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23 - 30 January 2008 
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What Africa Should Do About Brain Drain

Brain drain is one of the greatest threats to socio-economic development in Africa. The need to reverse brain drain and re-position Africa in the 21st century cannot be overemphasized. As Africa embarks on a radical project to redeem itself from poverty, underdevelopment, disease, hunger, and backwardness, the problem of brain drain is urgent and merits high-level attention.

Sustainable development will be achieved in Africa if the continent takes drastic moves to harness and take full control of its resources in conjunction with the international community, African regional groupings and African professionals both at home and in the Diaspora. Africa will not develop without its doctors, engineers, scientists, nurses, professors, accountants, information technologists, teachers, business executives, architects, social workers and so on.  African governments must explore concrete ways of converting the “brain drain” into “brain gain”.  

Academic institutions and learning

African academics abroad should be encouraged to participate in the well being of their home countries.  This can be achieved through establishing networks with academics in Africa, organizing visits, making joint appointments with African institutions; providing graduate students with research materials from the Diaspora; promoting inter-university linkages, co-authorship and co-publishing with colleagues in Africa. Africa should consider “de-linking” its educational system from foreign models and values but rather domesticate, overhaul and redesign the school curriculum to one that meets indigenous needs. Africa must promote research and allocate sufficient resources and incentives to individual researchers who excel. Currently, most Africa governments are not promoting research and this stifles development. 

Measures to be taken by African governments  

Economic measures

Governments should institute policy frameworks for improving and stabilizing their economic environments by promoting a conducive economic environment, establishing policies and procedures that promote accountability and transparency and providing incentives to citizens working abroad to invest in the continent.  

Political initiatives  

Good governance, democracy, human rights, peace, security and stability in Africa are paramount in curbing brain drain. African governments should sensitize their citizenry about imperialist machinations and inculcate the spirit of nationalism and patriotism to their citizens through the introduction of National History as a compulsory subject starting from primary school level through to the university.  

Skills export policy 

Since other countries are competing with Africa for skills, African governments should formulate skills export and import policies that promote and provide the framework for training of human resources in their countries for international as well as local labour markets.


African governments should ensure that academics and professionals that are educated and trained at public expense work in the country for a certain period after completion of their training. Adding extra years for industrial attachment and internship in all critical areas like medicine, engineering and science among others might help delay emigration. 

Data base and Foreign Earnings 

Africa should create an accurate and continuing data base of its human capital.  This will help decision-makers to formulate policies for areas where brain drain is negatively affecting human development priorities. Alternatively, African citizens working abroad should be encouraged to transfer to their countries a certain percentage of their foreign earnings. 

Working Conditions 

Salaries must reflect market conditions. In addition, institutions must provide facilities for teaching and learning. Migrant workers’ rights must be protected by the UN as they are subjected to all forms of discrimination.  Currently there is no International Law that binds all countries on the rights of migrant workers and how they should be treated by host countries.

Introduction of Brain Tax 

To deal with the negative externality of labour migration, a brain drain tax was recommended at a major international conference in Bellagio in 1975.  The proposed tax was to be levied on the highly educated migrants only and to be collected by the country of migration for a period of say 10 years.  The revenues from such tax, which was estimated then to be about US$750 million, were to be made available to the UN for financing of development programmes in sending countries.  The interest in the brain drain tax ended up simply as an academic exercise. The resuscitation of the brain tax initiative which compels recipient countries to pay tax to supplier states for each professional migrant employment should be reached. 

Repatriation of African professionals and intellectuals 

Governments must resuscitate such programmes as the Return of Qualified African Nationals (ROQAN) and RANDFORUM through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) which in the past tried but with moderate success, to initiate the return of qualified African nationals to their countries.  

African Heads of States should cause the African Union (AU) in conjunction with the IOM to draw up an African human resource strategy, geared to promoting the efficient utilization, retention and development of critical skills with a view to promoting development in Africa.  The Africa Union must request IOM and the UNDP’ through its Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals programme to forge partnership with all social institutions and the private sector with the aim of repatriating overseas-based African professionals and intellectuals interested in returning home to offer their skills.

By Ellen Gwaradzimba
Ellen works for University of Zimbabwe

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