stereotypical truths about Africa, one of which has been the devastating and increasing departure of the continent’s most prolific talents—brain drain. The phenomenon and it’s impact is not unique to Africa, which sees thousands of its best minds move overseas to better their lot in parts of the world where they can realize a higher standard of living. Now, however, the effects of Africa’s brain drain can be reversed or, at the very least, drastically minimized. With the widespread availability of social media and communication technologies within the last decade, both in the diaspora and on the continent at large, Africa can now crowd-source solutions to, and funds for, its problems from African experts, most importantly in the diaspora.

African countries have decried their loss of skilled labor to the West for decades and are now employing strategies to retain those still on the continent and entice those looking to return. The efforts are noble, but the fact that Africa cannot yet, or in the immediate future, make available to these Africans the same standard of living they enjoy in the West, they will not return in the numbers that matter. Allowing for this group of people to pool together ideas and investment capital for projects in Africa will be the best means of tapping into this African resource.  What Africa needs most, amongst other things, are innovative ideas and the capital to fund them. It now has access to both.

Each year, according to the United Nations, at least 20,000 highly skilled Africans leave the continent for the developed world. Many of them are fleeing serious economic woes, gross human rights abuses, lack of justice, and overall breakdown of society in their home countries. Regardless of their reasons for departure, the truth is that this group represents a massive economic resource to their respective home countries. According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM),  an estimated 27,000 Africans left the continent for industrialized countries between 1960 and 1975. The figure rose to 40,000 during the period of 1975 to 1984. The current trend, which began in 1990, according to the same organizations, has roughly 20,000 people leaving Africa annually.

The wealth of knowledge and know-how that this group holds has an invaluable impact in their countries of residence. In fact, members of this expatriate group go on to become a vital aspect of their alien country’s economy. One’s imagination is not being stretched to belief that this group can make the same level and quality of impact in their home countries. What social media and the proliferation of communication technologies allow is the marriage of investment capital and the entrepreneurial ideas that Africa needs. At this vital junction in African development, the continent and its people have the necessary tools to collectively work to move Africa forward. All that is needed for Africans to write their own bright future is available in African hands—the money and the brainpower.

For example, in the United States, Nigerian immigrants have the highest levels of education, surpassing whites and Asian Americans, according to census data bolstered by an analysis conducted by Rice University in America. Although Nigerians make up a tiny portion of the U.S. population, 17 percent of them in the country held master's degrees while 4 percent had a doctorate, according to the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2006. This percentage can be expected to have increased in the past 6 years. To add to this, the World Bank estimates that African immigrants living abroad—mostly in North America and Europe—send home between US$32 and US$40 billion annually. This figure dwarfs the U.S., U.K., and E.U. foreign aide expenditures in Africa.

It is true that the reasons for this group’s flight in the first place have not changed. The economic and social conditions in Africa have, arguably, gotten worse over the decades—continual, continent-wide GDP growth year after year is undercut by an even higher rate of wealth gap and social inequality. But these problems need good ideas to tackle them, and Africans can now be the source of those ideas. They can also be the tools that fashion these ideas into reality. African governments need to start creating channels that will make collective efforts by Africans in the diaspora on specific projects and investment opportunities in Africa easier. Africans can pool together to build universities; hospitals; create capital for business ventures through banks and other financial institutions; and they can collective launch news channels that can tell truth to power in their home countries and contribute to transparency.

Your comments and feedback are much appreciated. To engage in further discussion with the editors and contributors of the blog on this topic and other related topics, follow us on twitter @SEADiaspora and/or leave a comment below.