Monday, August 15, 2005

"Brain drain" Africa

Africa’s brain drain is a bit of a quagmire. Everybody knows that a country [or as in this case, continent] requires an academically intelligent labour force to effect development (I am aware of the other forms of intelligence).
According to Rostow's model* of the stages of economic development, it follows that nations transition through agriculture, then to industrialisation(manufacturing) then technology(services), then … (we don’t know yet, maybe mass consumption). I would say the west is at the technology(services) phase, China is somewhere north of industrialisation but south of the technology phase and developing countries are still at the agriculture phase (as evidenced by the large contributions to the economy - GDP - as a proportion of national incomes solely form agricultural produce).

So an educated labour force is imperative to economic and social development. Africa’s challenge (amid the raft of challenges) is that its apparently intelligent individuals leave the continent in search of better lives in the west. Africans in Africa complain about their "crème de la crème" leaving and the west cite the "brain drain" as an unfortunate scenario that should be tackled to engender Africa’s economic development. So it appears that – for once – Africa and the west are in agreement about some quasi-economic issue but for completely different reasons, quite obviously. Western immigration policy suggests that emigrating Africans are not as welcome in the west. Policy to govern the movement of "third worldees" into the developed countries is quite visibly heavy-handed and conspicuously skewed in favour of non-third worldees.

However, my mind boggles as I wonder why – in the numerous texts covering "brain drains" – the following questions are usually not dealt with:

#1. Why do Africans leave Africa?
#2. Is it only the "brainy" that are leaving?
#3. What is the attraction of the west?
#4. Why is the number of exits from Africa disproportionate to the returns?
#5. What are the incentives or disincentive for returning Africans?
I have therefore decided to attempt at answering them.

#1. Why do Africans leave Africa?
All manner of persecutions aside (which causes migration for life or death situations), consider the following scenario. A force with far superior weaponry invades your country; you are subsequently conquered and become subject to a kingdom you know nothing of. You are maltreated and belittled. In the meantime, your backyard is being plundered of all its resources. All that can move is moved and all that poses geographical and logistical challenges is fenced in and protected like a fortress so that plundering can continue far beyond the foreseeable horizon.
When the indigenous folk finally decide that it is time to die for their land, the oppressors leave but have already left in place policy to ensure continual plundering. This policy coincidentally unites the colonisers from different regions and though they have their differences, sometimes leading to war, on this one issue [policy that allows the looting of Africa’s resources] they are allies. United by cause!

The cause is the skeleton, the organisations that have subsequently been formed to govern world policies become the muscle through which, over time, blatantly unjust/unethical/economically unsound ideas that benefit the colonisers (as a whole) are enforced.
Agriculture/Horticulture - Africans can’t keep farming forever, it is not logical to expect them to do so. They too want to move through the stages of national/economic development and continue progressing. So how has the west done it? They have engaged the factors of production: land, labour and capital (now including technology). Africa has labour but some of the land is unworkable, some is agricultural, some is maintained as game reserves to generate tourism revenue and some is mined for its natural resources.
Mining: the wealth of highly demanded natural resources - Who mines Africa’s land? The big western corporations with political clout and influence. Do they create jobs in Africa? Well, in proportion to the amount of wealth that they generate for themselves and the subsequent number of jobs they create in their own countries (trading, operations, analysts, etc) the answer may as well be no! In their respective countries, these big conglomerates contribute to their own economies. So does the west expect all Africans to become farmers? And if so, how much land is available? Well, look at Zimbabwe’s case (not taking a stance on the rights or wrongs of Mugabe’s approach). I have heard that most of the fertile/workable land was owned by a very small minority (apparently less than 10%) who all happen to be the offspring of former colonial masters. So where is the land to be farmed?

African’s leave Africa because the west is everywhere around them and is all they know. Go to Africa and in the mud hut, you will be astonished to find CNN or SKY News whilst searching for your so called "safari" or "jungle" experience. The west owns Africa's fertile land (in one form or another), the west takes Africa's natural resources (and subsequently creates jobs almost entirely for western citizens), the west tells Africans what to grow, pays Africans what it likes, loans Africans money with many strings attached, denies Africans fair access to world markets, etc, etc. If roles were reversed, westerners would be flooding to Africa! That is plain common sense.

#2. Is it only the "brainy" that are leaving?
Some people swim across dangerous waters for a better life and I cannot find empirical studies that suggest a correlation between education and good swimming. So I would rephrase "brain drain" to just drain.

#3. What is the attraction of the west?
Seeing as all the money is going to the west, all power is in the west (though China is a serious contender), why not?

#4. Why is the number of exits from Africa disproportionate to the returns?
Let me see…..Hmmm…..
So you’ve left Africa, now in the west and enjoy some of the wealth that has partly been generated by your own continent (especially so if you work for an oil or mining company) and partly generated by sound economic policy (giving credit where credit is due). From the west, you see Africa in a continuing state of disrepair and the west ceremoniously giving morsels with one hand and defiantly taking bucket-loads with the other. Do you want to be on the wining side? I hear the laws of self-preservation kicking in. How exactly will you survive in Africa? Will you have a job? A roof? Or do you have relatives in high places?

#5. What are the incentives or disincentive for returning Africans?
Yes corruption is a problem but it is not restricted to Africa. My stance is that corruption is the birthchild of greed and is prevalent all over the world but most obvious where people are desperate. Economic/financial desperation in Africa causes people to embezzle money in broad daylight and then deny it (I know, it beggars belief). However, in the west, there are frequent colossal scandals involving far much more money (Enron anyone?). These take time to unearth because people are comfortable and have therefore taken some measures to hide themselves/their actions. In fact, dare I say, maybe those that commit offences in the west do so because they are bored, a far cry from not knowing where your next meal will come from. However, I am not condoning crime in whatever form or whichever society. I am simply pointing out that there are different stimuli.

Honest, educated Africans in the west work really hard and subsequently make money (despite all the odds against them, starting with the well known ill-assumption that their education is inferior to western counterparts - for example, a maths qualification from Africa is inferior to one from the west. This is a major hindrance and often Africans have to start-out at disproportionately lower levels).
Africans want to continue to be economically active but are faced with the strong probability of not only becoming economically inactive upon their return to Africa, but also dissuaded by the idea of being dependant on a continent that is itself a dependant. There is no welfare state! Sleeping hungry whilst worrying about the shoes on your feet disappearing if you sleep becomes a real/tangible concern.
A second large problem is the reason why Jesus himself was persecuted the most in his own hometown by his own people. Some African expatriates go back to Africa with bursting CVs and tons of advice for systems already heavily riddled with corruption that the only other logical step for their governments is to imprison the returning expatriates under the accusation that they are trying to be revolutionaries (a.k.a citing the truth about mismanagement or poor management). Some expatriates go back to incompetent parliamentarians (an example) and systems that collapse at dawn, and stay down until it is in an official's personal interest to revive them. There is market failure, political failure, judicial failure, all sorts of failure, but the once thin parliamentarians are now fat and wealthy and well known for being consistently incoherent. The majority of Africans are good honest people, but they have no power!

It is only wise to deal with the cause of a problem, not the symptom.
  1. Natural resources should firstly be of benefit to the stewards/custodians, then as a secondary outlet, to the rest of the world. Diamonds, gold, oil, etc, should be state owned, create jobs for the respective citizens and feed economic growth in the respective country. The current situation is the reverse. International conglomerates own (in the literal sense) the natural resources and create jobs in their own countries and fuel their own economies (then the westerner complains that those whose reources are being plundered are migrating to where their resources are taken to - following the money trail). Unfortunately, some conglomerates go on to engender civil unrest in the country that they are plundering so that in the confusion, it is business as usual.
  2. Following economic growth and rising employment, the governments should install effective capital markets to address that market failure. It is therefore required that ill defined, crippling loans from international institutions are removed.
  3. Functional capital markets engender entrepreneurialism, which is high in Africa (the informal sector). More economic growth results.
  4. Implementation of ethical/moral/logical trade policy by the west. This has implications for Africa’s exchange rates, which in turn feed into numerous other economic variables.
  5. Fair global labour mobility. The conspicuous favouritism for "one kind" over another will only create more problems. "Third worldees" are not the favourites, they don't need to become the favourites but a move by the west towards levelling the playing fields of labour mobility will help.
  6. A coalescence of well functioning and developing capital markets, buzzing economic activity and rising employment then creates a demand for highly skilled (higher education) labour. African expatriates are itching for such an opportunity because they want to be part of a revolution - the African economic revolution. In addition, all the local calculus experts can apply financial engineering principles to become very successful Black-Scholes practitioners. Another hub for financial services?
The final outcome (assuming consistently progressive fiscal and monetary policy) is a force to reckon with and ultimately one of the big players in world markets. However, so far international and local policy are a hindrance.
See also "Brain Drain - cHIT cHAT for the Brain Dead?" I thought it made interesting reading.
* It is noteworthy that Rostow's stages of growth model has been critised by many development economists who argue that it was developed with Western cultures in mind and not applicable to less developed countries. It addition, its generalised nature makes it somewhat limited. It does not set down the detailed nature of the pre-conditions for growth. In reality policy makers are unable to clearly identify stages as they merge together. Thus, as a predictive model it is not very helpful. Perhaps its main use is to highlight the need for investment. Like many of the other models of economic developments, it is essentially a growth model and does not address the issue of development in the wider context.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article is excellent !. It is factual and well to the point.

So, where does that leave the african? The closer you look at it the more desparate you become and wonder to where all that leads.

Ever heard of the truth that hurts?

Thursday, August 18, 2005 1:50:00 pm  
Blogger Kibet said...

Thanks curious for your email.

I like the article, though i think we have apportioned too much blame on the west. Africa and its nations, need to start getting their act together and creating a condusive environment for our economic and social development.

The western powers and China didnt have any to cry foul about or depend on- and they made it. My thought? Only we can save ourselves. How is the million dollar question. But for sure, brain drain isn't helping us.

Pls. feel free to alert me on any interesting articles. Ubarikiwe!

Friday, August 19, 2005 5:13:00 am  

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