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The African brain drain

October 26, 2009

          Africans living in the United States are twice as likely to graduate from college as the average American.These African students often come from families who value education as a way to get on in life and place a high value on working and studying hard.Sara Tsegaye, a straight-A student at UCLA, is one example of that success. Her parents fled Ethiopia in the late 1980s, first to Sudan and then, when Sara was one year old, they moved to San Jose, California.Sara’s father works on a mobile ice cream truck in San Jose and her mother used to be a factory worker before she got laid off.”We manage to pay for school because I’ve been working since I was 11,” Sara told Reuters Africa Journal. “I’ve been working with my dad on his ice cream truck, he’s been paying me and I’ve been saving the money. Also I had two jobs in high school and I saved up a lot of money. I understand the value of money.”Sara wants to work with an NGO or a non-profit organisation after she graduates. She wants to travel and she wants to make a difference in the world. Other African students say they want to go home once they get a bit of experience in their careers.But Africa is suffering from a massive brain drain just now and it’s questionable whether enough of those highly motivated students from America will return home in large enough numbers to really make a difference.


Brain drain is slowly killing Africa. I believe it is wrong to depend on remittances to say the continet is winning. The money sent home is largely for consumption because we don\’t have the right talent to put the money into good use. We don\’t have the right quality of graduates to turn classroom insights into implementable ideas.It is worse that Africa\’s universities are more or less a shell after great teachers head to Harvard, Yale, SUNY and the like.Africa must lure its people schooled in the rich world back home by paying them internationally competitive salaries and allowances.


This is not a story of “brain drain”. ” Brain drain” occurs when a country’s schools, guilds or other training environments train a country’s population and these trained personnel leave said country for a different environment. The problem can be resolved in the use of incentives to stay or return or recruitment of another country’s professionals. There is something inherently wrong when an engineer will stay in Dubai working as a common labourer rather than return to SA. There are other countries whose professionals, especially in medical fields, have applied for immigration permits and work permits for SA and never receive so much a a notice that the application has been received. The “concern” expressed about “brain drain” seems more a contrivance than a reality based issue.

Posted by ML Gwydir | Report as abusive

hopefully , africa is with full dreem to attract these intelliegent people through different ways. the ways may include cultivating peace , lessening down poverity and valuralization of educated people

Posted by Weldemariam | Report as abusive

dont care as long as african leaders in power of greed only helping their inner circle… bereket berhane

Posted by bereket berhane | Report as abusive

Everybody tlks about this brain drain, I come from Nigeria and went to University in Nigeria before I left for the USA to pursue gradute school. I have been leaving in the United States ever since.Am I any smarter than my Nigerian colleagues that I left back home just because I have gone to school in the United States and working in the United States? Certainly not. There were smarter people who are still back home who can make a real difference to te nation. It all comes back to motivation and incentive.

Posted by Tolu Oluwadairo | Report as abusive

I have heard some of my nigerian colleagues in the USA who say they want to go back home to change the country and each time I laugh this “textbook” statement. This is very ignorant talk from my perspective. Ask them where they intend to work upon returninghome and they will tell you the ExxonMobils, Shell and Chevron of this world or better still in Politics. None of them is willing to make the sacrifice of serving in the Ministries or in grass root development programs. “So much for changing the country”

Posted by Tolu Oluwadairo | Report as abusive

Many Ugandan youths who have gone to the US to study rarely return home.While in the US, they argue that facilities are much better and would rather stay there than come home.Even when they come home with the ‘American degrees’, few companies are willing to pay them as much as their degrees would entitle them to. So the employers settle for those with ‘local degrees’ because they wont be paid highly.However, many have come back with great ideas but the unfavorable political and economic environment has constrained them. Sooner or later, they return to America to make the dollars even if they end up doing odd jobs sometimes.I personally wouldn’t blame any young person who would not want to return to Africa after studying in the developed world. It as if you have people waiting for you back in your country just to frustrate you!


The Global recession has given every African student the reason to go back home and rebuild. I know a lot of people both residents and non-residents who have gone back home in large numbers from both the UK and the US.This recession had made it difficult to look for jobs, keep a job or even start a business.Moreover, a person who is un-documented will find it twice has hard than those who are documented to find a JOB.For these people this recession is a moment of truth, eye opener.

Posted by Kola | Report as abusive

as a white zimbabwean who has had family friends literally thrown around the world because of the colour of my skin..Africa will not see me again..brain or no brain. As a family we alone supported at least 1000 people. Very sad.

Posted by Aidan | Report as abusive

I think the only solution for this big problem is by making targeting the next generation to be educated and make them to work hard enough and also to use the resource we have apropritly and targeting the future of the country bright, i don’t want to complen the government, we can use the good side of it’s policy.If we try our best to make a change lets show a good axampel to our children by learning from the past and from abroad.

Posted by shonnora | Report as abusive

If Africa could provide these highly trained professionals with all the appropriate tools, financial incentives, intellectual stimuli, and the peace of mind they need, they would be more than willing to return, to enjoy all the good things familiar to them, I am sure. But why go back to a country where someone with less schooling – though with better political contacts- and a bigger paycheck, will boss you around without having any clue of how to do the work? Like someone say: “Better a brain drain, than a brain waste”.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

I agree with ML Gwydir. Professionals also leave Africa because of:1) Over aggressive affirmative policies;2) High taxes:- rather be paid in dollars abroad;3) Wasteful and fruitless expenditure by governments;4) Fear of crime, illicit trades and wars;5) Human capital recognition abroad;6) Super power expansion with ulterior motives;7) Religious expansion with ulterior motives;8) Natural resource exploitation;9) Marginalization and a fragmented African Union;10) Dismay at NGO validity;and Global tariffs.

Posted by Casper | Report as abusive

One of the most significant consequences of brain drain is its impact on the university sector itself. The sector is rapidly losing the ability to attract, retain and provide the quality training needed to provide Africa’s next generation of university teachers – those that train the doctors, scientists, teachers, engineers etc. The social ramifications are is an initiative to share African and global expertise to enable African postgraduates complete their studies to a high quality level by providing mentoring, support and networking opportunities. A serious push from governments and donors towards strengthening the Africa university sector should enable more opportunities for Africa to retain its talent, particularly now where it’s needed most, in its universities.It will require a concerted effort. But one that is urgently needed. Africa could slowly drain down the plug hole without its brains.

Posted by Vanessa Liston | Report as abusive

This is not the time to blame any body. Most the African Governments don’t need too many brains around. Look at Guinea, how on earth do you want Guinean students to go back? In Africa the politics and the ethnics sometimes come first. It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you don’t wanna help change the constitution, deepen the corruption, you will be left aside with no one listening to you.

Posted by christophe Fiero | Report as abusive

Africa must make it worthwhile for our diaspora to come back. The current situation does not do this becuase we are still working out who should rule and we are using stone age tactics to decide the outcome. We need a break through in coming up with dynamic patriotic leaders who can beat the current odds. Those in the diaspora have done well for them selves however very few of them seem to have achieved at the very apex of international standards in any field of endeavour. Graduating from an elite school and developing original reseach or creating a global company are different levels of achievement. Put in anather way most of the diasporan africans are good employees of other people. We have a long way to go and the focus should be on quality as opposed to quantity


The debate on brain drain has been around for quite some time. The reasons advanced over the time include political oppression, need for better paying jobs, lack of appropriate local jobs and simply the sheer desire to discover the west-including now the East Asia.Many educated Kenyans have moved to Southern Africa in search of better paying jobs.We can localise the issue whereby many of us rarely wokr where we are born. Majority of educated African move to major urban towns in search of better jobs, social amenities and secured environment.However, its no longer tenable to advance brain drain as the reason for our less developed status.Take the case of immigrant Chinese and Indians.The experience ganied in more advanced economies have been the basis on which these two giants are moving fast to industrialised status as their citizen move back home and start off business ventures. We in Africa need to have a long term view on the issue and also appreciate the intrinsic benefit to be derived.

Posted by ole masaai | Report as abusive

I agree with Vanessa, one may add attorneys and accountants. The big problem is Governance. The ‘United States of Africa’ is an extremely varied Union, contains +- 56 countries, from deserts to lush forests, with tens of dialects in some countries. It has been subjected to imperialism, but also benefited from infrastructure that was created. I am cautious of educational and religious advances made over 100 years, as is with cultures in Australia and the USA, did people really want this at all ? For the moment it should be split into Southern and Northern Unions, which would make the renaissance speedy and balance Super Power interests and prevent conflict.

Posted by Casper | Report as abusive

There’s hardly any African in the developed world that does not want to go back home and contribute his due, otherwise who clamours to depart the continent but for the various reasons highlighted by the many commentators on this discussion.There’s no easy answer to the problem of brain drain. This case in my view, is one that should be allowed to roll and as Africa evolves in its part of development, at its own pace and time, the issue of brain drain and the many vices of the continent will get resolved.I believe that Africa should celebrate the opportunity of her sons and daughters experiencing the developed world in any capacity. With time, these experiences will inevitably gravitate to our dear homeland. We just have to exercise some patience and continue to learn and contribute in any society we find ourselves.


I totally agree with Ole Maasai on this one, Africa is not under developed because it’s best have gone abroad to study.It’s a shame when the likes of Ochieng Oreyo (first comment) actually believe that African Universities are a shell.Our Education system may be wanting and not at the same level of Havard or Ivy League Universities,but we have great campuses, and we must learn to first be proud of what is ours in order to build them and make them better.Africans in the Diaspora are exposed to higher standards of living, from the basic infrastructure: roads,public transport, water, medical care, and many still believe in the American Dream. The Economic crisis has taught us that even Super Powers can be brought to their knees financialy, and it is upto Africans who are brave enough to want to make an impact back home.Several Kenyans have returned to high paying jobs, complete with a maid, a driver and a garden and have turned around businesses with their havard or MIT edication without regret.I am also sure that the numbers of Kenyans travelling to study abroad has greatly come down compared to the 90′s.


Brain drain surley not in Africa coz we are still blessed with new talented brains every day that can make the different every where around the world.Our main problem is to put the right structures in place.For instances i am from sierra leone we suffered alot from our civil war, we loss alot but thank God today with our new talents on board,we now aim sky high.

Posted by Ibrahima | Report as abusive

I agree that the matter of ethnicity is too important in Africa, especially in South Africa. Here in SA I see the politicians giving more and more importance to race, up until the point where many skilled whites do not feel welcome in their own country any more. They are leaving, and the politicians are celebrating.

Posted by dp | Report as abusive

They should call it a skills drain because that is really what it is and Africa probably has the least skills in the world such that the little it loses it shows. For those who think African students are gettting equal education to the western world think again. Nigeria which used to have some of the best universities on the continent did a survey and found that the average graduate from one of its top universities in 2009 scores LOWER than his/her peer in 1980. Try building a house in Africa and you will quickly realize just how unskilled people are. They cant even keep things in a straight line anymore.

Posted by Nwabu | Report as abusive

We need to change the teachings at our universities and schools, teach our children to be producers of goods, ideas, business, etc. Teach them not to be consumers of everything they come across….In South Africa, a new graduates first major purchase is a car, not shares/something that will create money…but more liability and debt. This must change.

Posted by Bongani | Report as abusive

As an African who have had an opprotunity to study abroad, i honestly was looking forward to coming back home (in Kenya), and make a difference, and i did come back. I did get a rude shock. First employers were not willing to hire me. Their reason, i was too overqualified with my European degree, second the politics, bureaucracy, and bad economic has seen my ideas shoved aside. I am currently waiting to start my PhD abroad and trust me, coming back home to work will be the last thing on my mind!!

Posted by Pauline | Report as abusive

If I could come to Africa and be assured of keeping a reasonable portion of the wealth I generate and know that the government would protect my property rights, I’d be making plans to migrate. Right now, Vietnam is looking more hospitable to business and entrepreneurs than any western country so plans are in that direction.

Posted by katz | Report as abusive

“Brain drain” is not the problem. That is apparent even from the remote corner of Alaska where I live.Their problems are the same faced by our Natives (Indians and Eskimo). Tribalism, nepotism, clan favoritism, a belief that the twits romanticizing the “primitive and simple life” know what they are talking about (it excuses their failures), and the untrustworthyness of everyone in the area. (Note the lecture on “Trust societies” by Drake in “The Last Centurian”.)Add to this the tribal economic system that requires a person support his relatives, no matter how lazy he might be, that prevents people from being able to build capital to use to build wealth.

Posted by Phillep Harding | Report as abusive

The idea of African students getting Western education and coming back home to ‘change things’ has been tossed around for some time now. I believe it will take more time before it will be practically realized. Personally, I happen to be a Southern Sudanese student in Canada. The experiences we face in The Sudan certainly makes one ‘weird’ to consider coming back (to live). The policies of the Sudanese governments towards Southern Sudan over the last five decades have made this returning home a matter of choosing between life and death. No wonder, Southern Sudan has one of the highest numbers of students in other continents (and in East African countries) in proportion to the number studying at ‘home’ ( it’s my observation). I have just mentioned the situation in The Sudan because it is always in the news and this brain drain thing slows down any meaningful development, socially, economically and politically. As for Southern Sudan, I am emotional, time will tell, the big day is just a year away!

Posted by meja | Report as abusive

I will respond to this subject with my experiences as a Kenyan woman.

I studied my Law degree in the UK. When I was in the UK having a Law degree was a big deal it showed you were smart it showed you were going places. When I went back home to Kenya I found it difficult to get a job, I had a secretary treat me like I was dirt and the issue there was who is your father, who are you in this society? Your law degree is irrelevant. This is one of the biggest problems in Africa and I suspect it is one of the main reasons studenst stay in the West at least here you are treated like a person and your education is valued.

Secondly, going to the West develops your way of thinking and you discover there is a differnt way of doing things rather than thinking why you start thinking why not. You go back home and people don’t want to think and you wonder how will this advance me and my career.

Finally, as a woman I did not feel protected in the work environment. You can be sexually harassed by your superiors and no-one will do anything. Why do I have to go through this so as to bring back something to a continent that does not care about me.

If I go back home I want to start my own business and establish my own rules. I don’t think people should sacrifice themselves because of a country that is only dedicated to the advancement of the elite and the well connected.

Posted by Climbing | Report as abusive

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