“In 25 years, Africa will be empty of brains.” That dire warning, from Dr Lalla Ben Barka of the UN Economic Commission for Africa reflects the growing alarm over Africa’s increasing exodus of human capital.
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.
It’s estimated that Africa has been losing more than 20,000 professionals each year since 1990.
On Monday, as he met the journalists, the President talked about the quality of education in the country. Brain drain in Africa has financial, institutional, and societal costs.
In education alone, 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.
In light of a dwindling professional sector, African institutions are increasingly dependent on foreign expertise. To fill the human resource gap created by brain drain, it’s estimated that Africa employs up to 150,000 expatriate professionals at a cost of US$4 billion a year.
The world has turned digital. It used to be that we had to travel to a location and sit around a table to have a meeting. Sending letters meant using pen, paper and stamps.
A networking party required getting dressed up and driving to the event location. And a job usually meant a daily voyage to your employer’s offices. Thanks to the computers and the Internet, those facts are no longer certain. Much of life, both socially and business, is now virtual.
I think one potential solution to Africa’s brain drain is virtual participation. Virtual participation is participation in nation-building without physical relocation.
It also shows promise as a means to engage the African Diaspora in development efforts. Mercy Brown of the University of Cape Town notes that virtual participation “sees the brain drain not as a loss but a potential gain.
Highly skilled expatriates are seen as a pool of potentially useful human resources for the country of origin, the challenge is to mobilize these brains.”
Virtual participation has tremendous potential to channel the untapped intellectual and material input from the African Diaspora. Another potential area where the talents of the Diaspora could be channeled is virtual linkages.
Virtual linkages are independent, non-political, and non-profit networks facilitating skill transfer and capacity-building. These networks mobilize skilled Diaspora members’ expertise for the development process in their countries of origin.
Individuals of the Diaspora can also contribute through virtual networks, as visiting scholars, by investing in companies, and assisting in joint ventures between host and sending countries.
Questions remain, however. Can virtual participation work in a continent where government–Diaspora relations are adversarial, and information technology for some parts almost nonexistent, and where development needs are complex and require a sustained commitment?
It is going to be a gradual ride. However the emerging Diaspora movements to become more active in Africa’s development efforts, the growing political will in Africa to recognize the Diaspora’s potential contribution, and the possibilities created by information technology show that the African Diaspora is not, after all, a total loss to the continent.
Virtual reality is here to stay and has created wonderful opportunities both personal and professional.
If the virtual reality has become a lifestyle and African governments seem powerless to stop the brain drain migration, then we can as well take advantage out of what we can.
Nyagapfizi Emmanuel is a Management Information Systems manager