African governments must find lasting solution to brain drain

 African governments must find lasting solution to brain drain

Much as our continent wallows in poverty, have you readers ever pondered the number of professionals that we (Africa) produce; professionals whose skills are on demand in various corners of the globe?

They are aplenty. However, such positive trends never make it through the news agenda in the developed West and eastern hemispheres. That brings me to today’s discussion: brain drain in Africa. Our continent is losing thousands of highly skilled individuals, annually, to the job market in developed countries.

But before we cry foul, let us examine the reasons why such individuals desert their mother countries. These reasons include: lack of opportunities, low pay, political instability, and economic depression. According to experts, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda are the most affected countries in terms of brain drain. Currently, more than 300,000 highly qualified African professionals, some of them with PhDs, are now working in the Diaspora.

This brain drain, especially of medical professionals, is threatening the existence of health services in Africa. Here are some examples: There are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago- USA than there are back homein Ethiopia! Partly because of political instability, Ethiopia lost an estimated 75 per cent of its professionals to other countries, between 1980 and 1991.

Ghana is reported to have 2,000 trained doctors. The ratio of one doctor to patients 1: 11,000 patients. However, up to 68 per cent of these doctors have relocated to other countries– between 1993 and 2000– according to details from Ghana’s official Statistics Institute. Kenya is reported to be losing an average of 20 medical doctors every month to other countries.

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According to the 1993 UNDP Human Development Report, more than 21,000 Nigerian medical doctors were practising in the USA alone and yet their home country was suffering from an acute shortage of such professionals! If one were to factor in the number of Nigerian medical doctors working in Saudi Arabia, other Gulf States, Europe, Australia and other African countries, it is probable that the government in Abuja has lost an estimated 30,000 doctors.

On the positive side brain drain can;
l Increase in the amount of financial remittances back home by such professionals. These remittances help boost household incomes. It is estimated that the total number of Africans working abroad (both skilled and non-skilled) do remit $45 billion annually.
l If and whenever they ever return for good, these professionals bring new skills and experience to their mother countries.

On the negative note, while the remitted cash is something to cheer about, it does not however make up for the social cost of losing their services back home in Africa. There are several adverse effects of losing such skilled professionals.

Secondly, until recently, most of our senior politicians had never shown concern for the loss of such highly skilled professionals. They regarded them as traitors or an unpatriotic lot.

Thirdly, the problem was compounded by the attitude of global lenders such as the IMF, World Bank, Usaid, etc. These institutions would never–till now– ask for highly professional individuals to work at high level in their projects in Africa. Instead, they would bring in experts from more developed economies. The end result has been the paying out of Africa– to foreign expatriates– an estimated $ 4billion annually. But such money could have been paid to locals who are highly skilled.

The solution to Africa’s brain-drain perhaps lies in NEPAD’s notion of establishing a continental data base. This might help Africa know the exact number of such professionals who are benefiting the developed West and ignoring mother Africa.

The priority of our leaders should nonetheless be to develop our human resources and reverse the brain drain through provision of better political, social and economic environments. They, too, must pay such professionals a ‘deterrent’ remuneration; one that will deter them from going to greener pastures abroad. And onto such remuneration, there should be added incentives, which will further dissuade them from fleeing into economic exile.

For example, during dictator Idi Amin’s days, doctors were exempt from paying taxes for their vehicles. Our governments should think up more ingenious ways of retaining these professionals.

Capt. Mukula is the chairman of the Pan African Movement, Uganda Chapter.

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