Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
A TOP American academic and researcher Dr Scott Firsing once said a country’s true strength is its people.
However, to Africa’s dismay, the continent continues to suffer a brain drain “syndrome” where the highly educated and skilled leave for greener pastures.
Africa must therefore strive to address the problem of brain drain as it continues to lose skilled professionals every year, costing the continent billions of dollars in terms of lost productivity and economic activity.
Experts and academics say there is a need for African governments to formulate strategies to retain manpower and ensure that, if emigration occurs, the continent benefits from brain drain.
Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) Vice-Chancellor, Professor Rungano Jonasi Zvobgo, said although the exodus of highly trained manpower from developing countries to industrialised nations is not a new phenomenon, the magnitude of the problem in Africa and its alarming increase presents a growing urgency for action as the consequences of brain drain threaten to stunt the overall development of the continent.
He urged African governments to grow their economies and create jobs for citizens.
“Brain drain is not a phenomenon that is typical to Africa alone. It is typical of the entire world. I prefer calling it exchange of brains or manpower across the globe.
“However, it becomes brain drain in Africa because it is argued that Africa fails to provide its citizens with the kind of jobs that they would have trained for in their respective institutions of higher learning,” said Prof Zvobgo.
“In light of that, African governments should therefore, create employment and people will find a reason to stay at home. Economic growth and jobs should come first before politics because people don’t eat politics, but they need jobs in order to feed themselves and their families.”
Prof Zvobgo said Africa continues to suffer as it continues to lose out in terms of productivity and economic activity that could develop the native countries.
“There is no running away from the fact that our inability to provide ready jobs for our people sometimes drives them out of their own country in search of appropriate employment,” he said.
“Lack of economic development persuades people to seek alternatives elsewhere and this is not a problem in Zimbabwe alone but anywhere in the world. On the entire continent, the developing world, in particular, where employment is not readily available, people will tend to go to places where they perceive employment to be readily available.
“In as much as we can’t stop a lot of our professionals who aren’t satisfied with remunerations and benefits that they’re getting in Africa, we could as well find strategies to retain our manpower.”
University of Zimbabwe (UZ) lecturer and scientist, Professor Isheunesu Mupepereki, blamed the brain drain on the colonial education system.
“We can never blame these African people who’re leaving their countries because they were never educated to help their countries, but educated to serve a system of the white man. As Zimbabweans, it means we’ll have to start afresh to build our economy by restructuring the country’s education system so that it looks inside rather than outside,” he said.
“The system that was there ensured that Africans learn English so that they can be able to communicate with the white man in Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. We’re saying the brain drain is a colonial situation where schools and the manpower were used to serve the colonialist in countries where they’re concentrated.”
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki recently described Africa’s brain drain as “frightening.”
Africa has lost 20 000 academics and 10 percent of highly skilled information technology and finance professionals, he stated.
Mr Mbeki estimates that more African scientists and engineers live and work in the US and the UK than anywhere else in the world.
Brain drain in Africa has financial, institutional, and societal costs.
Sadly, African countries get little return from their investment in higher education since too many graduates leave or fail to return home at the end of their studies.
Data on brain drain in Africa is scarce and inconsistent. However, statistics show a continent losing the very people it needs most for economic, social, scientific and technological progress.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), since 1990, Africa has been losing 20 000 professionals annually.
A recent report by the parliamentary committee on education showed that science departments in Zimbabwe’s universities have been hardest hit by the brain drain.
The report said at one time, at UZ, the departments of animal science, community medicine, metallurgy and clinical pharmacology required 20, 18, 13 and 11 lecturers respectively.
Computer science and veterinary sciences both require 13 lecturers but have only one each. Psychiatry, geo-informatics and mining engineering also have one lecturer each but require 16, 10 and 8 respectively.
The African Union (AU) recently published a draft report titled, “The Revised Migration Policy Framework for Africa and Plan of Action (2018–2027)”, a 10-year plan that seeks to reduce the rapid migration of skilled African professionals with critical skills.
The AU plan of action seeks to stop migration to developed countries of African professionals with critical technical skills – estimated to reach up to 70 000 annually.
According to the report, African countries must counter the exodus of skilled nationals, particularly doctors, nurses and engineers.
But to achieve this objective, there is an urgent need to provide gainful employment, professional development and educational opportunities to qualified nationals in their home countries, notes the action plan.
Drawing heavily from the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) strategy for the retention of Africa’s human resource capacities, the report admits that African countries can no longer afford to depend on foreign nationals to steer development. Current AU estimates indicate that there are over 100 000 expatriates who consume 35 percent of official development assistance to Africa.
In this regard, the plan urges all African countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, to counter the effects of brain drain by encouraging nationals in the diaspora to contribute to the development of their countries of origin through transfer of skills, knowledge and technology.
Available statistics from the African Union indicate emigration of doctors from Mozambique currently stands at 75 percent of all trained physicians.
In Angola it is 70 percent, Malawi 59 percent, Zambia 57 percent and in Zimbabwe 51 percent.
“Currently, Africa has an average ratio of 0,307 medical doctors per 1 000 people, or a mere 358 000 doctors for 1, 2 billion people,” says the AU Capacity Development Plan Framework.
World Health Organisation (WHO) says the departure of health professionals has eroded the ability of medical and social services in several sub-Saharan countries to deliver even basic health and social needs.
At least 38 of the 47 sub-Saharan African countries fall short of the minimum WHO standards of 20 physicians per 100 000 people.
According to researchers, Saharan African countries that invest in training doctors have ended up losing $2 billion as the expert clinicians leave home to find work in more prosperous developed nations.
A study by Canadian scientists found that South Africa and Zimbabwe suffer the worst economic losses due to doctors emigrating, while Australia, Canada, Britain and the United States benefit the most from recruiting doctors trained abroad.
The scientists, led by Edward Mills, chair of global health at the University of Ottawa, called on destination countries to recognise this imbalance and invest more in training and developing health systems in the countries that lose out.
“Many wealthy destination countries, which also train fewer doctors than are required, depend on immigrant doctors to make up the shortfall,” Mills’ team wrote in a study, which was published in the British Medical Journal.
The results show that these governments spend between $21 000, the figure for Uganda, and $59 000, in South Africa, to train a doctor, only to see them in many cases migrate to richer countries.
The findings suggested the benefit to Britain was around $2, 7 billion, and to the United States was around $846 million.
Australia was estimated to have benefited to the tune of $621 million and Canada was $384 million better off.
This continuous outflow of skilled labour contributes to a widening gap in science and technology between Africa and other continents.
Africa’s share of global scientific output has fallen from 0, 5 in the mid-1980s to 0, 3 percent in the mid-1990s. Also, there are more African scientists and engineers in the US than in the entire continent.
According to a January 2014 World Bank report, African migrants have doubled between 1980 and 2010 reaching 30, 6 million.
This represents around three percent of the continent’s total population.
US Census data shows the foreign-born African population growing rapidly. These migrants are also more educated compared to those from other continents —@mashnets