Mashudu Netsianda Senior Reporter
AFRICA must address the problem of brain drain as it continues to lose skilled professionals every year which costs the continent billions of dollars in terms of lost productivity and economic activity.
Experts say there is need for African governments to formulate strategies to retain manpower and ensure that, if emigration occurs, the continent benefits from brain drain.
Brain drain in Africa has financial, institutional, and societal costs. 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.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) estimates that between 1960 and 1989, some 127,000 highly qualified African professionals left the continent.
The Deputy Minister for Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Godfrey Gandawa said Africa continues to suffer and the only remedy would be for African countries to be paid for their professionals who are now overseas to help contribute to Africa’s GDP.
“As Africa we’re losing out in terms of productivity and economic activity that could develop the native countries. 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,” said Dep Min Gandawa.
“Our people offer their expertise that end up benefiting those countries outside Africa as the continent continues to suffer.”
University 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,” said Prof Mupepereki.
“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.”
Prof Mupepereki said when white people left Zimbabwe after imposing illegal sanctions, local people followed them because they were “too sharpened” to work in a certain environment or industry.
“When industry closed as a result of sanctions, they simply followed where their services could actually be used. So while we’re talking of patriotism we’re saying the African economies themselves have not been built in a way that allows the indigenous sustainability to be there. The reason why we continue to have brain drain is because you’ve these people who’re educated and conditioned to work in a certain environment where you have factories and administrative systems,” he said.
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 the University of Zimbabwe (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 eight respectively.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 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. Thirty-eight of the 47 sub-Saharan African countries fall short of the minimum WHO standards of 20 physicians per 100,000 people.
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.