Causes and Consequences of Brain Drain - How long

Causes and Consequences of Brain Drain - How long should Africa tolerate this?


By: Ashenafi Gedamu

November 2002.




          The movement of intellectuals like University lecturers and researchers from one national setting to

          another, ranging from permanent relocation to short-term visits or exchange programs, facilitates the

          dissemination of knowledge and the broadening of cultural horizons. However, when one nation

          becomes a substantial net exporter of academic talent, a "brain drain" condition is said to occur. The

          presence of this condition suggests that the provider nation is at risk of depleting its natural supply of

          intellectual talent.


          Education seems to play a key role influencing rural-urban migration in the developing countries.

          Numbers of studies of migration in many countries have documented the positive relationship

          between the educational accomplishment of an individual and his or her interest to migrate from rural

          to urban areas.


          Education also plays a big role in the growing problems of international migration of high level

          educated individuals from poor countries to the rich ones causing the so called Brain Drain to the

          poor countries. Scientists, eingineers, academics and physicians who have been trained with

          scarcely available resources at social cost in their home countries for the benefits and growth of their

          nation. However, this has simply left helplessness to the concerned institutions and countries of the

          south that have been loosing thousands of their highly educated workers for the benefits of the rich

          countries and individuals themselves. The author divides international emigrants roughly into 3 major



             1.Emigrants due to lack of employment and low salaries, and thus people are tempted to look

               for better salaries elsewhere - here, we talk about Economic factors.


             2.The second cause of migration is political instability in home countries, thus they loose

               confidence to their governments and future prospects for a better life. These are individuals

               who may have difficulties because of their ethinic, cultural, religional belongings or being a

               member of opposition political groupings in their home countries, - Migration taking place in

               response to wars, and political and social turmoil.


             3.Many scholars who have been sent abroad for further studies or who are once out in one way

               or another, remain abroad leaving their family and workplace behind with the hope that a better

               life can be achieved elsewhere, despite their well being at home. Expectations are usually not

               met as hopped; thus, obliged to seek asylum which deteriorates their lives and becomes

               `ashamed` of themselves to return home empty handed - Immigration flow due to lack of

               information and misguidance.


          As some statistics indicate concerning the current intelectual migration, it is Africa that suffers most

          from this `unfortunate phenomena´. In 1998 an estimated 700 Ghanaian physicians are said to have

          been practicing in the USA alone, which makes a considerable percentage of the population of

          doctors in the country. It is estimated that about 20,000 Nigerian academics are now employed in

          USA alone and more than 300 Ethiopian physicians are working in Chicago, USA alone. Here, one

          can emagine how much it means in the whole of the United States. According to research reports

          prsented on an international conference concerning the issue of Brain Drain, Africa generally looses

          over 20,000 intelectuals yearly. This is undoubtfully one of the main constraints of under development

          in the continent. How long should Africa tolerate this? - indeed not for long.


          A new report, brodcasted by the British Broadcasting Corportaion (BBC) says Africa has lost a third of

          its skilled professionals in recent decades and it is costing the continent $4 billion dollars a year to

          replace them with expatriates from the West. Where as rich countries like the United States of

          America have saved a total sum of $26 billion dollars which otherwise should have spent to train

          130,000 highly qualified physicians.


          The consequence is especially worse for those countries like Ethiopia. This already poor and

          `unfortunate`country has been loosing its meagre professionals continuously since the previous

          regimes. Ethiopia has a long history of external provocation and internal conflict that has been driving

          out its limited medical doctors in particular and other professionals in general. The statistical estimates

          for Ethiopia indicate that about 50 percent of the Ethiopians who went abroad for training and further

          education have not returned home for the past two decades after completing their studies in the West.

          Thousands of them have been trained in home institutions with considerable social cost and debt

          from the richest nations. In the past 10 years i.e. between 1980-90, a total of less than 6.000 students

          have returned from studies abroad out of nearly 23,000 students who left for Europe and the United

          States in that same period of time. These are either tempted by significantly higher wages and better

          future prospects or give the blame to the political situation, which they say is a threat even for their

          lives. In most cases the later is likely to be the main reason what makes Ethiopians on their way out

          from the country. South Africa and Nigeria seem to have the bigest portion in loosing their

          professionals from Africa, which consume professionals from other African States on their part.


          If African Schools and higher institutions should remain in takt, then the continent should substitute with

          qualified professionals from other countries that indeed leaves the continent poorer, and holds back

          development. Universities are obliged to hire inexperienced graduates who may likely be also in the

          pipeline to following the footsteps of their highly educated and skilled comrades - a vicious cycle!


          Curving the brain drain - Brain Drain - from the poor to rich countries, is an international issue but

          how to get rid of it or at least keep it as minimal as possible is not an easy task, therefore, it should

          concern African governments more than anytime ever. Ancient migration history reminds us that not all

          forms of economic interaction among different societies are necessarily beneficial. Globalization by

          itself is a modern way of movements of people (whether skilled or not), goods, services,

          technologies, and physical and financial assets from one coutry or continent to another which every

          body is said to be benefiting from. However, the movements of people we are talking of, is

          unbalanced and unjustified movement of educated and skilled individuals that usually takes place

          from one continent i.e. Africa to the rest of the world. What should Africa do to curve this flow of

          intellectuals within or beyond the continent?


          Five Possible Solutions to curve the brain drain:


             1.Good governance at the national and international level, especially maintenance of reasonable

               security for peoples' lives and property is essential for economic progress, Thus withholding

               political and economical emigrants, who blame their governement's failure for political unrest

               and stagnant economic growth is possible. Transparency in leadership is essential and should

               be maintained.


             2.Offering higher wages for `insiders` according to their qualifications is essential, instead of over

               estimating and hiring expatrates, which are more costly.


             3.Education plays a powerful role especially in the growing problems of international migration.

               Therefore, offering these individuals the necessariy education qualifications in their home

               countries, and expanding a better educational infrasturcture may definitely prevent emigrants

               who are seeking a higher education abroad.


             4.Seeking alternative measures for return of warranty from the beneficiaries, such as the

               withholding of academic degrees until the graduates return and are willing to serve the people,

               may be another considerable alternative.


             5.The last alternative measure could be, taxing emigrants who are indigenously trained in home

               countries. This is indeed a sensitive issue and may sound absurd, and may potentially infringe

               on the basic human right and freedom to chose the nature and location of individuals where to

               live and where to work. Thus, it must be agreed upon the international community and

               international laws.


             6.Since richer African States are also the stakeholders of this so called brain drain, a deal must

               be made between rich and poor states of the continent that prohibits the later from taking

               intellectuals of the poorer states.



          Ashenafi Gedamu is an agronomist at the State University of Kassel, Germany, and has been working for his Masters-Thesis.


          November 2002.