Causes and Consequences of Brain Drain - How long should Africa tolerate this?
By: Ashenafi Gedamu
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
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
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
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.